Big time football was back in Columbus in Week 1. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish proved to be a worthy adversary and caused Ohio State to flip its recent trends around in a defense-first 21-10 victory. With the game safely in the win column (and a long series of easier matchups ahead), we can reflect on what we liked and didn’t like about State’s victory over Notre Dame.

What we liked

1) Jim Knowles’s defense

A year ago, Ohio State’s Week 1 performance included allowing 31 points and 408 yards to Minnesota.

This season, with the Buckeye offense noticeably wobbling, new coordinator Jim Knowles’s defense stood tall. They held Notre Dame to 10 points, 12 first downs and 253 total yards. The Irish rushed for 2.5 yards per carry and only managed to run 48 total plays. OSU didn’t force turnovers, but did a steady job of keeping the Irish in uncomfortable situations all game long — even as the OSU offense was stuck on 7 points until the end of the 3rd quarter.

2) The running back tandem

TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams were solid in this massive matchup. The duo combined for 29 rushes for 175 yards. In the 4th quarter, Ohio State rushed 16 times for 85 yards, which was key to holding the ball for 10:48 of the final quarter.

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If anything, Ryan Day and the Buckeyes probably should have leaned harder on the ground game and done so earlier. It was good news to see that Ohio State could go to an old-school Big Ten style ground-and-pound attack when the game situation called for it.

3) CJ Stroud’s poise

The 21-10 win isn’t one that will fill CJ Stroud’s Heisman highlight reel. Only once last year — against Tulsa — did Stroud pass for fewer yards than the 223 he passed for against Notre Dame. His 6.6 yards per pass attempt is actually a career low. But what Stroud DID NOT do is almost as important as what he did do.

When the Buckeye offense bogged down early without many playmakers on the edge, rather than force passes and create turnovers for Notre Dame’s defense, Stroud took what the defense gave him, trusted his defense, and played smart. A lesser player would have buried the Buckeyes in an insurmountable deficit. Stroud’s numbers weren’t great, but his poise and leadership were as good as they should be — which is saying something.

What we didn’t like

1) Ohio State’s receiver situation

The loss of Jaxon Smith-Njigba to injury was big in this game, and unfortunately, could be big moving forward. Julian Fleming was out for this game too. Marvin Harrison Jr. turned just 5 of his 11 targets into receptions. Notre Dame’s defensive task was made easy by the lack of experienced playmakers for the Buckeyes. Yes, Xavier Johnson made the go-ahead scoring grab and Emeka Egbuka was very, very good.

But the Buckeyes either have to get some guys back or forge talented prospects into big-time players at wideout.

2) The ugly start

Notre Dame’s first play of the game was a 54 yard pass with an extra 15 yards tacked on by penalty. Ohio State basically came out of the gate by putting itself in position to trail, which the Buckeyes did for the vast majority of the first 3 quarters. Admittedly, the OSU defense put the clamps on thereafter, but for the first play, it looked like the defensive changes in Columbus didn’t amount to much.

3) Penalties

Sometimes penalty flags come from aggressiveness. Some times, they come from plain bad football.

Ohio State had 7 penalties for 75 yards on Saturday, which is certainly a little on the high side. A pair of unnecessary roughness penalties in the 3rd quarter nearly let Notre Dame increase a 10-7 lead before the drive stalled just outside of field goal range. Only twice in 2021 did the Buckeyes top 75 penalty yards. It’s something they’ll want to clean up ahead of conference play.