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

By Laken Litman

FOX Sports College Football Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio Ryan Day walked into Ohio States postgame interview room Saturday smiling. Actually, he was giddy.

Yes, the second-ranked Buckeyes had just beaten fifth-ranked Notre Dame 21-10 at a roaring Horseshoe to open the growing season. But this wasnt the 45-point, offensive explosion of a performance we were all expecting. This is gritty.

Ohio States offense had to perform the ball and the defense had to grind it out and make big plays, that is the contrary of a signature Day win. His teams pass the ball. A significant storyline for months this offseason was precisely how lethal Ohio States passing game would be with the bond between C.J. Stroud, a Heisman Trophy finalist this past year, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, most likely the countrys best wide receiver.

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

But thats not how this game was won. And Ohio State’s coaching staff couldnt have already been more worked up about it.

“Many people questioned our toughness this offseason and for all of us to win just how we did, I couldnt be any prouder,” Day said.

“Who said it had to become a track meet?” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson yelled in the tunnel following the game. “We are able to get smart!”

No. 2 Ohio State outlasts No. 5 Notre Dame

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

Ohio States original idea derailed early when Smith-Njigba was shaken up in the initial quarter. He was knocked out of bounds following a catch, which forced him to skip the next few series. He tried another in the next quarter, but was favoring his left side. He also tried jogging on the sideline beneath the supervision of an athletic trainer, but was in and from the injury tent.

Ohio State had a need to win without him.

“Yeah, it had been a struggle in early stages,” said Day, who expects Smith-Njigba to be back sometime this week. “Whenever we lost Jaxon, we got a bit out of rhythm, couldnt convert on third down, a whole lot off schedule with a couple of penalties that weve surely got to tidy up.

“Nevertheless, you know, early games, were a bit clunky. And again, losing Jaxon sort of threw us off a bit, and we’d to respond.”

Ohio State includes a plethora of receivers at Strouds disposal, like Emeka Egbuka, who had nine catches for 90 yards, and Marvin Harrison Jr., who had five catches for 56 yards. Stroud also offers Xavier Johnson, a former walk-on turned scholarship player, whose 24-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the 3rd quarter put the Buckeyes up 14-10. But Smith-Njigba includes a shot at winning the Biletnikoff Award, therefore the vibe is off when hes not playing.

Plan B was investing in the run, which Ohio State did in the fourth quarter. TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams combined for 175 yards and a touchdown. And on a 14-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that clinched victory, Ohio State ran the ball 10 times, seven by Williams, who racked up 49 of his total 84 yards right then. He also had a catch.

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

Its worth wondering the way the game may have unfolded had Ohio State focused on the run earlier. If Day hadnt waited before fourth quarter, maybe the Buckeyes could have put Notre Dame away sooner.

“We need to have the ability to win this way, we do,” Day said. “We need to find methods to win like this. Because theres likely to be games certainly in the Big Ten like this, and Notre Dame is sort of built like a few of the Big Ten teams we play. Therefore for teams that are looking to perform the ball and consume the clock and keep carefully the offense off the field, we need to run the ball in those moments. And we did. We’d to achieve that. And that has been a thing that we spent lots of time in the offseason saying, we need to have the ability to win ugly on offense and prevent the operate on defense. And thats what happened.

“Each of them count exactly the same. If you have that versatility, its likely to pay off later on. So this is really a huge start for all of us. We have too much to improve on, too much to build on, but Im pleased with we.”

Stroud went 24 of 34 for 223 yards and two touchdowns and made some huge plays down the stretch. A lot of those were scrambles away from home where it appeared as if he was going to walk out bounds, but rather completed a 12-yard pass to Williams here and a nine-yard pass to Harrison Jr. there.

“I believe you can view who C.J. really wants to be,” Day said. “He could desire to venture out there and also have each one of these yards and everything like this. Its not vital that you him. Whats important is winning, and hes successful.”

[RJ Young’s Top 25 after Week 1]

Notre Dame was a formidable opponent that likely surprised everybody beyond South Bend. It held Ohio State to 99 passing yards in the initial half and something touchdown prior to the final three drives. For an excellent chunk of the overall game, the Fighting Irish were more dominant in the trenches, that is a location Ohio State has strived to be better.

Ultimately, Ohio States defense, a retooled group under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, held the Irish to 1 touchdown and 253 total 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 defense,” Day said. “It turned around after whats been said about them in the offseason, questioning their toughness.”

“We were called soft all this past year and had to consume it,” added safety Lathan Ransom.

[Top plays from Week 1 in college football]

There is lots of hype surrounding Ohio State this offseason. Days team is really a favorite to win the national championship, and that trickled into the atmosphere at the house opener. Noted famous Buckeyes fan LeBron James was walking the sidelines before kickoff, as was Jayson Tatum, Andre Iguodala, Justin Fields, Ezekiel Elliott, Joe Burrow, in addition to the entire 2002 Ohio State national championship team, that was honored through the game. It took awhile for the Buckeyes to stay in and click, even though they relished the surroundings, the pressure didnt help.

“After all, taking into consideration the game, were playing the No. 5 team in the united kingdom,” Stroud said. “Its sort of weird being on the market again, in all honesty. Its like, seeing the fans, coping with all of the outside noise and attempting to lock in. By the end of your day, we got the win.”

The expectation at Ohio State would be to win the national championship. It is a group that truly believes last years 11-2 season, where it won the Rose Bowl, was failing. The Buckeyes goals are to beat Michigan, win the Big Ten and win a national title. All those things remain quite definitely possible, but there’s work to be achieved. This team isn’t quite on a single level as Alabama or Georgia at this time, but there’s still time and energy to make it happen.

“If we are able to continue steadily to win games like this, then thats how well win games,” Day said. “So when it is possible to win in various ways, it says a whole lot about your team and I believe this game will pay dividends later on.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She actually is the writer of “Strong Just like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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