This is bittersweet. I’m about to write my last preview for the Fighting Irish this season. Not to get all emotional or whatever, but this was one of my favorite seasons in recent memory. After the utter embarrassment that was last season, I think the Irish came out and played as well as they possibly could’ve, given their circumstances. Injuries, unfortunately, are obviously a thing in football, but I think that if 100% healthy, you’d see Notre Dame in a playoff bowl. But hey, I ain’t complaining about the Fiesta Bowl, either.
No one is giving the Irish much of a chance against Ohio State. Not one person, from Vegas to any of my friends have ND over OSU. That is, except for my 11-year old cousin, Brady, whose fanhood for Notre Dame is just blossoming (poor kid, doesn’t know what he’s in for). The more I look into this game, look at the numbers, think about past experiences, the games both teams have played this year, or whatever, I can conceivably see the Irish taking this one home. I’m not saying they definitely win. I’m saying it isn’t as impossible as people say.
If there’s one thing to know about Ohio State football, and I’m sure my roommate Seth and friend Connor will agree, it’s that they underperformed in a sizeable amount of games this past year. They played teams like Indiana, Northern Illinois, and Michigan State close. Sure, the other games on the schedule were utterly dominating performances. But here’s a brief take on them.
As I said in our collaborative bowl preview article, Ezekiel Elliot is the best player in all of college football, hands down. If you don’t agree, you probably didn’t watch him play. He can do it all, and after riding him in the playoff last year, they should’ve definitely rode him all the way to the championship this year, too. He had 100 yards in ever game but against the Spartans of Michigan State, but even just watching those games, they didn’t get it in his hands enough. I’m curious if Coach Urban Meyer will start JT Barrett, who is the consensus best quarterback on the roster, or Cardale Jones, who won him a national championship last year and is entering the draft this year. Either way, if the quarterback is the catalyst to the offense, I don’t think they win. I think both are too mistake-prone, and against a good team with a great offense like Notre Dame, that could hurt.
Defensively, I don’t see how the Buckeyes have even let up a yard this year, they’re that good. Conversation begins and ends with Joey Bosa, but Joshua Perry, Raekwon McMillan, Eli Apple and Darron Lee all help anchor this defense. It’s worth noting, however, that they have yet to see an offense as dynamic as Notre Dame’s.
As far as the Irish defense goes, at this point, they’re at the mercy of the Ohio State coaching staff. With the running capability of Elliot and whoever plays quarterback, coupled with the speed of Michael Thomas and versatility of Braxton Miller, they should have a field day on this battered defense. I mean, seriously, the Irish are missing guys on their line, in their linebacking corps, and pretty much all of their starting secondary from the beginning of the year. That doesn’t mean Ohio State will though. I get how stupid and un-analytic (nope, not a word. Oh well) that sounds, but you just have to watch them. At times, they’ve looked clueless. They’ve underperformed or gotten it going later in games to make the score lopsided a lot this year. I don’t have an actual stat or piece of analysis for you other than the fact that I saw a lot of their games this season. If Ohio State doesn’t come with a clear-cut game plan, that could hurt them in the end. Any deficiencies will be exploited by Butkus Award-winner Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day.
Offensively, there’s a few guarantees out there. Bosa will get his sack, and it’ll probably be more than once. But with Ronnie Stanley on him, I’m okay with that matchup. It’s the best d-end in college versus debatably the best offensive tackle in college. DeShone Kizer will turn the ball over at least once, probably twice, in this game via interception. It’s to be expected with a redshirt freshman quarterback, even as poised as he’s looked this year, against a defense with the straight-up talent that OSU has. And finally, trust me, Will Fuller will get his touchdown. Those three things are right up there with death and taxes. If the Irish want to keep pace with Ohio State, as they’re capable of doing, they’ll really need seniors Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle to show out in their last game. I expect Apple to do a solid job on Fuller, especially since I wouldn’t call #7 a ‘possession receiver’ per say. But the second and third options behind Fuller have been reliable all year long. If Kizer can find them and they can make things happen after the catch, they’ll be sitting pretty. With freshman running back Josh Adams, I think this is a game that they will have to pick their spots. OSU’s defense is better against the pass than the run, but since this is shaping up to be an old-fashioned shootout, then Brian Kelly will need to put the ball in Kizer’s hands. Make it his game to lose. Because you won’t keep pace with Adams getting a ton of carries while passing plays are lagging behind.
I’m bracing myself for a loss, as I have unfortunately learned to do as an Irish fan. But, I’m hopeful they can pull it out, because they’re capable. This isn’t the national championship, but I expect this game to be played with the same intensity of one because both teams had aspirations to be the final man standing, and both will want to walk out of this season with some consolation prize. At the end of the day, however, I haven’t gone against the Irish at all this season. So, I might as well keep up that trend. I picked the Irish by 4 in that article, and I’ll stick with that prediction
 The Buckeyes are favored by 6.5 points, which is closer than I had anticipated.
 Kidding, but not kidding.
 Michigan State is a playoff team, but if you tell me they’re better than Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa, whether they beat them head-to-head or not, you’re insane.
Cover photo courtesy of ABC News.
Meme courtesy of memecrunch.com.