Highlights: No. 6 Ohio State 17, No. 9 Notre Dame 14 — A play-by-play breakdown of the 10-man Irish gaffe
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Would No. 9 Notre Dame (4-1) have stopped Ohio State running back DeaMonte Trayanum short of the goal line if the Irish had 11 players on the final play of the game? We’ll never know.
But given Trayanum ran right where a defensive lineman seemed to be lacking, the wonder will certainly linger, Trayanum crossing the goal line by about an inch to give the No. 6 Buckeyes (4-0) a 17-14 win on Saturday night.
Let’s take a focused look at those last few plays, to try to ascertain when the error originated.
On 3rd-and-19 from the 22-yard line with 15 seconds left, Notre Dame sent only three pass rushers after Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord, and he took advantage of that by stepping all the way into a 21-yard pass to receiver Emeka Egbuka. McCord deserves credit for the throw. Irish safety Ramon Henderson and cornerback Cam Hart were closing on Egbuka before McCord released the ball; the window for that completion was exceedingly tight. And he muscled it in there.
“We thought we were going to be able to kind of give them a different look and play some quarters,” Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. “He threw a good ball. He threw a really good ball.
“That last series, we were trying to kind of mix it up a little bit with a young quarterback and not just play man every play. He ended up putting it in a tight window.”
Simply enough, McCord deserves some credit for that throw.
Ohio State then spiked the ball to stop the clock with seven seconds left, about to face second-and-goal from the one-yard line. Before that play occurred, Notre Dame called timeout.
It did not call timeout because it had only 10 men on the field. There were 11, including four defensive linemen: three tackles in Gabriel Rubio, Howard Cross and Rylie Mills with end Javontae Jean-Baptiste not yet aligned when the timeout was called, unclear if he was going to set up on Rubio’s flank or Mills’s.
The Buckeyes had Egbuka lined up to the right, wide of Marvin Harrison Jr., covered by Hart and Irish sophomore cornerback Benjamin Morrison, respectively.
Returning from the timeout, only three Notre Dame defensive linemen took the field: Cross, Mills and Jean-Baptiste, the latter lining up on Mills’s outside hip. Ohio State again lined up Egbuka and Harrison, throwing a shallow out route for Harrison; Morrison provided tight enough coverage that McCord could not throw a catchable pass in play. Assuredly, some of Buckeyes’ head coach Ryan Day’s final instructions must have been to make sure that pass was not intercepted above all else.
Ohio State then brought in Trayanum, subbing out running back TreVeyon Henderson. If Notre Dame knew it had only 10 men on the field, it would have been allowed time to make a substitution because of that running back swap. But once the Buckeyes were ready to snap and no Irish defender was clearly coming into the play, the officials had no obligation to hold up play.
Presume somewhere in that vague timing is when Notre Dame’s coaching staff recognized the problem, Ohio State getting to the line with 10 seconds left on the play clock, due to snap the ball at any moment. Any attempted substitution would need to be across the line of scrimmage — coming from no closer than the 35-yard line on the sideline — before the Buckeyes began the play with seven seconds left on the play clock. Rubio is fast, but a three-second 30-yard dash would have been illogical in that moment, especially coming off an arthroscopic knee surgery a few weeks ago that cost Mills the last three games.
“We were trying to get a fourth D-lineman on the field, and I told him just stay off because we can’t afford a penalty,” Freeman said. “I didn’t have any timeouts, so we couldn’t afford a penalty there.
“It’s on us, we got to be better.”
Freeman was not worried because a penalty would move Ohio State closer to the end zone, but because a penalty would have given the Buckeyes an extra attempt at the end zone.
Presume Rubio was the needed addition — “addition” more precise than “substitution,” but only presumed because no one outside the Irish sideline genuinely knows which player was missing. If he did not get to the goal line before the Buckeyes snapped the ball, then Ohio State would have still run that play, Trayanum diving forward, against 10 engaged defenders.
The effect of missing that defensive end is the only thing more clear than the initial mistake of having only 10 players leave the sideline before that final play.— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 24, 2023
Ohio State OL 71, 74 and 75 all plowed into Notre Dame defensive tackle Howard Cross, winning the point of attack. https://t.co/LcD85dSCKt pic.twitter.com/pXLCKDGAsy
Plus, if that play had failed, the Buckeyes would have been afforded an untimed down from half the distance to the goal. That was the penalty Freeman wanted to avoid, a third and unnecessary risk from the goal line.
By the time the sideline apparently understood its mistake, Ohio State was going to get a play against a 10-man defense regardless. The only way to avoid that would have been for a Notre Dame defender to jump offsides into a Buckeyes player, something that goes against all training and something that is certainly lacking from the sideline signal book.
The best-case scenario would have been another quick out toward Harrison, the lacking defensive lineman hardly noticed.
“Let’s not give them a freebie from the half-yard line,” Freeman said. “... I thought maybe they would do the same thing they did the snap before, and then they ended up running the ball.”
Running the ball right where a defensive lineman could have been.