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‘Down and dirty’: Ohio State finds a way to win ugly

By Laken Litman
FOX Sports College Football Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ryan Day walked into Ohio State’s postgame interview room Saturday smiling. Actually, he was giddy.

Yes, the second-ranked Buckeyes had simply crushed fifth-ranked Notre Dame 21-10 at a roaring Horseshoe to open the season. But this wasn’t the 45-point, offensive explosion of a efficiency we had been all anticipating. This was gritty. 

Ohio State’s offense had to run the ball and the protection had to grind it out and make huge performs, which is the alternative of a signature Day win. His groups go the ball. A significant storyline for months this offseason was simply how deadly Ohio State’s passing recreation was going to be with the connection between C.J. Stroud, a Heisman Trophy finalist final yr, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, most likely the nation’s finest large receiver.

[How Jaxon Smith-Njigba became the next great Ohio State receiver]

But that’s not how this recreation was received. And Ohio State’s teaching employees couldn’t have been extra enthusiastic about it.

“Lots of people questioned our toughness this offseason and for us to win the way we did, I couldn’t be any prouder,” Day mentioned.

“Who mentioned it had to be a monitor meet?” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson yelled within the tunnel after the sport. “We can get down and soiled!”

No. 2 Ohio State outlasts No. 5 Notre Dame

RJ Young breaks down Ohio State’s 21-10 victory over Notre Dame. C.J. Stroud was big for the Buckeyes, finishing 24 of 34 passes for 223 yards.

Ohio State’s unique recreation plan derailed early when Smith-Njigba was shaken up within the first quarter. He was knocked out of bounds after a catch, which compelled him to miss the subsequent few collection. He tried to come again within the second quarter, however was favoring his left facet. He additionally tried jogging on the sideline beneath the supervision of an athletic coach, however was in and out of the damage tent.

Ohio State wanted to win with out him. 

“Yeah, it was a wrestle early on,” mentioned Day, who expects Smith-Njigba to be again someday this week. “When we misplaced Jaxon, we obtained a little bit out of rhythm, couldn’t convert on third down, a lot off schedule with a couple penalties that we’ve obtained to clear up. 

“But you recognize, early video games, we’re a little bit clunky. And once more, dropping Jaxon form of threw us off a little bit, and we had to reply.”

Ohio State has a plethora of receivers at Stroud’s disposal, like Emeka Egbuka, who had 9 catches for 90 yards, and Marvin Harrison Jr., who had 5 catches for 56 yards. Stroud additionally has Xavier Johnson, a former walk-on turned scholarship participant, whose 24-yard landing with 17 seconds left within the third quarter put the Buckeyes up 14-10. But Smith-Njigba has a shot at profitable the Biletnikoff Award, so the vibe is off when he’s not enjoying.

Plan B was committing to the run, which Ohio State did within the fourth quarter. TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams mixed for 175 yards and a landing. And on a 14-play, 95-yard landing drive that clinched victory, Ohio State ran the ball 10 instances, seven by Williams, who racked up 49 of his whole 84 yards proper then. He additionally had a catch.

[Heisman Watch: How the preseason top 10 performed in Week 1]

It’s price questioning how the sport might need unfolded had Ohio State dedicated to the run earlier. If Day hadn’t waited till the fourth quarter, perhaps the Buckeyes would have put Notre Dame away sooner. 

“We have to give you the chance to win that way, we do,” Day mentioned. “We have to discover methods to win like that. Because there’s going to be video games definitely within the Big Ten like that, and Notre Dame is form of constructed like a few of the Big Ten groups we play. And so for groups that need to run the ball and eat up the clock and hold the offense off the sector, we have now to run the ball in these moments. And we did. We had to try this. And that was one thing that we spent a lot of time within the offseason saying, we have now to give you the chance to win ugly on offense and cease the run on protection. And that’s what occurred. 

“They all depend the identical. When you could have that versatility, it’s going to repay down the street. So that is a big begin for us. We have a lot to enhance on, a lot to construct on, however I’m happy with our workforce.”

Stroud went 24 of 34 for 223 yards and two touchdowns and made some big performs down the stretch. Many of these had been scrambles on the run the place it seemed like he was about to exit of bounds, however as a substitute accomplished a 12-yard go to Williams right here and a nine-yard go to Harrison Jr. there. 

“I feel you possibly can see who C.J. desires to be,” Day mentioned. “He might need to go on the market and have all these yards and every thing like that. It’s not vital to him. What’s vital is profitable, and he’s a winner.”

[RJ Young’s Top 25 after Week 1]

Notre Dame was a formidable opponent that possible stunned everyone exterior of South Bend. It held Ohio State to 99 passing yards within the first half and one landing earlier than the ultimate three drives. For a good chunk of the sport, the Fighting Irish had been extra dominant within the trenches, which is an space Ohio State has strived to be higher. 

Ultimately, Ohio State’s protection, a retooled group beneath new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, held the Irish to one landing and 253 whole yards. They stopped the run, holding Notre Dame to 76 yards on 2.5 yards per carry.

“The story of the night time was the protection,” Day mentioned. “It circled after what’s been mentioned about them within the offseason, questioning their toughness.”

“We had been referred to as delicate all final yr and had to eat it,” added security Lathan Ransom.

[Top plays from Week 1 in college football] 

There was a lot of hype surrounding Ohio State this offseason. Day’s workforce is a favourite to win the nationwide championship, and that trickled down into the environment on the residence opener. Noted well-known Buckeyes fan LeBron James was strolling the sidelines earlier than kickoff, as was Jayson Tatum, Andre Iguodala, Justin Fields, Ezekiel Elliott, Joe Burrow, plus your entire 2002 Ohio State nationwide championship workforce, which was honored throughout the recreation. It took awhile for the Buckeyes to settle in and click on, and whereas they relished the atmosphere, the strain didn’t assist. 

“I imply, enthusiastic about the sport, we’re enjoying the No. 5 workforce within the nation,” Stroud mentioned. “It’s form of bizarre being on the market once more, to be trustworthy. It’s like, seeing the followers, coping with all the skin noise and making an attempt to lock in. At the top of the day, we obtained the win.”

The expectation at Ohio State is to win the nationwide championship. This is a group that really believes final yr’s 11-2 season, during which it received the Rose Bowl, was a failure. The Buckeyes’ objectives are to beat Michigan, win the Big Ten and win a nationwide title. All of these issues are nonetheless very a lot attainable, however there may be work to be carried out. This workforce is just not fairly on the identical stage as Alabama or Georgia simply but, however there may be nonetheless time to get there.

“If we will proceed to win video games like that, then that’s how we’ll win video games,” Day mentioned. “And when you possibly can win in several methods, it says a lot about your workforce and I feel this recreation goes to pay dividends down the street.”

Laken Litman covers faculty soccer, faculty basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She beforehand wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the writer of “Strong Like a Woman,” revealed in spring 2022 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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