Welcome to the Skull Session.
One more sleep.
One more sleep until Ryan Day and Ohio State "let it rip" on Notre Dame.
Hunt is on pic.twitter.com/EBnnwoReBn— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) September 20, 2023
I'm excited. You better be, too.
Let's have a good Friday, shall we?
BRADY QUINN CONFIDENT IN HIS IRISH. Former Notre Dame quarterback and current Fox Sports college football analyst Brady Quinn is bullish on his alma mater's chances to upset Ohio State on Saturday.
In an appearance on CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday, Zach Gelb asked the 2006 Maxwell Award winner to share his confidence level on a scale of one (no confidence) to 10 ("the most confidence you have ever had") that the No. 9 Irish could take down the No. 6 Buckeyes in South Bend.
"Ten," Quinn told Gelb.
On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that @NDFootball will beat @OhioStateFB? @Brady_Quinn is at a— Zach Gelb (@ZachGelb) September 21, 2023
Full Zach Gelb Show chat on @CBSSportsRadio with Brady Quinn here: https://t.co/6tBGFg2Jc9@BNKonFOX pic.twitter.com/9IRaoYgJzM
"I saw this team Week 0 up close and personal in Dublin, Ireland. ... Seeing the team, the size, the depth they have in the trenches, looking at their skill positions – they are as long and as athletic and as skillful as I have seen in my lifetime. This is a group that’s recruited well. They’ve developed well. They’ve been primed now to try to have that breakthrough, and I think Sam Hartman’s the guy that’s now opening so many things up for them on the outside at wide receiver, where they've had talent, but they haven’t been able to have somebody who can stretch the field vertically. They’ve got a quarterback now that can do that. It's been a long time since a Notre Dame team has had this much talent on a roster. I think they will surprise a lot of Ohio State people. This group feels very similar to Michigan as far as how this team is built. They’re still built through the running game, dominating you physically, but sound, solid defense. They can get pressure. They can get turnovers. But now they’ve got people to make the big plays, too, with the quarterback. We'll see where Ohio State is at. This is the closest team they'll face before they have to go up to Ann Arbor and play the Wolverines."
We'll see about that, Mr. Quinn.
Quinn probably had level-10 confidence before Ohio State and Notre Dame faced off in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, then Troy Smith (342 yards, 3 TD), Antonio Pittman (136 yards, 1 TD) and Ted Ginn Jr. (167 yards, 1 TD) torched the Irish, while Quinn completed 29 of 45 passes for 286 yards and no touchdowns. Ohio State won 34-20 in Tempe, Arizona.
I'm looking for the same outcome on Saturday – a comfortable win with Kyle McCord, TreVeyon Henderson and Marvin Harrison Jr. leading the way as Smith, Pittman and Ginn did over 16 years ago. I wouldn't mind if Sam Hartman finished with a box score similar to Quinn. That'd be nice.
"I'LL BE NOSTALGIC." From 1973-76, Gene Smith was a defensive end at Notre Dame, and from 1977-80, he was a graduate assistant and special teams coach for the Irish under head coach Dan Devine.
In a recent interview with The Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio State athletic director told Joey Kaufman that those years in South Bend, Indiana, were foundational to the man he has become over 40 years later.
At Notre Dame, Smith developed an enthusiasm for his craft, learned to manage people and players and met men and women who helped him establish a career in athletics. That's why, when Smith returns to his alma mater on Saturday, the 67-year-old Cleveland native may experience several emotions – namely nostalgia.
Smith’s arrival in South Bend on Saturday will involve a different pregame routine for the Buckeyes’ athletic director. He plans to get there early to attend a tailgate for former Irish players outside of Notre Dame Stadium, making for a brief alumni reunion. When he strolls the sideline during warmups, he expects he will take his time before heading to a suite in the press box to watch the game with a dozen Ohio State donors.
“I’ll probably stay a little longer,” Smith said. “Just savor the moment.”
The sights that are visible from the stadium, the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus, figure to allow to him to slip back in time. The tunnel, too. It was in 1977, the year when Smith was a graduate assistant, that the Irish emerged from that hole in the north end zone wearing green jerseys for the first time, a wardrobe swap that is etched into program lore, a catalyst for a win over rival USC, a tradition that will continue this weekend. The players even followed a homemade Trojan horse onto the field.
“Guys went berserk,” Smith.
Yet it’s not a sightseeing trip, and as the prime-time kickoff for a top-10 matchup approaches, Smith anticipates any sentimentality to fade with the sunset.
“I’ll be nostalgic,” he said, “but when the game starts, it’s a game, and I change.”
In his final year as Ohio State's athletic director, it's incredible that Smith will have an experience back where his professional athletics career started.
As the Buckeyes prepare to face the Irish on Saturday, he'll walk down the tunnel and stroll the sidelines at Notre Dame Stadium like old times – a full-circle moment – then head to a club-level suite and watch Ohio State take down Notre Dame in front of 81,000 fans in attendance (plus millions of TV viewers). That sounds pretty darn cool to me!
"YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE PENALIZED." Ahead of Ohio State's top-10 showdown with Notre Dame, former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer blasted Michigan* and Georgia for their weak nonconference schedules in his most recent episode of "Urban's Take" for On3.
*I will self-report to the Eleven Warriors MODS for breaking No TTUN Friday rules
"In a 12-team playoff, I think games (like Ohio State-Notre Dame) will go away, and I am scared about that. Look at the team up in Ann Arbor. You shouldn’t be allowed to play that schedule. Georgia is playing a schedule that, at the end of the day, you’re supposed to be penalized for that, and they’re not. So why would Ohio State play this game? Well, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s for the fans. It’s for the good of the game. It’s for everybody. But what if they lose? They might be out of the playoff because they made that decision. You saw Oregon do that a couple of years ago. Oregon lost, I think one or two games they lost. They played Auburn in (Atlanta), and I remember discussing that on 'Big Noon.' They got left out of the playoff, and then you had other teams playing three much lesser opponents that made the playoff. I’m really disappointed. You’re talking about the Wolverines used to play Notre Dame all the time. They’re not. And you know why – you can say whatever you want – because they don’t want the potential of that loss to hurt them for a playoff bid."
On Saturday, the Buckeyes will battle the No. 9-ranked Irish with Sam Hartman, Audric Estimé, Joe Alt, Benjamin Morrison and Cam Hart at Notre Dame Stadium after matchups with Indiana, Youngstown State and Western Kentucky in Weeks 1-3. Meanwhile, the Wolverines will face Rutgers (an undefeated Rutgers!) after matchups with East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green, and the Bulldogs will face UAB after matchups with UT Martin, Ball State and South Carolina.
One of those Week 4 games is not the same (Hint: It's Ohio State-Notre Dame).
MORE TO GAIN? An undetermined number of NFL scouts will attend Ohio State's matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday. While we are left to wonder about the exact number, I have an estimate: Somewhere between zero (0) and 32.
Here is how The Athletic's Dane Brugler described the matchup this week: "A showdown of two storied college football programs that has long been circled on the calendar by both fans and scouts, Ohio State at Notre Dame will be one of the most heavily attended games by NFL personnel this fall."
Brugler also included five prospects who could boost their draft stock with a strong performance in the top-10 matchup on Saturday. The first three prospects were Notre Dame's Joe Alt, Sam Hartman and Cam Hart. The latter two were Ohio State's Tommy Eichenberg and Cade Stover.
As productive as Notre Dame’s passing attack has been, the ground game is what unlocks everything for its offense. Junior RB Audric Estime leads the FBS with 521 rushing yards — 86 yards more than No. 2 on the list (Appalachian State’s Nate Noel) and 155 yards ahead of No. 3 (UMass’ Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams).
Eichenberg is Ohio State’s answer for Estime and the Irish rushing attack. He led the Buckeyes in tackles last season (120) and is doing so again this year (20) through three games. The senior has a trustworthy trigger and plays very disciplined with his eyes and run fits. As a tackler, Eichenberg takes sharp angles to the ball and bursts through the ball carrier with strong hands to finish.
Eichenberg, younger brother of former Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg, is the top-ranked senior linebacker for several NFL teams and has a chance to secure Day 2 draft status.
The Buckeyes’ wide receiver depth chart is arguably the best in college football, but Stover is an important weapon, too. He is second on the team in receiving yards (188) and leads all FBS tight ends in yards after catch (131). Although he is still searching for his first touchdown of 2023, eight of his 10 catches have resulted in a first down.
The main area where Stover must improve is his blocking. Scouts don’t have questions about the “want to,” but his lack of execution has been an issue, especially out in space on wide receiver screens. Stover needs to perform well as a blocker against the Irish to move the ball and also to help his draft grade.
He entered the season as my No. 1 senior at tight end, and that hasn’t changed, but he has work to do if he wants to be a top-100 draft pick.
As two of Ohio State's three captains (Xavier Johnson), it cannot be understated how important it will be for Eichenberg and Stover to perform well on Saturday.
As Brugler wrote, the Buckeyes will lean on Eichenberg to stop Audric Estimé from moving the chains for Notre Dame's offense. At the same time, Stover will look to help Ohio State establish the run with TreVeyon Henderson and company, which will open up the passing attack for Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming and him. With Harrison expected to attract double teams, Stover will have ample opportunities to win one-on-ones against the Irish linebackers and defensive backs.
Should Eichenberg and Stover fill their assigned roles and perform well on Saturday, we could see the Ohio natives shoot up draft boards for the rest of the season – an outcome that would be well-deserved for the Buckeye veterans.
SONG OF THE DAY. "Black Betty" by Ram Jam.
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