While the big media outlets fall all over themselves to slurp Deion Sanders, there is an actual marquee matchup Saturday that could have real ramifications for the College Football Playoff. No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 Notre Dame are set to finish their home-and-home stand in South Bend, and it should be a vastly more entertaining game than the opening week slugfest a year ago, and test both quarterbacks.
The Fighting Irish’s Sam Hartman has been on plenty of big stages, but never like this, and never with a team as good as Marcus Freeman’s group. There’s even Heisman buzz around the Wake Forest transfer, who so far has completed 71 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns to zero interceptions.
NC State is the only opponent of (semi) high repute that the Irish have faced, and they smashed the Wolfpack in a sloppy, weather-delayed contest at Raleigh. Early-season monsoon games in the ACC are always tricky, and though Hartman certainly has his fair share of experience with them, everything is different under the pressure and scrutiny of the Golden Dome.
Now, the sixth-year QB is going up against an Ohio State defense that’s talented, but — at least according to the limited sample size — is as much of an unknown as new Buckeye quarterback Kyle McCord. (More on him in a second.) The reason I’m so high on Notre Dame is because of Hartman.
Running back Audric Estime isn’t going for eight yards per carry Saturday, and it will inevitably fall on the passing game to sustain drives, and get into the endzone. Now that there’s a trustworthy guy who can be more than a game manager, the Irish are balanced, explosive, and putting up 50 points per outing.
Hartman’s arrival does for the Irish what Russell Wilson did for that Wisconsin team: A legit QB, mixed with that level of talent, is a recipe for a playoff contender.
What McCord is Ohio State getting?
In his first three starts for the Buckeyes, the junior quarterback showed flashes. Any QB at Ohio State this century has the requisite tools to put up Heisman numbers and win 10-plus games per season, so that’s not a surprise. What does concern me is it’s not coming as easily as it did for the previous 150 quarterbacks under Ryan Day’s tutelage.
McCord didn’t break 300 yards until last week, didn’t throw for a touchdown against Indiana in Week 1, and he was officially named QB1 prior to the Western Kentucky game, which is not normal for that program. If McCord struggles like he did against the Hoosiers, and they get beat by the Irish, analysts are going to ask questions, and treat it like Jalen Milroe and Alabama.
Expect to see a lot of running back TreVeyon Henderson because I don’t know how much of a leash McCord is going to get at night, on the road, and in a hostile environment. A season ago in Columbus, Notre Dame’s defense held C.J. Stroud to 223 yards passing, Henderson to 91 yards running, and the Buckeyes to 21 points.
Yes, that was enough to win with Tommy Rees calling the plays and Tyler Buchner running them, but it won’t be that easy Saturday. The timing of this game — Week 4 instead of the season opener — also means it should be a crisper affair than in 2022, and that bodes well for the audience as well as the offenses.
Marvin Harrison Jr. has been McCord’s best friend this season, and after that, it’s tight end Cade Stover. Those two have to play well and win consistently regardless of coverage because Notre Dame is going to make McCord beat them. I’ll be shocked if either squad really goes wild on the ground, and the Buckeyes need to do better than their season average on third down (35 percent) to control this game.
It feels obvious to say, “The team whose quarterback plays better will win,” yet isn’t that the case 9 times out of 10? Which is why Saturday’s game is so tasty. This should serve as a barometer for each program’s quarterback, and thus, playoff chances.
Original source here
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