No. 2 Ohio State scored its fewest points since 2018 in a 21-10 win over No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday night.
The high-flying Buckeyes offense was slowed by a great Notre Dame gameplan and an injury to star wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But Ohio State had just enough to get the job done after preseason Heisman favorite C.J. Stroud hit Xavier Johnson for a go-ahead 24-yard TD with 17 seconds left in the third quarter. The catch was Johnson’s first collegiate TD.
RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE ‼️
OHIO STATE TAKES THE LEAD IN THE 3RD 👀 pic.twitter.com/WNtRAtGqrA
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 4, 2022
Ohio State took a 7-3 lead on Notre Dame in the first quarter when Stroud hit Emeka Egbuka for a 31-yard TD. But Notre Dame drove 87 yards in 10 plays at the beginning of the second quarter and took a 10-7 lead into halftime after a missed Ohio State field goal in the waning seconds of the second quarter.
Smith-Njigba entered 2022 as one of the best receivers in the country after he put up over 300 yards receiving in a Rose Bowl win over Utah. But he appeared to injure his left leg as he was tackled awkwardly early in the first quarter and saw limited playing time the rest of the half. Smith Njigba then spent the second half on the sidelines after recording just two catches for three yards.
The Buckeyes put the game away with less than five minutes to go on a TD run by Miyan Williams. That run capped a 95-yard drive that took over seven minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter as Ohio State finally figured out a way to move the ball consistently on Notre Dame’s defense.
Until Saturday night, the Buckeyes hadn't scored 21 points or fewer in a single game since scoring 20 in a 2018 loss to Iowa. Stroud finished the game with 223 yards and completed 24 of his 34 attempts.
The offense’s lack of explosiveness throughout the game meant that Ohio State had to rely on its defense. And as many Buckeyes fans would attest, that would have been a risky proposition over the last couple years. But Ohio State’s first game under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was a success. Notre Dame’s conservative gameplan with QB Tyler Buchner didn’t find any holes in the Buckeye secondary and led to six consecutive punts after its touchdown drive.
Not a bad debut for Marcus Freeman's Irish
The Irish entered Saturday’s game as 17-point underdogs. And while Notre Dame is far from being a program where keeping it close against a top-five team is an achievement, there’s certainly a lot of positives for Notre Dame fans to take away from Marcus Freeman’s head coaching debut.
The defense appears to be very good once again as it forced Stroud to look underneath early and often. The absence of Smith-Njigba likely helped, but it’s unlikely that Notre Dame’s defensive gameplan would have deviated too much had he played the entire game.
If there is a concern it was the inability to create a consistent run game for Buchner to capitalize on via play-action. Notre Dame averaged less than three yards a carry and racked up a majority of its yards on its two scoring drives. Notre Dame had 158 yards on the drives that led to its 10 points and 95 yards on its eight other possessions.
Notre Dame's competitiveness also means that you can't write off the Irish from the playoff conversation after Week 1. Yeah, talking about the playoff after the first weekend of the season is extremely premature, but if Ohio State is as good as we all expect it will be over the course of the season and Notre Dame wins its games against a manageable schedule, the Irish can be 7-1 when they play Clemson on Nov. 5.
Ohio State, meanwhile, now hopes that Smith-Njigba’s injury isn’t too serious and faces games as big home favorites vs. Arkansas State and Toledo before Wisconsin visits on Sep. 24 in a potential Big Ten title game preview.