Big Ten Country

First Thoughts: Notre Dame, Ohio State bring explosive offenses to South Bend showdown

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Mid-September games with potential College Football Playoff implications always turn heads, and this week’s rematch between Ohio State and Notre Dame fits the bill.

Both teams are humming on offense, and both are hoping to get back to the playoffs this season thanks to the strong play they’ve been getting from their quarterbacks.

Ohio State currently ranks No. 6 in America after three straight wins to open the season, but they could make a huge statement if they can defeat the No. 9 Fighting Irish on the road in South Bend.

Notre Dame meanwhile has taken advantage of some excellent quarterback play from Sam Hartman and strong defensive presence to race out to a 4-0 record on the year, with some of their toughest games of the campaign still lying ahead on their schedule.

Here’s our first thoughts on the game.

Quarterback Play a Big Plus on Both Sides

Ohio State came into the season with some big question marks at quarterback, but things have settled down in a big way in the last two weeks thanks to Kyle McCord, who has 576 passing yards and six touchdowns in wins over Youngstown State and Western Kentucky.

McCord, who beat out Devin Brown for the starting job in training camp, as utilized Ohio State’s star wide receivers to his full advantage, and is hoping for more of the same against Notre Dame, with the Buckeyes averaging 318.3 yards per game through the air.

For Notre Dame, Hartman has been just as good as advertised since joining the Irish, with 1,061 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also has two rushing touchdowns for good measure.

Notre Dame is averaging 304.3 yards per game through the air and is averaging 46 points per game through four contests, one of the best marks in all of college football.

Offensive Depth a Key for Both Teams

Both Ohio State and Notre Dame are among the best offenses in America, and while quarterback play has certainly driven that success, the depth of their weaponry has been on full display too.

TreVeyon Henderson has 191 rushing yards and four touchdowns for the Buckeyes, while Chip Travanum has been a great chance-of-pace back, with 56 yards rushing and a score against Western Kentucky in Week 3.

Of course, Ohio State’s calling card has been their stellar wide receiver group, and Marvin Harrison Jr. has been as good as advertised in the last two weeks. After just two receptions against Indiana, Harrison has had 12 grabs for 286 yards and three touchdowns since, including multiple 70-plus yard receptions for the Buckeyes.

Not to be outdone, Emeka Egbuka is cementing his status as a potential first round pick, with four more catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns against Western Kentucky on Saturday.

Notre Dame running back Audric Estime has been getting larger workloads with each passing week, and now has 521 rushing yards and five touchdowns for the Irish. He is averaging 8.3 yards per carry, and is opening up a ton of space for Hartman to work.

Three Irish receivers have at least eight catches on the season, with Jaden Greathouse racking up 10 catches for 126 yards and three touchdowns.

Their tight end play has also been stellar. Holden Staes may only have six catches in four games, but four of those went for touchdowns, and he has 123 receiving yards on the season.

Don’t Sleep on Defense, Either

While most of the attention has been paid to Ohio State and Notre Dame’s offenses, their defenses cannot be ignored, with two of the top-four overall defenses in America doing battle in this game.

Notre Dame is allowing just 126.8 yards per game through the air, good for fourth-best in America so far this season. They have registered just six sacks, but have also forced five turnovers on the year. Safety Xavier Watts has been a key part of that mix, with three passes defended, an interception and 14 tackles on the year.

Linebacker Jack Kiser leads the team with 26 tackles, and also has a sack and forced fumble to his credit.

For the Buckeyes, they’re holding teams to 83.3 yards per game on the ground, with five sacks and five turnovers in three games.

Denzel Burke has shone at cornerback, with four defended passes and an interception this season. Linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers have also combined for 39 tackles, making the middle of the field a place of strength for the Buckeye defense.

That matchup of strong pass defense and strong run defense could complicate matters for teams that have seen success in those areas this season, and could make for a fascinating game Saturday night.

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