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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | Ohio State

September 19, 2023
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This game has been circled on the calendar for Notre Dame fans since the end of last season and it’s finally here. It’s Ohio State week and the Buckeyes are making a return trip to Notre Dame after the Irish opened last season in Columbus.

They are one of the premier programs in college football. Top to bottom, this is the most talented team Notre Dame will play this season.

It’s just them, Alabama, and Georgia in terms of the top tier of elite recruiting. Their 85% blue-chip ratio is second to only Alabama. They are third in 247Sports’ team talent rankings with 10 5-stars and 73 of their 85 scholarship players who were blue-chip recruits.

The roster is loaded, which is partially why being 25-4 in their last 29 games isn’t good enough for fans who expect championships. It doesn’t matter that they pushed Georgia to the brink and were a missed field goal away from going to the national championship last season. The expectation for head coach Ryan Day is to not only win the Big Ten, but win it all.

They have to try and beat Notre Dame on the road first before any of that other stuff. This is their first real test of the season. They had an unimpressive showing in the opener against Indiana and Western Kentucky was hanging with them through 1 ½ quarters before the offense exploded and the defense flipped the game with turnovers. They looked like the juggernaut they are supposed to be.

According to SP+, this is a top-four match up with the Buckeyes ranked first and the Irish ranked fourth. Notre Dame will have to bring their A game to win on Saturday night.

Offense

Brian Hartline is the new offensive coordinator, but this is still Ryan Day’s offense. They’ve finished in the top-five in OF+ (combined FEI and SP+ rankings) in every season since Day has run the offense (2017) and are currently ranked 3rd in OF+. 

Like all of the best play-callers, Day adjusts to the strengths of his players and he’s not forcing his new starting quarterback, Kyle McCord, to be someone he is not. He’s not a dual-threat, which is a nice change from the past couple of weeks for Notre Dame.

It was a bit eye-opening to see them struggle against Indiana with only 23 points, but they looked plenty explosive after that and Day does a great job of scheming up plays to take advantage of all of that skill talent.

They are primarily an 11 (one back, one tight end) personnel team, but they did run quite a bit of 12 to start the season and they went heavy to run the football at the end of last year’s matchup with the Irish.

They had a tougher time against an average defense in week one. They lit up a bad WKU defense (92nd in DF+) last week. Notre Dame is 12th in DF+.

Expected Strengths

They have the best collection of skill talent in the country. All three backs are capable of making plays and would be RB1 at most Power 5 programs. They are next level players.

The receiver room is loaded with talent and the top two are both probable first round picks. Putting Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. on the same side of the field is similar to what Clemson had with Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins in 2018. It’s an explosive offense because of those players.

They have 17 passing plays of 20+ yards in only three games (8th) and they’ve been in the top-15 in explosive passing plays in every full season since 2018.

Last season Notre Dame held CJ Stroud to his lowest yards per attempt of his career up to that point (6.6) mostly because they limited explosives. They gave up only one play of 30+ yards and will need a similar performance on Saturday.

McCord has been lights out on play-action this season going 20 of 24 with 15.2 YPA and two touchdowns. Teams cheat to stop the run against them and they will get burned, so Notre Dame can’t overcommit.

Potential Weaknesses

They have three new starters on the offensive line at both tackle spots and at center. Last year’s tackles are both currently in the NFL and gave up only two sacks the entire season. The new starters have not been challenged by any of the defensive lines or pressure packages they’ve faced this season.

Depth up front is also a serious issue if anyone goes down. A true freshman is the third tackle.

They struggled to run the football against Indiana. They had negative EPA (expected points added) in that game and were not getting to the second level.

3rd down hasn’t been great for them. They are 94th in 3rd down conversion percentage and that’s without anyone presenting real problems for them in those situations.

Personnel notes

QB Kyle McCord

- 6-3 215

- 7.2 YPA, 0 TDs and 1 INT in first start vs Indiana

- 7 of 14 vs blitz, 6.2 YPA and 1 INT in first two games

- Pressured only 13 times in 3 games, 2.7 YPA

- Not a runner, but above average athlete. 3 scrambles for 9 yards

- Has great arm talent, can rip it when he has to

- Can get stuck on first read

QB Devin Brown

- 6-3 213

- 50% completions in first two games, 1 of 3 against Indiana

- Called designed runs for him in first two games

- More athletic option, more dangerous improvising

RB TreVeyon Henderson

- 5-10 212

- Only played 8 games in ‘22 due to injury

- Awesome true freshman season, 13 runs of 20+ yards

- Can drop his pads and run defenders over

- Ran more confident vs Youngstown State and WKU, looks to have his lateral agility back after broken foot

RB Miyan Williams

- 5-9 226

- Extremely tough to tackle

- 4.36 per carry after contact in ‘22

- 6.45 YPC in ‘22, their short yardage back

- 12 forced missed tackles against Notre Dame last season

RB Chip Trayanum

- 5-11 233

- RB at Arizona St, transferred to OSU to play LB

- 10 TDs at ASU

- Moved back to RB, 8 for 57 in week one vs Indiana

- Home run hitting speed, sub 4.4 40

- 7 missed tackles forced on 19 careers this season, 7.0 YPC

WR Marvin Harrison Jr.

- 6-4 205

- 20 receptions of 20+ yards in ‘22

- Limited by Indiana, 2 for 18

- Before injury against Georgia, was dominant

- Potential top-5 pick

- Elite route with outstanding short area quickness and speed to stretch the field

- Massive catch radius

- Complete WR, can win in a variety of ways

- 60% on contested catches on 30 targets in ‘22, 1 of 5 this season

- They’ve forced the ball into him early this season

- 2nd TD vs YSU was him working to the corner out of the slot

WR Emeka Egbuka

- 6-1 206

- 19 receptions of 20+ yards in ‘22

- Limited vs Indiana, 3 for 16

- Awesome body control, elite speed

- Dangerous after the catch if given space

- Does most of his work in the slot

- No deep targets through three games

WR Julian Fleming

- 6-2 210

- 6 touchdowns last season

- Former 5-star who has had serious shoulder injuries

- Good blocker, gritty after the catch

- Strong, but inconsistent fighting through contact on contested catches

WR Carnell Tate

- 6-2 191

- 5-star true freshman

- Had a strong fall camp

- Two explosive plays in first three games

WR Xavier Johnson

- 6-1 210

- Slot, team captain

- Former RB, used in the running game as well

- Scored on a post vs man coverage vs ND last season

TE Cade Stover

- 6-4 251

- 5 for 98 vs Indiana

- Tough, played multiple positions in his career

- Not super powerful as a run blocker when in-line, but high effort player

- Legitimate threat in the passing game with above average ball skills

- 5 catches of 20-yards or more

- Lined him up 46.8% of the time in the slot and a good blocker in space

TE Gee Scott

- 6-3 240

- Converted WR, TE2 for them

- Not a great run blocker

- Only 12 career catches

LT Josh Simmons

- 6-5 310

- Transfer from San Diego State

- Right tackle for SDSU last season

- NFL athletic traits at the position

- Inconsistent

- Gave up 3 pressures vs Indiana

- Easy mover in his pass set, but can open up the gate inside

- Can catch him hopping and win with speed to power

- Gave up 15 pressure in true pass sets last season

- Had horrible road games at Utah and Fresno State

- 17 penalties last season, three in three games this season

- Called for holding and illegal hands to the face vs Youngstown State

LG Donovan Jackson

- 6-4 320

- All-American candidate

- Outstanding athlete at the position, get to second level and reach with ease

- Can have issues when losing initially in pass pro

- His great is great. Has some bad mixed in

C Carson Hinzman

- 6-4 300

- Penetration

- Mobile, good when getting to the second level

- Indiana was first career start

- Has shown good recovery vs counters, but untested

RG Matthew Jones

- 6-4 312

- 6th year player

- Solid most of ‘22, had a tough time against Georgia

- More of a mauler than a guy who moves well

- Can have a hard time with quick lateral movement from DTs

RT Josh Fryar

- 6-6 320

- New starter, played 41 plays against Michigan last season at guard and struggled

- Played well in first game vs Indiana

- Not a consistent knee bender and defenders can get under his pads

OL Luke Montgomery

- 6-4 302

- True freshman who they have brought in as an extra tight end (#98)

- Got beat for a sack vs WKU

Key for Notre Dame

Get them into obvious passing downs

That all starts with stopping the run and not giving them opportunities for a lot of shot plays on play-action. It’s about making McCord prove he can beat them and do it then Al Golden gets to dial up a pressure or coverage he hasn’t seen.

Notre Dame has to pressure him and make him make difficult throws. He’s only six of 18 on intermediate throws in his first three starts.

Defense

Notre Dame ran only 48 plays against Ohio State last season and they averaged only 3.6 yards per play. The Irish are clearly much better on offense, but Ohio State is much better on defense too. They finished 15th in DF+ last season and are currently 5th.

This year two under Jim Knowles and he’s cut down on some things from last year, much like Golden has done with Notre Dame’s defense. Deep down he is a heavy blitz guy at heart, but he doesn’t have to be at Ohio State and he can now be even more unpredictable.

So far this season, Ohio State has only blitzed quarterbacks on 28.3% of drop backs and they didn’t have to against Western Kentucky when they could let loose and rush the passer against a team who was going to drop back most of the game.

It’s a 4-2-5, but they have a unicorn in Sonny Styles who is a nickel defender built like a linebacker. They will add in more of a traditional slot corner depending on the personnel matchup.

Their first three opponents this season all failed to average more than 4.0 YPP. The two FBS opponents are 62nd (WKU) and 82nd (Indiana) in OF+. Notre Dame is 9th.

Expected Strengths

They have a lot of players with the ability to be game wreckers who create a lot of negative plays. Their Havoc rate was 18.8% in 2022 and it’s at 19.5% so far this season.

It was greatly bolstered by a strong performance against WKU. They had 17 havoc plays in the first two weeks. They had 19 vs WKU.

Dropping back 35+ times is not something that would work great against this defense because they showed they can get after it if they only have to worry about rushing the passer the whole game.

They gave up only two plays of 20+ yards from scrimmage through two games and gave up three vs WKU. Explosive plays have been tough to come by.

It’s an extremely fast defense. Much like they did against Notre Dame last season, they run down just about everything on the perimeter. They have a very talented front four and have quality players in the rotation. There isn’t much of a break when they run out some twos on the defensive line.

It’s a collection of guys with NFL traits who are really good at running stunts. It’s yet another reason why Notre Dame doesn’t want to drop back a bunch or get into too many 3rd and longs.

Potential Weaknesses

There are legitimate questions about some of their safeties and slot defenders in coverage. They’ve given up some plays there both this year and last year.

Though both of their talented edge defenders can present serious problems as pass rushers, they both can be run at. JT Tuimoloau is inconsistent at the point of attack and I’ve seen Jack Sawyer get moved by tight ends when playing the run.

Personnel notes

Edge Jack Sawyer

- 6-4 265

- 7.5 havoc plays in ‘22

- Talented athlete, good motor

- Disappears at times, have seen him handled at the POA by tight ends

- Did not jump out as a pass rusher in first two games, 1 pressure

- 7 pressures vs WKU

Edge JT Tuimoloau

- 6-4 270

- 18 havoc plays in ‘22, took over the Penn State game

- Good hands as a pass rusher, can overwhelm with speed to power

- Disrupt the quick game with deflections

- Not consistent vs the run, can be moved at the POA

- Sack totals not a reflection of how much he affects the QB

- 6 pressures vs WKU

Edge Mitchell Melton

- Missed the 2022 season with an injury

- Juice as a pass rusher, but a bit out of control

- Capable of turning the corner, good swipe

Edge Kenyatta Jackson

- 6-5 258

- 2 pressures vs Indiana

- Elite physical traits

- Long, athletic, raw as a pass rusher

Edge Caden Curry

- 6-3 260

- 2 pressures vs Indiana

- Will rush from the interior as well

- Active hands and a good motor

DT Ty Hamilton

- 6-3 295

- Been stout vs the run to start the season

- Didn’t play well against Wisconsin in ‘22, got moved in the run game

- Had 5 pressures vs Georgia last season

- 19.1% win rate vs true pass sets in ‘22

DT Michael Hall Jr.

- 6-2 280

- Had a dominant game vs ND in ‘22

- Good first step, gets under the pads of blockers and can overwhelm with quickness

- Shoulder injury limited him at the end of last season

- Versatility to line up at several spots

- Might be the best interior pass rusher ND plays all season

DT Tyleik Williams

- 6-2 290

- Lost 30 pounds after last season, moving better

- Tough to move without a double team in the run game - Was playing at a higher level as the season went on in ‘22

LB Tommy Eichenberg

- 6-2 239

- 120 tackles last season, 16 havoc plays

- Instinctive, plays fast

- Typically assignment sound in coverage

- Super aggressive with Green Dog blitzes, may be able to catch him on a slip screen

- gave up 9 catches on 9 targets vs UGA for 127 yards and a TD

LB Steele Chambers

- 6-1 232

- 10.5 havoc plays in ‘22

- Former running back with speed to cover sideline to sideline

- Not the best at block destruction, flies around when kept clean

- A spread defense backer, not someone who has played well when teams go heavy

LB Cody Simon

- 6-2 235

- Productive backup, starter in 2021

- 7.5 havoc plays in ‘22

S Sonny Styles

- 6-4 230

- Freak athlete, only 18 years old

- 1.5 TFLs in first two games

- 11 foot broad jump, 39-inch vertical

- 4.4 40

- Big nickel who is essentially another LB

S Josh Proctor

- 6-2 205

- 6th year player who has dealt with injuries

- Physical, get downhill and lay the wood

- Missed the Youngstown State game with an injury

- Back for WKU, a key player for them

S Malik Hartford

- 6-2 194

- True freshman

- Started the Youngstown State game, played most of the second half vs Indiana

S Lathan Ransom

- 6-1 210

- Returning starter

- 8.5 havoc plays and two blocked kicks in ‘22

- Closes in a hurry, took away perimeter plays vs ND last season

- Physical and loves contact

- Passer rating of 152.8 when in man coverage in ‘22

- Gave up 9 for 126 on 12 targets in coverage from the slot

Nickel/S Cameron Martinez

- 5-10 198

- Got beat on a slot fade vs Youngstown State

- Didn’t play much after that

- Gave up 5 for 102 as a slot defender last season. If he’s in the game, go after him

Nickel Ja’Had Carter

- 6-1 203

- Multi-year starter at Syracuse

- 5 career interceptions

- Missed the Indiana game, battled injuries in the offseason

- Depth at the position

CB Jordan Hancock

- 6-1 185

- Only one career pass defended

- Working as a slot corner this season

- Struggled playing outside in ‘22, gave up 21.8 yards per catch

- Had a PI and gave up some plays vs WKU

CB Denzel Burke

- 6-1 190

- Already seven havoc plays this season, lack of ball production in ‘22

- Does a nice job controlling receivers with strength and mirrors well

- Only two completions on 10 targets in first two games

- Better zone corner than man - Has been at a higher level this fall so far

CB Davis Igbinosun

- 6-2 190

- Ole Miss transfer

- Started 10 games as true freshman there

- Physical in press coverage, but grabby. Two penalties this season

Key for Notre Dame

Challenge them physically, attack the matchups to create explosives

In the two biggest games of the year, their defense didn't hold. They gave up a combined 8.9 YPP vs Michigan and Georgia. Those teams would play heavy and force Ohio State to worry about the run, but the key was using that to create explosives against them.

Michigan had a 17% explosive play rate and UGA’s was 18%. Those were both in the 99th percentile.

There’s going to be a lot of bust against this defense. The EPA without explosives for Michigan was -21.85. It was -14.93 for UGA.

Bust, bust, boom. Notre Dame needs the boom like they had against NC State.

Special Teams

K Jayden Fielding is 3 of 3 on field goals this season. He’s also their kickoff specialist, but only nine of 20 kickoffs have been touchbacks (45%). Last season it was only 43% touchbacks for him.

The Irish will get opportunities in the return game.

P Jesse Mirco has punted eight times for a 42.8 yard average this season.

Egbuka is the punt returner and was last season as well. He’s proven to more of reliable hands guy than anything else, but he obviously has the ability to break one if given space.

Xavier Johnson is the kick returner and he hasn’t been a big threat there.

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