Ohio State blew a 10-point second half lead, before pulling off an improbable comeback in the game’s final minute and a half to stun Notre Dame, 17-14, in South Bend.
There is still a lot to unpack from that roller coaster ride, but I’ll do my best.
1. How many narratives changed on that 3rd and 19 throw by Kyle McCord to Emeka Egbuka and the one-yard touchdown run that followed by Chip Trayanum? If Trayanum is stopped, or McCord doesn’t deliver that throw, the questions about the team’s toughness, it’s head coach, and it’s starting quarterback might be at a fever pitch. Instead, it’s one of the biggest early season wins in recent memory for the Buckeyes. While there are certainly still some questions to ask, pulling out that win has to be a huge relief for a whole bunch of people inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
2. Kyle McCord wasn’t John Elway tonight, but he did what he needed to. He didn’t turn the ball over, he rarely forced things, and he came up with some huge clutch throws on 3rd and 4th down, especially on the game-winning drive. This will be a huge jolt of confidence for McCord and there are lessons tonight that can be carried with him to Ann Arbor in late November.
3. The running back situation should be pretty simple at this point. If everyone is at full health, Treveyon Henderson and Chip Trayanum should be the tandem with Trayanum acting as the short yardage back. We talk about ‘burst’ a lot with running backs, and sometimes I think people only apply that to being able to break long runs, but Trayanum hits the hole harder than any other back on the team and when a millisecond can be the difference in a short yardage situation between getting that yard or the hole closing, burst is critical.
4. I have opined on this single topic more than any other in the history of Instant Observations. Why in the world does this team not have a QB sneak in its arsenal? It is, without question, the highest percentage play you can run on 3rd/4th and a yard or less. It’s not even close. If they simply get under center and get a push from guys like Caden Curry, Trayanum, Cade Stover, or even someone like Luke Montgomery, Ohio State scores 14 more points tonight and every Ohio State fan on earth wouldn’t have lost five years off the back end of their lives tonight.
The Jet Sweep call got every bit of criticism it deserved. This almost cost them tonight. You have a quarterback that is a sturdy 225+ pounds, this is a no-brainer and they just refuse to do it. It’s not lacking “toughness” that is causing these short yardage issues, it’s continually not calling the single highest percentage play in those situations.
5. I thought the defense played really well in the first half tonight, though admittedly a couple of bullets were dodged. The Buckeyes shut down the run and kept things in front of them, limiting explosive plays. They even started to get some pressure in the second quarter, though again it was due to bringing an extra body or two. But going into halftime, it looked like the OSU defense had the Notre Dame offense figured out.
Then the second half happened and boy did that look a lot like the last two Michigan games. Notre Dame dominated time of possession in the second half, not because of the offense, but because the defense couldn’t get itself off of the field. Ohio State came through when it needed to tonight to prevent this narrative from continuing at an even more intense level, but there are still questions about this defense’s ability to slam the door in the second half and allow the offense to build/keep momentum.
6. With that in mind, what on earth was Notre Dame doing on its final offensive possession? After completely bullying Ohio State up front, getting a hat on a hat, and grinding things out between the tackles, the Fighting Irish got cute and it cost them. Credit J.T. Tuimoloau for the plays he made on the last series, especially the great read on the screen play, but you have to wonder if Notre Dame would have just kept pounding away between the tackles if Ohio State would have ever got the ball back.
7. And then Notre Dame only has 10 players on defense at the end of the game? While the cuteness on offense has to go on Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Gerad Parker, head coach Marcus Freeman has to take his share of blame for that end of game blunder. You’re the head coach and you’re in charge of managing the game and calling a timeout in that situation.
8. Xavier Johnson does it again! This time it was a better outcome for the Buckeyes, but Xavier Johnson once again came through in the clutch with a huge play down the middle of the field. Buddy Ryan once famously said that all Cris Carter does is catch touchdowns. All Xavier Johnson does is make clutch catches down the seam in big games.
9. I was asked this week for my surprise stars of the game on offense and defense and I probably on batted .500 on this. However, both of my picks (Sonny Styles, and Julian Fleming) made huge plays that greatly contributed to the win. Styles made several nice stops throughout the game but came up especially huge by staying disciplined and not shooting inside on the Notre Dame quarterback sneak, staying outside in his lane and wrapping up Hartman for the turnover on downs.
While Fleming had a quieter game than Styles, his fourth down catch and run on the final drive kept the game alive for the Buckeyes.
10. These are probably the best kind of games if you’re a coach. You pulled out the win, despite a lot of things that can be worked on, and now you get a bye week to regroup and you’ll have an engaged, energized, and focused group to coach up and get things fixed.
Now install a damn QB sneak during the bye week!