April 21, 2024

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Moments after Ohio State players walked toward their tunnel carrying an “Ohio Against The World” flag, coach Ryan Day approached and emphatically pumped his fist toward the fans.

Day’s emotions had surged all week, fueled by comments from former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz that Ohio State loses big games because the team isn’t physical enough. Holtz told “The Pat McAfee Show” on Friday that “Notre Dame will take that same approach” to hand Day another big-stage defeat.

Instead, the sixth-ranked Buckeyes prevailed 17-14 against No. 9 Notre Dame and did so in a way that Day couldn’t have scripted any better. Ohio State drove the field and scored with one second left on a 1-yard Chip Trayanum touchdown run, confirmed following a replay review.

“I’m really upset … about what Lou Holtz said publicly about our team and Ohio State and Buckeye Nation,” Day said of Holtz, who was honored with Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship team during Saturday’s game. “We’re not going to stand for that. That’s not even close to true. We had one bad half a couple of years ago up in Ann Arbor, the second half. Every game we play in, we’re physical, we are.

“I don’t know where that narrative comes from, but that ends tonight.”

Holtz cited Ohio State’s consecutive losses to archrival Michigan and its College Football Playoff losses to Georgia, Alabama and Clemson as examples of a team that lacked grit. The 86-year-old’s comments and similar ones from others appeared on videoboards around Ohio State’s football building leading up to the Notre Dame game.

Until the final drive, Ohio State likely wouldn’t have quieted its critics. The Buckeyes squandered a 10-0 lead and struggled in short-yardage situations, including being stopped on an end around at Notre Dame’s 11-yard line with 4:11 to play.

But Ohio State capitalized on its final possession, converting on third-and-10, fourth-and-7 and third-and-19. After an incomplete pass, Ohio State had a final play on Notre Dame’s 1-yard line and went to Trayanum. Notre Dame had only 10 defenders on the field for the play.

“I made the call,” Day said. “There were three seconds left, so I’m thinking that’s the last play anyways. … Not only do we need to get that yard for this program, but it was the right thing to do schematically.”

Day said he believes the late comeback will be remembered as one of the biggest wins in team history. Trayanum, an Arizona State transfer who initially came to Ohio State to play linebacker, had no doubt he extended the ball across the goal line.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Trayanum’s touchdown marked the latest from scrimmage in a regular-season AP top-10 matchup since Michael Crabtree’s catch for Texas Tech in 2008 against Texas.

“As a running back, you live for runs like that,” Trayanum said. “The nitty-gritty runs, the runs where you’re fighting with your body to stay up and making sure nothing touched. You envision that as a running back. This feeling, it’s still surreal, but it’s definitely a good Buckeye win.”

Although Holtz’s comments struck a nerve with Day, the Buckeyes coach had heard similar criticism for a while following the team’s high-profile losses. He brought up Ohio State’s 21-10 season-opening win against Notre Dame in 2022 — “We physically got after them” — and said the team’s critics simply don’t watch film.

“We always say, ‘Ignore the noise,’ but every once in a while, after a while someone’s poking at you, you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in,” Day said. “That’s the way I was raised, and that’s the way I’m going to be moving forward. I got a bunch of guys in there that I love, that I work with every single day. To see some of the things that were said, I get Ohio against the world, but we needed to go play like that today.

“We needed to win like that, to stop that narrative that’s going on, because it’s not true.”

Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord had also faced criticism, from taking longer than expected to win the starting job to struggling at times during a season-opening win against Indiana. McCord had a choppy first half Saturday night and struggled to find top wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who briefly left the game with an ankle injury and walked slowly to the tunnel afterward.

But McCord came alive on the final drive, twice finding Emeka Egbuka for long gains and hitting Julian Fleming to convert the fourth-and-7. He finished with 240 passing yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.

“Down four points with a chance to go win it there in the end, a historic stadium, a great environment against a great defense, you can’t draw it up any better than that,” McCord said. “To come away with a win, it wasn’t perfect, but it feels really, really good.”

McCord said Notre Dame (4-1) played “soft” zone defense on the third-and-19 play, and Egbuka found an open spot, just short of the goal line.

“We thought we were going to be able to give them a different look and play some [Cover 4] and he threw a good ball, man,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said. “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. And he ended up putting it in a tight window.”

Ohio State (4-0) improved to 6-2 all time against Notre Dame, the second-best record for a Fighting Irish opponent with a minimum of four games, trailing only the University of Chicago.

“There’s no doubt I am emotional,” Day said. “Because in life, when people start talking and saying things about you, at some point you’ve got to put your foot in the ground. Our team did that.”

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