Buckeyes can close impressive era with one more dominant postseason effort
Who: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
What: Fiesta Bowl
When: Friday, 1 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona
Spread: Ohio State -6.5
Matchup to watch: Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jaylon Smith
There might not be a better individual matchup outside of the College Football Playoff than this one. Smith won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker after leading Notre Dame with 113 tackles, nine of which for loss. Both are arguably the best pro prospects at their respective positions, and both will be looking for one final big game before the NFL draft. We know that Notre Dame is going to be keyed in on shutting down Elliott, which means not letting him get to the second level where he does his damage.
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You can also expect Notre Dame to load the box and dare the Buckeyes to deviate from their ground-game attack. It’ll be interesting to see if Urban Meyer sticks with Elliott if Smith and the Irish are all over him like Michigan State was. In the last game of his collegiate career, it would be surprising to see Meyer not keep feeding his workhorse back.
Thing I’m excited to see: Ohio State play loose
You got the feeling that — with the exception of the Michigan and Rutgers games — the Buckeyes played tight all year. They looked like a team protecting a national title instead of a team chasing one. For the first time in two years, the Buckeyes will play a game in which the possibility of a national title is non-existent. The pressure is finally off.
I think we see a more relaxed J.T. Barrett, which will help Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller get more involved. I think we see Darron Lee and Josh Perry take more chances on ballcarriers. I think we see Meyer open up the playbook. As a whole, this is a chance for one of college football’s elite teams to close out this era with one more dominant postseason effort. Sure, it’s not in the game they thought they’d be playing in, but going out with a bang should provide all the motivation the Buckeyes need on Friday.
Number to remember: 135.5
That’s how many rushing yards DeShone Kizer averaged in two games against Stanford and Temple. Those are two of the nation’s best defenses that struggled to contain the mobile Notre Dame quarterback. What hurt the Buckeye defense more than anything in 2015? An inability to contain mobile quarterbacks. That challenge is going to be especially difficult without defensive tackles Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington. There was talk that we’d see Joey Bosa move to defensive tackle, but given the way he can run down ball-carriers on the edges, the Buckeyes might be better off letting him try to limit Kizer at his natural position. Ohio State linebackers can’t afford to get swept up in pass coverage because Kizer can get a head of steam at the second level unlike most 6-4, 230-pound quarterbacks. That makes him a little tougher to bring down than Perry Hills.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Notre Dame 28
Yes, this matchup lives up to the hype. Given all the NFL talent on the field, we should see plenty of highlight reel plays. I didn’t even talk about Mike Thomas and Will Fuller yet, both of whom could put on a show by themselves. Ultimately, Barrett decides this one. I already went on record saying I thought he’d have more rushing yards than Elliott. The focus will be on the Buckeyes that are closing their collegiate careers, but it’ll serve as a stepping stone for Barrett in his first postseason game.