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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame gets Opportunity to Flip National Narrative in its Favor against Ohio State

September 18, 2023

On Oct. 31, 1936, a near-capacity crowd of 55,000 watched Notre Dame thwart the Ohio State offense in South Bend, Ind.

In a contest fought amidst driving rain, the lone Buckeye score came on a safety in the second quarter, resulting from a blocked punt.  That afternoon, the Fighting Irish — still referred to as the Ramblers in reports from that day — won in an upset, 7-2.

Almost 87 years later, Notre Dame has yet to defeat Ohio State since, albeit with just five matchups taking place between 1995 and 2022.

The Irish will get another chance to crack the Buckeyes on Saturday night when No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0) hosts the No. 6 Ohio State (3-0) in a clash of two historic Midwestern powers.

“It is a big game,” quarterback Sam Hartman said. “To shy away from that is foolish.”

The implications are immense for Notre Dame’s national narrative. Most pundits still question whether the Irish can hang with elite college football programs outside Clemson. 

Over the prior 10 seasons, the Irish went 3-12 against AP top-10 opponents with a 14.1-point average margin of defeat.

Ohio State currently boasts the No. 2 ranked recruiting class, per 247 Sports, which includes seven blue-chip prospects from the Midwest. 

Sure, there were a few prospects the Irish couldn’t recruit for one reason or another, but a victory on Saturday might give the Irish a better shot at landing future versions of Chicago-native defensive tackle Justin Scott and Ohio linebacker Garrett Stover.

Most importantly, a win would vault the Irish into the forefront of College Football Playoff discussions. 

“The road to the finish line leads through this game,” Hartman said. 

Of course, Notre Dame had the same opportunity to open the season last fall but failed to capitalize on a late third-quarter lead. The Irish lost the contest 21-10, unable to move the ball effectively outside of a few long pass plays. 

The 2023 Buckeyes could be significantly more vulnerable after two-time Heisman Trophy finalist CJ Stroud turned pro. He now starts for the Houston Texans, which took him with the No. 2 overall pick. 

Ohio State also lost three NFL selections along the offensive line in tackles Paris Johnson Jr. (No. 6 overall) and Dawand Jones (No. 111) and center Luke Wypler (No. 190). 

A once-unstoppable offense appears dangerous yet manageable with quarterback Kyle McCord and a new-look line.

Through three games, the Buckeyes rank 9th in offensive efficiency out of 133 FBS programs and average 40.3 points per game (20th). Ohio State finished first and second in the same statistical categories last season. 

”You've seen their offense evolve over the first three games, and it's explosive,” coach Marcus Freeman said. “You see a lot of tempo. I think I've seen more tempo recently, but, listen, they have playmakers. They can run the ball. They’ve got a stable of running backs that truly can do some things in the run game.”

Thus far, the Buckeyes appear stout on defense, limiting opponents to ​​6.7 points per game (2nd) and 3.63 yards per play (2nd). To be fair, such production comes against a floundering Indiana team, nearby FCS-foes Youngstown State and a quality Group of Five opponent in Western Kentucky.

Last year, Notre Dame did its best to make its matchup with Ohio State a low-scoring affair, milking the play clock and running the ball 63 percent of the time. Thus, the Buckeyes lead felt insurmountable when Stroud threw a 24-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds left in the third quarter to go up 14-10. 

Today, the Irish are better prepared to hang with the best offenses in college football and even come from behind late in the game if necessary. Notre Dame averages 46 points per game (9th). Hartman has already proven to be masterful in two-minute situations and he’s currently the third most efficient passer in the FBS. Running back Audric Estime ranks second with 130.3 per game.

“We still want to win time of possession and those types of things that really factor into your success,” Freeman said, “but the mindset is different because you know more about your team this year than you did last year for game 1.”

The Irish defense is also showing improvements. Notre Dame ranks just behind Ohio State, giving up 3.8 yards per play (3rd), 11.8 points per game (14th) and boasts the nation’s top pass efficiency defense. 

The game’s location should also aid the Irish. They’re 3-1 against top-10 teams at home in the last 10 years. 

The lone loss occurred two years ago when No. 7 Cincinnati and its fan base invaded Notre Dame Stadium and shouted, “Let’s go Bearcats” before leaving with a 24-13 victory.

Rick Kimball/ISD
Cincinnati fans invade the southwest corner of Notre Dame Stadium in the Bearcats 24-13 victory over the Fighting Irish in 2021.

The university hopes to dispel a sea of scarlet from washing over the stands this Saturday by pouring green into the stadium. 

The team will don green jerseys and fans in attendance will receive a green LED wristband to use in conjunction with in-game light shows. 

Freeman hopes the fans wear T-shirts to match, creating a “green out.”

 “Our players notice it, and they appreciate that, especially pregame,” he said. “We want to make sure there’s as many Notre Dame fans as we can. I think they’re doing some cool things for the fan experience. I encourage our fans to make sure you guys are here, and let’s get as much green in this stadium as we can.”

Given all its advantages, Notre Dame seems to finally be in the position to reach its full potential and alter its national perception.

Will it actually happen?

“If I had a crystal ball, I’d let you know,” Hartman said. “But I don’t, so we’ll see.”

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