COLUMBUS – They won by fewer points than predicted. They won different ways than they did a year ago.
But the bottom line was No. 2 Ohio State just won when it got a 21-10 victory over No. 5 Notre Dame in its highest profile season opener in almost 40 years on Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.
OSU shook off a slow start and the loss of leading receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba after a first quarter injury.
Notre Dame led 10-7 at halftime and still held that lead until late in the third quarter when Ohio State put together a 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended with C.J. Stroud throwing a 24-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Johnson for a 14-10 lead.
Then, on its first possession of the fourth quarter, Ohio State drove 95 yards on 14 plays and went up 21-10 on a two-yard touchdown run by Miyan Williams.
“We just beat the No. 5 team in the country and I couldn’t be any prouder of our team and the way our team played, especially in the fourth quarter,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said..
“A lot of people question our toughness in the off season. For us to win the way we did, I couldn’t be any prouder. We were able to get the run game going in the fourth quarter and C.J. Stroud made some huge plays down the stretch. Yeah, it was a struggle early. They’re a good defense,” he said.
Stroud completed 24 of 34 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Emeka Egbuka was his top target with nine catches for 90 yards and a 31-yard catch for OSU’s only first-half touchdown.
TreVeyon Henderson rushed for 91 yards on 15 carries and Williams gained 84 yards on 14 carries. Sixty-five of Henderson’s yards came in the second half and 64 of Williams’ yards were in the final two quarters.
“If we can win games that way, we’ll continue to win games that way. It says a lot about a team when you can win different ways. I think this game is going to pay dividends down the road,” Day said.
The biggest different way to play that Day saw came from the Buckeyes’ defense, though.
“The story of the night was the defense,” he said. “I think you just saw what I was talking about before the game – energy, run to the ball, being decisive, playing fast. If they gave up a big play, they didn’t panic. I thought the energy was off the charts.
“Jim (new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles) called a great game. But it was the players. The players played a great game,” he said.
OSU’s defense limited Notre Dame to 253 yards of total offense and only 104 of those yards came in the second half.
Notre Dame hit a big play on its first offensive play of the game, a 54-yard pass play from Tyler Buchner to Lorenzo Styles Jr., but it was an illusion.
There were few big plays by the Irish the rest of the night and Styles did not catch another pass. And tight end Michael Mayer, the most dangerous weapon in the Fighting Irish’s offense had only five catches for 32 yards.
Much of that was because of Ohio State’s defense. But a possession early in the fourth quarter, with Ohio State leading 14-10, showed the Irish’s limitations and their lack of confidence in their passing game.
Faced with a first-and-25, Notre Dame chose to go with three straight running plays, two of them by Buchner.
Buchner, making his first start, was 10 of 18 for 177 yards. Notre Dame’s leading rusher was Chris Tyree with 28 yards on six carries.
Stroud said, “The defense and running the ball won this game, but I do think in the passing game, we were efficient when we really needed it.”
Safety Lathan Ransom said, “We’ve got a lot to prove. Everyone played well. And extremely confident, too. We couldn’t wait to play against Notre Dame and show what we’re about.”