The Saturday night showdown between Notre Dame and Ohio State lived up to its billing, with the Fighting Irish giving their all against the #6 Buckeyes. However, despite outplaying Ohio State for most of the night, Notre Dame ended up on the wrong side of a last second 17-14 loss, leaving fans stunned and devastated. While Ohio State deserves much praise for pulling off the win in South bend, it was Notre Dame's inability to capitalize on critical moments that ultimately led to their heartbreaking defeat.
The Irish stumbled in pivotal 4th-and-short situations, exhibited subpar clock management in the game's final moments, struggled to apply pressure on the young Buckeye QB Kyle McCord, and faltered in containing Ohio State's talented receivers when it mattered most. In addition, it appears that the Notre Dame defense only had 10 players on the field on the Buckeyes final two plays, including the game winner. These collective missteps ultimately spelled their undoing. Let's break down the key areas that shaped this nail-biting contest.
First Half: Failure to Finish
In the opening quarter, following a successful defensive stand that halted Ohio State's initial drive, Notre Dame embarked on a meticulously executed 14-play, 71-yard offensive march. Quarterback Sam Hartman displayed precision in his throws. However, at a pivotal juncture, facing a crucial 4th & 1 scenario on the Buckeye 18-yard line, questionable play-calling crept in. Instead of relying on their powerfull running back Audric Estime, the Irish opted for a play-action pass. Regrettably, the Buckeyes' defense read the situation astutely, compelling Hartman into a scramble that ultimately fell short of the first-down marker. This represented a pivotal missed opportunity as the otherwise impressive drive failed to yield any points.
Following an unsuccessful 4th & 1 attempt, the Irish defense promptly forced the Buckeyes into a three-and-out. Notre Dame then embarked on a 7-play, 39-yard drive, which ultimately came to a halt on the Buckeye 29-yard line. This set the stage for a critical moment as Spencer Shrader, known for his powerful leg but marred by inconsistency early in the season, lined up for a crucial 47-yard field goal attempt. Regrettably, Shrader's attempt was unsuccessfull. The failure to finsih drives would ultimatley leave the Irish scoreless in the first half and proving to be a costly factor in the games final outcome.
Despite the Notre Dame offense struggling to put points on the board, the Fighting Irish defense displayed remarkable resilience, maintaining a scoreless game for the majority of the first half. During this time, Ohio State embarked on a grueling 13-play, 70-yard drive that devoured seven minutes off the clock, bringing them tantalizingly close to the end zone. Nevertheless, the Irish defense stood strong when it mattered most, holding firm on 4th & goal from the 1-yard line, thwarting a Buckeye touchdown attempt.
However, Ohio State would eventually find a breakthrough. They exploited openings in the Irish secondary, capitalizing on open receivers and benefiting from pass interference calls, which allowed them to move the ball efficiently. Buckeye QB Kyle McCord's consecutive pass plays to Emeka Egbuka paved the way for Ohio State's first score of the half—a 31-yard field goal by Jayden Fielding, granting them a 3-0 lead at halftime.
Another 4th & Short Failure Allows the Buckeyes to take Advanatge
As the second half began, Notre Dame found themselves in yet another critical 4th & 1 situation. After methodically advancing the ball 36 yards across 7 plays, the Irish faced this pivotal moment. Opting once again to place the ball in the hands of QB Sam Hartman, the Buckeyes effectively clogged the middle, forcing Hartman to improvise and take the sneak outside. Unfortunately for the Irish, Ohio State's defenders were quick to react, bringing Hartman down once again just short of the first-down marker. This turnover handed the ball back to Ohio State.
Henderson Breaks Loose for Score
In a twist of fate, on the very next play, Ohio State's running back TreVeyon Henderson broke free for a stunning 61-yard touchdown run. Notably, there was contention as some believed Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. had committed an apparent hold on the outside, resulting in the Irish defensive back being pulled to the ground. However, the officials made no call, granting Ohio State a 10-0 lead in what marked the game's first significant big scoring play.
Notre Dame's Offense Finds the Endzone:
Down 10-0, Notre Dame's offense came to life, scoring on two consecutive possessions in the second half. The first score came after the Irish marched 75 yards on 13 plays, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown run by Gi'Bran Payne. The second touchdown followed an impressive 11-play, 96-yard drive, with Sam Hartman finding Rico Flores Jr. for a 2-yard TD pass, giving the Irish a 14-10 lead with 8 minutes left in the game.
Notre Dame Defense Provides Critical Stop:
After Ohio State drove the ball down to the Irish 11-yard line, the Irish defense made a critical stop on 3rd & 1, setting up a 4th down situation. The Buckeyes, with a questionable call, handed the ball to WR Emeka Egbuka on a jet sweep on 4th & 1, but the Irish defense stopped Egbuka short of the first-down marker, giving the Irish the ball back up 14-10 with just 4 minutes left in the game.
When presented with a golden opportunity to seal the game or, at the very least, consume precious time on the clock, the Irish, who had effectively managed the clock all night with sustained drives, inexplicably chose the most inopportune moment to falter. Following two successful plays that had gained them a total of 23 yards, things unraveled.
On 1st & 10 from the ND 35, it appeared to be a broken run play, forcing Hartman to keep the ball and endure a costly 5-yard loss. What ensued was a sequence of poor clock management and a questionable pass play on 2nd & 15, which inadvertently stopped the clock. This allowed Ohio State to conserve a timeout, affording them more time on their final drive.
The Final Drive:
In the game's decisive final drive, Ohio State embarked on a 15-play, 65-yard journey that unfolded with just 1 minute and 25 seconds remaining on the clock. It was a do-or-die moment, and Notre Dame faced the monumental task of stopping the Buckeyes when it mattered most.
The drama began on 3rd & 10 from their own 35-yard line. Buckeye QB Kyle McCord, displaying composure under pressure, connected with Emeka Egbuka for a crucial 23-yard gain, pushing Ohio State into Irish territory. With the game hanging in the balance and the pressure intensifying, it was now 4th and 7 from the Irish 39-yard line. McCord came through in the clutch, finding Julian Fleming on a crossing route for a 7-yard completion, securing another pivotal first down.
McCord continued to demonstrate his mettle, connecting with Marvin Harrison Jr. for a 19-yard gain, positioning the Buckeyes at the Irish 13-yard line with a fresh set of downs. On 2nd & 10 Notre Dame would finally apply pressure on McCord as they forced McCord to release the ball under duress, leading to an intentional grounding penalty with just 15 seconds left on the clock. Here is where the Irish's previous mistakes from their own offensive drive loomed large. Instead of witnessing the precious seconds tick away after the penalty, Ohio State was able to use their final timeout strategically to stop the clock, preserving valuable time for their final push.
On 3rd & 19 from the Notre Dame 22-yard line, Kyle McCord once again showcased his precision, finding Emeka Egbuka down the seam for a critical 21-yard gain, positioning the Buckeyes just 1 yard away from the Irish goal line. Notre Dame recognized the urgency and called a timeout with 7 seconds remaining, as Ohio State had no timeouts left, allowing them to devise a strategy for the impending play.
With just 7 seconds on the clock and the game hanging in the balance, Ohio State faced 3rd & 1 from the 1-yard line. The Irish defense anticipated a pass, shifting their formation heavily towards the strong side of the Buckeye formation. However, in a stunning twist, Ohio State called a run play to the left, handing the ball off to RB Chip Trayanum. Trayanum surged forward, rushing for 1 yard and a crucial touchdown as the game clock ticked down to just 1 second left. It was a heart-wrenching moment for Notre Dame, who couldn't make the stop when it mattered most, and Ohio State capitalized on the opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The game ended with one final play by Notre Dame, which resulted in an illegal pass, sealing their heartbreaking loss.