Ohio State-Notre Dame: Heavyweight fight on tap in South Bend

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

If styles make fights, the next installment of Ohio State-Notre Dame could resemble Ali-Frazier.

While eschewing Muhammad Ali’s pre-fight prognostications or provocations, Ryan Day’s Ohio State offense floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee when at its best.

Marcus Freeman’s Fighting Irish favor more of Joe Frazier’s brawling style, but they have shown some knockout power in early-season victories.

“It’s going to come down to winning the line of scrimmage for sure,” Day said. “It’s going to come down to the fourth quarter and who’s going to be there in the end. They have a really good team. Marcus does a great job. They have a great staff. We’ve got to go win a top 10 game on the road, and our guys are really excited for this game.”

Here are five things to watch Saturday night when the sixth-ranked Buckeyes visit the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish:

1. Notre Dame has a distinct experience advantage at quarterback.

While Kyle McCord started for the fourth time in his college career last week as Ohio State beat Western Kentucky, Sam Hartman started for the 49th time as Notre Dome downed Central Michigan.

However, Day expressed hope McCord being a junior first-time starter as opposed to a freshman could mitigate his lack of game experience somewhat, and McCord seemed to know what he is getting into.

“I feel like it’s all about a balance,” McCord said. “I think you want to have enough composure and kind of a calm sense about you that if something doesn’t go our way or whatever, the guys know that everything’s gonna be alright. We’re gonna work it out.

“But at the same time, I think you want to have that fiery competitive side to you as well. And being able to push the guys and continue to lead in that way.”

2. Notre Dame looks more dangerous on offense than in the past.

Hartman was brought in as a transfer from Wake Forest to open up the Irish attack, and so far he has fit the bill.

“They certainly look different,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “New personnel, particularly the quarterback, new offensive line coach, so you have some different schemes coming up.

“It has become a running, smash-mouth offense with also some shots over the top. It definitely fits what they are doing and it’s something we have to be prepared for.”

He called Hartman smart, efficient and experienced.

“When you have a lot of experience as a quarterback, it helps you figure things out and get rid of the ball. He has great vision,” Knowles said. “Decision-making is huge and leadership from a quarterback is huge. Obviously he’s an impressive guy to be able to come in there and be a captain as a transfer.”

3. Ohio State’s offensive identity is still being determined.

Day has been trying to establish the run since the beginning of last season, but the passing game got into gear last week as McCord was able to utilize star receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka in open space better than the previous two games.

“I think we have a good balance,” Day said. “I think that’s important. Whether you talk about the wide receivers, the running backs, the tight ends, you know, you’ve seen even in three games multiple guys produce, and that’s good when you can attack from different personnel groupings. It forces the defense to have to play the entire field.”

The defenses are more familiar as Knowles and Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden are both veterans of the coaching profession in their second seasons in their current gigs.

Both have a majority of starters back from last year, too.

“I think they’re really well coached on film,” McCord said. ‘They don’t really have any breakdowns or let guys run free, and they make you earn every yard you get. So I’m excited for it.”

4. ‘Styles’ make fights?

If there is one player to watch aside from the quarterbacks, it might be Sonny Styles.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Ohio State sophomore is listed as a safety, but he can play multiple positions. That means he could be the team’s “SAM” linebacker on one play or the Nickel on another (or even play deep), which can allow Knowles to disguise his calls better than if he had to swap personnel.

Styles’ snaps were limited last week against pass-happy Western Kentucky, but Notre Dame’s more power-oriented offense should be right up his alley.

“I think I’m just preparing myself mentally to just be physical at the point of attack,” Styles said. “They’ve got some good tight ends. They block well, so you got to be physical for four quarters. Be consistent.”

He expects with the running game will come attempts to push the ball down the field via play action passes.

“Obviously they’re gonna run the ball, but you can’t just get caught up in the run and they take a shot downfield and leave a man wide open,” he added. “Eye discipline and just being physical at the point of attack.”

5. Day wants his team to “let it rip.”

After the offense bogged down in multiple big games over the previous two seasons, Ohio State and its head coach looked rejuvenated in a 42-41 loss to eventual national champion Georgia in the Peach Bowl by playing loose and airing it out.

Day wants to see his team take a similar approach this weekend.

“We got to go into this environment and embrace it, and go get it,” Day said. “There’s no other way to be. So our guys understand that. They feel that this week, and that’s the way we’re gonna play on Saturday night.

“We’re gonna go as hard as we possibly can and not look up to the scoreboard until the fourth quarter. And at that point, we’ll figure out where we’re at. But it’s about going after it and being aggressive. Going into a hostile environment and get a top 10 win on the road. And this is what makes great teams is games like this.”


Ohio State at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC, 1410

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