No. 2 Ohio State holds off No. 5 Notre Dame


COLUMBUS — At every turn this offseason, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day talked about the need for his team to be tougher than it was a year ago. He didn’t have to wait long to see whether or not the message took hold with his team as No. 2 Ohio State outlasted No. 5 Notre Dame, 21-10, in front of a raucous environment inside Ohio Stadium on Saturday evening.

Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns, and running backs Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson combined for 175 rushing yards on a night when not much was clicking for an offense that has grown accustomed to prolific performances.

Sophomore receiver Emeka Egbuka led the way with nine catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, the first of his college career, and Xavier Johnson also hauled in the first touchdown of his career.

The performances of Egbuka and Johnson came at a time when Ohio State had to have it as they were dealt a significant blow just one drive into the game. Star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba left the game with a leg injury that kept him out for the next two drives, but he was never quite right following the early exit.

After several attempts to play through the injury, Smith-Njigba was sidelined for good early in the third quarter.

But while the offense sputtered through most of the game, the story of the game quickly became the Ohio State defense in its first game under defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. After an offseason filled with speculation about how the defense would fare in a new scheme, the Silver Bullets delivered a rather emphatic statement with the entire college football world watching.

Notre Dame was held to just 253 yards of total offense, only 76 of which came on the ground as the Buckeye defensive line routinely controlled the line of scrimmage and found penetration into the backfield. Linebacker and team captain Tommy Eichenberg led the way with nine tackles, including six solo stops and three tackles for loss, and defensive lineman Mike Hall Jr. added two tackles for loss and a sack in a performance that can best be described as encouraging following last year’s debacle.

The Ohio State defense got off to a rather inauspicious start, however, after Notre Dame received the opening kickoff. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Tyler Buchner found Lorenzo Styles for a 54-yard gain following a missed tackle, immediately setting up the Irish deep in Buckeye territory.

Ohio State rose to the occasion following the big gain, however, forcing Notre Dame to settle for a 33-yard field goal and an early 3-0 lead.

The two teams traded stops on the next two possessions before Stroud and the Ohio State offense finally found the end zone. Set up with great field position at their own 45-yard line to begin the drive, and aided by a pass interference call on Notre Dame’s Cam Hart, Ohio State moved quickly to the Notre Dame 35-yard line.

Two plays later, facing a third down with six yards to gain, Stroud delivered a strike to Egbuka for first down yardage, but Egbuka had bigger plans in mind. After making one Irish defender miss at the point of attack, Egbuka outran another defender to the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.

Noah Ruggle’s extra point capped off the five-play drive to give Ohio State a 7-3 lead with 5:32 remaining in the first quarter.

Notre Dame (0-1) answered back just three minutes into the second quarter with Audric Estime’s 1-yard touchdown run to regain a 10-7 lead. The drive was kept alive by a spectacular third-down catch by Matt Salerno, who caught the ball while laying on the ground after a series of bobbles for a 31-yard gain.

Neither team was able to muster anything else offensively for the remainder of the half as Notre Dame took the three-point lead into halftime and the groans from the Buckeye faithful inside Ohio Stadium grew louder.

It was more of the same to begin the second half as both teams traded stops in a stalemate that nearly lasted the entire third quarter before Ohio State again broke through with just seconds left in the quarter. A 16-yard completion from Stroud to Egbuka got the drive going, and a pair of 11-yard completions to Marvin Harrison and Jayden Ballard had the Buckeyes threatening to regain the lead.

Stroud made sure to do just that a few plays later when he found Johnson running free over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown and a 14-10 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Now playing in front, Ohio State would never relinquish the lead.

The Ohio State defense continued to suffocate Buchner and the Notre Dame offense on the ensuing drive, which ended in just four plays before the Irish punted the ball back to the Buckeyes. For perhaps the first time since the opening kickoff of the game, all momentum inside Ohio Stadium resided on the Ohio State sideline, and the offense went back to work to put the game away.

Henderson opened the drive with a pair of runs totaling 12 yards, and a critical completion from Stroud to Williams extended the drive on third down to keep Ohio State on the move. Williams capped off the 13-play, game-defining drive a few minutes later with a 2-yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 21-10 and effectively end any hopes of a Notre Dame rally.

The drive chewed up nearly seven minutes of clock, and Notre Dame’s last-ditch effort inside of five minutes to play ended with a thud when Buchner was sacked on third down by Hall to force one final punt from Notre Dame.

Ohio State was able to run out the clock from there, securing the win in their first-ever season-opener against a top-five opponent.

Following the game, Day said he wouldn’t talk about Ohio State’s struggles offensively before first discussing how proud he was of his team for beating a top-five opponent on the opening weekend of the season.

“It’s not easy to do. It’s hard,” Day said of beating a top-five team. “We just beat the number five team in the country by 11 points, and I couldn’t be any prouder of our team and the way our team played, especially in the third quarter. A lot of people questioned our toughness in the offseason. Well, you’ll have to watch the film and make a decision on if you thought that team was tough today. For us to win the way we did, I couldn’t be any prouder.”

Ohio State returns to the field next week when they host Arkansas State for a noon kickoff in Ohio Stadium.

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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