As we begin the second half of Season 5, we get a marquee matchup between two B1G powerhouse programs as the Ohio State Buckeyes travel to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Ohio State, who were picked by some as dark horse title contenders, enters the game at 4-0 after surviving a gritty Penn State team in overtime last week. Notre Dame comes in to this battle at 2-2 after dropping a close one the B1G rival Oregon last week. A win by Notre Dame will surely shake things up in the B1G, while a win by Ohio State may dash the Irish conference title hopes.
The dynamic duo of Quarterback Xavier Garcia-Allen and Running Back Frost Carlson have led the way for the Buckeye offense thus far. Where XGA lacks as a passer, he makes up for as a runner. Both Garcia-Allen and Carlson rank in the top 10 for CFSL rushers and their read option attack keeps defenses guessing all game. While this offense seems predictable, XGA and company have done a great job of surprising defenses by taking shots at opponent’s secondary, highlighted by senior wide out Speedy Johnson, who averages an astonishing 21 yards per reception.
The pearl of this Ohio State team is their defense, or the “Sharks” as they are known around the league. Led by early DPOY candidates safety Kevin Brackett and linebacker Martavis Marriott, the Sharks lead the CFSL with 10 takeaways and get after opposing quarterbacks with a league leading 16 sacks as well. Last week, Penn State was able to cut into the Buckeye defense a bit more than most expected and may have given a blue print to future offenses, but don’t overthink it, this defense is still the premier defense of the CFSL. Sophomore corner Tom Pence may be the biggest factor in this game for his all around play on defense as well as on special teams.
The Irish offense has been consistent and balanced all season long. They are young as a core, but they are finding their stride here halfway through the season. While sophomore running back Joe Pantoja has been the leader of this offense, leading the CFSL with 9 rushing touchdowns, Freshman quarterback Leo Asiata seems to finally be up to speed with the college game. Asiata has done a great job of taking care of the ball as he hasn’t thrown an interception this season and has built great chemistry with former Florida State receiver Albert Saenz. Tight end Alistair Kye has been quiet this season, but has a good matchup to breakout in this one.
Notre Dame has always been known for their defense. Decorated with all-americans Shane Razorback and the corner duo of Tyrell Solo and Jackson Stone, the Irish control the tempo of the game by getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and forcing them in to mistakes, that they commonly convert to turnovers. The real surprise of this defense this season is freshman safety Zeus Williams who has rose into the top 10 in tackles. While the secondary is strong for Notre Dame, the linebacking duo of Mason Miller and Duke Thomas will be called on to slow this Ohio State rushing attack.
What to Watch For
While we’re all intrigued to watch the Sharks take the field against this young Irish offense, it’s Ohio State’s offense that will be the deciding factor in the game tonight. If the Buckeye’s become one dimensional on offense, the may struggle against this Notre Dame defense, but if they can roll out a balanced attack and keep the Irish defenders on heels, they have a shot to move to 5-0. For Notre Dame, they have to take care of the ball, which they have done well all year and they have to utilize tight end Alistair Kye, who presents the best matchup of the night.
Ohio State has been proven to withstand tough tests this season already, but Notre Dame is fired up and historically plays very well coming off of a loss. This is a battle that may come down to the final play, but the Buckeye’s experience may trump the youth of this Irish offense. I like Ohio State to win another close battle.
Ohio State 34 Notre Dame 31