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Room for Optimism, Improvement Following “Disappointing” Fighting Irish Defeat to Buckeyes

September 25, 2023

Notre Dame owns college football’s 10th-best blue-chip ratio, the percentage of four and five-star recruits signed compared to two and three-star prospects. 

In 2023, 65 percent of the Fighting Irish roster is comprised of a former blue-chipper. 

At the same time, there’s still a significant talent gap between Notre Dame and Ohio State, which came in second with an 85% blue-chip ratio. 

Furthermore, the Buckeyes possess far more top-end prospects. There are 10 former composite five-star prospects at Ohio State, seven of which are juniors or seniors. 

The only former five-star prospect on Notre Dame’s roster is sophomore linebacker Jalen Sneed.

Still, after watching Saturday's contest, it’s hard to argue that Ohio State has a more talented football team than Notre Dame’s. 

Do the Irish need to continue to excel on the recruiting trail? Of course, but Marcus Freeman has constructed a roster capable of outplaying the Buckeyes.

Freeman has developed well and continues to recruit high-ceiling prospects, 

From there, he’s filled in the gaps with excellent portal editions such as Sam Hartman, Javontae Jean-Baptiste (eight tackles and a QB hurry on Saturday) and nickel Thomas Harper. 

With the talent necessary to win, he must figure out how to make better in-game decisions and ensure his offense comes away with points on drives deep into an opponent’s territory. 

Morrison, Hart Dominates Buckeye Receivers

Ben Morrison and Cam Hart nearly took Marvin Harrison, a potential top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, out of the game. 

In the end, Harrison finished with three catches for 32 yards on seven targets. Morrison recorded two pass breakups and forced Buckeye QB Kyle McCord into a 57.2 NFL passer rating when throwing the sophomore cornerback’s way. 

Hart allowed one reception for 10 yards and ran with Harrison step for step on a deep ball down the right sideline.

However, the Notre Dame secondary struggled to tackle slot receiver Emeka Egbuka and tight end Cade Stover in space, with the pass-catching duo combined for 57 yards after the catch. 

Additionally, 18 of McCord’s 21 completions came over the middle of the field. 

“We're going to learn from it and just get back to the drawing board,” defensive back Thomas Harper said. “We’ve still got a lot of season ahead of us, and we can still do all the things that we hope to accomplish.”

In the Trenches

The Fighting Irish defense mostly shut down the Ohio State rush offense. 

“TreVeyon Henderson had that long run,” Freeman said, “but other than that, I thought we did a really good job stopping the run.”

Subtract Henderson’s 61-yard touchdown, and the Buckeyes ran the ball 26 times for 65 yards and 2.5 yards per carry.

McCord was harassed frequently on Saturday. He completed 21 of 37 passes (56.8%) for 240 yards and failed to find the end zone, despite having the nation’s best receiver corps and future NFL tight end at his disposal.

Imagine what Notre Dame would’ve accomplished by getting in his face more often.

“I just felt we weren't getting pressure,” Freeman said. “I wanted to hit him more until probably the last series. I think we got a little bit more pressure in the second-to-last series, but we got to find ways, as (the media has) brought up many times, of getting pressure on the quarterback.”

The Irish pass rush repeatedly applied pressure up the middle, with Rylie Mills (4), Howard Cross (7) and Gabriel Rubio (3) leading the team in quarterback hurries. 

Yet the Irish sacked him just once on Saturday. Somehow, the Irish pass rush needs to figure out how to get home a little more offense. A sack on the final Buckeye drive might’ve ended the game. 

On the other side of the ball, the Notre Dame offensive line took care of business against an Ohio State defensive line filled with future NFL players (even if they lack the production to match). 

Notre Dame allowed zero sacks and only two tackles for loss for OSU up front, but Joe Alt gave up a team-high three pressures after not allowing any in the first four games of the season. 

In the first half, the interior offensive linemen failed to generate the push they needed to get the run game going but found their footing by the end of the game. 

“There were times we were controlling the line of scrimmage offensively and big plays were happening,” Freeman said. “But the times that we weren't, they were getting tackles for loss, and you could just watch it on the video board and say, ‘Okay, that guy beat one of our players and it was a tackle for loss.’

“When we were really controlling the line of scrimmage offensively, we were able to move the ball rushing, especially late in the game.”

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