COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — CJ Stroud threw two touchdown passes and Ohio State’s revamped defense gave his vaunted offense time to find its groove as the No. beat Notre Dame No. 5 21-10 on Saturday night.
The opening game of the top five was a homecoming for Notre Dame freshman coach Marcus Freeman, the former Buckeyes linebacker who rose to a meteoric rise to lead the Fighting Irish at 36.
Freeman is now 0-2 as a head coach after losing a bowl game just weeks after being named Brian Kelly’s successor.
In the Legendary Programs’ first regular-season meeting since 1996, the Irish hung with the top-performing Buckeyes for most of three quarters, frustrating Heisman Trophy runner-up Stroud and setting up some notable first-half drives.
But the Ohio State defense, too generous against the run last season, put the rein in the Irishman and new starting quarterback Tyler Buchner in the second period.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day handed over his defensive staff in the offseason, bringing in Oklahoma State’s Jim Knowles to be the coordinator.
How quickly the Buckeyes would resume a program considered more complicated and multi-faceted than the one they ran was an open question.
It looked good in the first game. The Irish only passed for 253 yards and had their last six possessions. Tommy Eichenberg had two of Ohio State’s three sacks.
And the Irish D could only hold out for so long.
On a long third, Notre Dame brought in several blitzers and Ohio State gave Stroud plenty of time to find Xavier Johnson open deep middle released for a 24-yard score. That put the Buckeyes up 14-10 with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
On its next ride, Ohio State asserted itself. The Buckeyes went for 95 yards in 14 plays, killing seven minutes behind and making it 21-10 on a one-yard drive from Miyan Williams.
Williams rushed for 84 yards on 14 carries and TreVeyon Henderson had 91 on 15 attempts.
Ohio State led the nation in points and yards per game last season, but for much of the night it was hard work for Stroud and the offense.
Playing mostly without star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who took a hard hit in the first series, Stroud threw for 223 yards.
He and Emeka Egbuka connected for a catch and a 31-yard run to make it 7-3 in the first quarter. But that was it for the Buckeyes in the first half.
Buchner and the Irish responded with a long touchdown capped by Audric Etime’s one-yard touchdown jump in the second quarter to give the Irish a 10-7 lead.
That’s how it went at halftime. Things couldn’t have gone much better for Freeman at this point in his return to Ohio Stadium, but it turned out to be as good as it gets.
Notre Dame: Buchner completed his first eight passes, then went 2-for-10 the rest of the way. The Irish got creative and made big grabs in the first half to move the ball, but lacked responses in the second half.
Ohio State: Smith-Njigba, last seen setting the Rose Bowl record, finished with 2 catches for 3 yards. The Buckeyes have a deep reception hall, filled with blue-chipers, but it was Johnson, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on, who caught the touchdown.
Ohio State honored its 2002 national championship in a quick first-half on-court ceremony with former coach Jim Tressel and dozens of former players, including Maurice Clarett.
Tressel was reluctantly hoisted onto the shoulders of two former players and the crowd roared.
Ohio Stadium’s 100th season opener also drew LeBron James and his son, Bronny, to the sidelines at Ohio State. One week into the NFL season, former Buckeyes Justin Fields and Chase Young were in attendance.
Notre Dame: Freeman’s home opener is next week against Marshall.
Ohio State: Toledo visits the Buckeyes.