Matt Cashore /

A Closer Look: Scrimmage Scrum

Notre Dame and Ohio State didn’t share a common opponent in 2015. That’s okay, we’ve found a handful of like foes to compare and contrast the two Fiesta Bowl combatants nonetheless.

Since the Irish and Buckeyes did not knock heads with a common foe this fall it’s relevant (or necessary, in my world) to instead compare how the offenses and defenses of both teams fared against the best opponents they face. The programs’ “like” foes for our purposes are:

-- ND/Clemson (Playoff participant)
-- OSU/Michigan State (Playoff participant)
-- ND/USC (chief rival/Top 25-level season)
-- ND/Michigan (chief rival/Top 20-level season)
-- ND/Stanford (Top 5-level team)
-- OSU/And, um…well this is where it gets tricky.

Ohio State played two teams with a pulse – Michigan State and Michigan. Tough tests to be sure, but after that? Let’s just say Big 10 expansion reared its ugly head as Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and even Nebraska weren’t part of the Buck’s 2015 slate.

To make up for Ohio State’s lack of schedule ballast, I turned two Buckeye’s foes into one: Penn State’s 10th ranked defense and Indiana’s 16th ranked offense. 

(For Irish fans noting that Navy and Temple had better seasons than did USC, the Trojans talent level seemed a more apt comparison to the Buckeyes.)

The section below (Part I) examines OSU’s offense vs. its top opposing defenses and conversely, the Irish defense against their top opposing offenses. Part II, to be published later, will flip the script.

The Buckeye’s performance at the line of scrimmage against the defenses of Penn State (#14 defense), Michigan State (#4), and Michigan (#27).

“Chunk Gains” are defined by runs of 10+ and passes of 20+ yards.

Oct. 17 Penn State: 30 rushes, 315 yards. Stuffed OSU 14 times on 69 snaps.
-- Total Chunk Gains (13) = 15r, 12r, 12r, 10r TD, 15r, 20p, 27r, 13r, 19r, 15r, 21p, 15r, 19r. OSU also hit two more passes for gains of 17 yards.

Nov. 21 Michigan State: 29 rushes, 86 yards. Stuffed OSU 12 times on 45 snaps.
-- Total Chunk Gains (1) = +10 run

Nov. 28 Michigan: 54 rushes, 369 yards (5 TD). Stuffed OSU 13 times on 69 snaps.
-- Total Chunk Gains (12 including 5 TD) = 66r TD, 25r, 16r, 21r, 15r, 25p TD, 11r, 13r TD, 38p, 11r TD, 11r, 17r TD

Notre Dame’s performance at the line of scrimmage against the offenses of Clemson (12), USC (35), and Stanford (38).

“Chunk Gains” are defined by runs of 10+ and passes of 20+ yards.

Oct. 3 Clemson: 42 rushes, 199 yards. Stuffed 16 times on 64 offensive plays.
-- Total Chunk Gains (5): 38r, 24p, 12r, 21r TD, 33r

Oct. 17 USC: 30 rushes, 150 yards. Stuffed 18 times on 77 snaps.
-- Total Chunk Gains (8+): 10r, 37p, 32r, 75p TD, 83p TD, 19p, 65r, 10r, 28p. The Trojans also completed +five passes of 15-17 yards for first down gains.

Nov. 28 Stanford: 43 rushes for 153 yards. Stuffed 17 times on 67 snaps.
-- Total Chunk Gains (10): 10r, 22p, 10r, 31p, 10r, 11r, 38p, 42p, 21r, 27p. The Cardinal also completed passes of 14 yards (TD) and 16 for a first down.

First, how about a round of applause for the defensive effort by Michigan State.

Sophomoric (accurate) complaints from a Buckeye running back on his way out of town aside, it’s remarkable that the Spartans held Ohio State’s offense to ONE chunk gain – and for only 10 yards at that – remains one of life’s greatest mysteries. Twenty-nine carries for 86 yards? 45 total snaps?

Holy Mark Dantonio!

The higher ranked defenses of Penn State and Michigan fared less well, buckling under the athletic prowess of Ohio State’s offensive line and host of playmakers.

-- Notre Dame’s defensive effort at Clemson was far and away the best against the potent Tigers offense in 2015, and considering the foe and stakes, easily the best by the Irish this fall as well.

USC and Stanford offer disparate offensive approaches – both fared well against Brian VanGorder’s crew with the notable difference of discretion. That is, the Trojans took chances downfield that led to big plays by Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell (one interception, another pass broken up that resulted in an interception) while the Cardinal did not.

In fact, Stanford didn’t have to face Russell…and neither will the Buckeyes.

-- It’s fair to surmise that Notre Dame’s defensive output will in no way resemble that of the Spartans or the Wolverines, OSU’s last two foes. Key to the Irish efforts on Jan. 1 will be limiting OSU’s Chunk Gains via the rush, as that’s the Buckeye’s bread-and-butter, and, to be blunt, it’s fait accompli the Irish defense will yield a few through the air.

Note: Part 2, forthcoming, examines ND’s offense against their three best opponents and conversely the Ohio State defense pitted against its best foes as well. Top Stories