MLAX Preview: (4) Ohio State at (2) Notre Dame

March 25, 2017
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MLAX: Denver Preview

Written by Mike Camarda

Who, When, and Where: #4 Ohio State (8-0); March 25th at 2 PM EST; Arlotta Stadium. Game broadcast on ACC Digital Network.

The Skinny

What a difference a week makes… what looked like a matchup against a solid-but-unspectacular Ohio State now appears to be the signature game of the weekend. Most years you can comfortably pencil in Notre Dame for a victory over Ohio State given that the Irish have won 14 straight over their rivals. But this is no ordinary year. The undefeated Buckeyes are coming of a dismantling of then #1 Denver. They didn’t just beat the Pioneers; they utterly embarrassed them in a way no one has beaten a Tierney-coached team since his first season at the helm.

The Ohio State victory was equal parts shocking and terrifying as they held the Pioneers to a mere two goals through 3 quarters while amassing 12 of their own on absurdly efficient shooting. Could the Buckeyes be the best team in the country?

Advanced stats still do not love Ohio State, primarily because they played a bunch of terrible teams to start the season and did not impress in those contests.

It’s worth noting that in many of those games Ohio State experimented with lineups and personnel groupings in an attempt to find what worked for them. In their past two games against #10 Towson and #1 Denver they seem to have settled on an identity for both sides of the ball. Their faceoff game is playing at an elite level, and their defense showed out in impressive fashion in both contests.

On offense, it’s more of a mixed bag. The Buckeyes lit up Denver but struggled to score on Towson… and it’s unclear which result was more the fluke, especially given the frigid conditions of the Towson game.

What to Watch

Ohio State plays at a snail’s pace. On paper, they’re basically Denver with better defense and less proven offensive talent. They have a similar style and concentration of Canadian offensive players. They emphasize long possessions and taking care of the ball.

On offense, they’ve taken a step forward by settling on an attack line of Tre LeClaire, Eric Fannell, and Colin Chell. LeClaire – a true freshman – has been the driving force in their increased production as he played a much more limited role earlier in the season. LeClaire’s outside range and superior stick skills make him very dangerous if he gets his hands free. Fannell is the primary facilitator responsible for creating offense for his teammates. They’re complimented by alpha dog midfielder Johnny Pearson, another Canadian who is a tough cover for a SSDM.

Last year, Pearson dropped four goals on Notre Dame in a variety of fashions. The good news is that Ohio State’s offense is inherently very vanilla and has never been very good against Notre Dame for the same reason Maryland often struggles to score on the Irish. It’s been a very, very long time since Ohio State has gotten to a double-digit goal total against Notre Dame.

When Notre Dame has the ball, they could see a number of looks from Ohio State but the Buckeyes will almost certainly mix in some zone concepts that are a rarity in college lacrosse. Against Denver, Ohio State relied heavily on a zone defense that they executed to perfection. By design, zone defense is virtually impossible to dodge against and takes slick passing coupled with outside shooting to defeat. Why it may be tough for Notre Dame to attack a zone is that the Irish only have one reliable outside shooter in Perkovic, and their struggles on EMO showcase their inability to break down a defense with passing and rotation.

If Ohio State settles into a zone, it will be imperative for Garnsey not to force passes or bad shots. It will also mean that Pierre Byrne will have limited effectiveness, and the Irish may need to try alternative midfield combinations. Brian Willetts and Bryan Costabile are two players that could see increased utilization due to their ability to hit step down shots from medium-to-long range.

Alternatively, a zone can be defeated by early offense where you attack before the defense is set. Transition play from Sexton and Schantz will be essential to exploiting the Ohio State defense before they can get six players set behind the ball. If Ohio State plays man-to-man, Garnsey will have his hands full with dominant defenseman Ben Randall. Randall is a very rangy cover guy that plays with great body positioning and rarely makes mistakes. He transferred to Ohio State this year from Stony Brook and headlines their defensive improvement.

Last year, Notre Dame’s attack scored seven goals on 15 shots on account of spotty close defense. With the Buckeyes tightening up this year, players like Brendan Gleason need to be able to exploit matchups from untraditional places on the field to create high percentage shots.

Prediction

Ohio State can’t lose every time, right? This year seems like a perfect storm for the Buckeyes to break the streak. Expect a hard fought game where goals aren’t easy to come by, and it’s contested to the bitter end. Ohio State guts it out 8-7 aided by Irish miscues on EMO and an inability to consistently win faceoffs.
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