Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman knew his team had just 10 players on the field for Ohio State’s winning touchdown Saturday night.
The Buckeyes beat the Fighting Irish 17-14 as Chip Trayanum got into the end zone with one second left on a run play that went where a fourth Notre Dame defensive lineman should have been lined up. After the game, Freeman said Notre Dame’s coaching staff knew the team was shorthanded but didn’t want to risk a penalty by running a player onto the field late.
“Yeah, 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 — I didn’t have any timeouts,” Freeman said in his postgame news conference. “So we couldn’t afford a penalty there.
“It’s on us. We’ve got to be better.”
Notre Dame used its last timeout after Ohio State converted a third-and-19 for 21 yards to get a yard away from the end zone.
After the clock stopped to set the chains, Ohio State spiked the ball on first down with seven seconds left. That gave the Buckeyes two chances at the end zone and Notre Dame chose to use its last timeout before second down.
“We called a timeout [on second down] and so there’s two plays really to be prepared for in that situation and so they went and threw an incomplete pass [on second down], had three seconds left and we couldn’t get a timeout, we’re out of timeouts. The crowd’s loud, you can’t relay a message, and so I told them we’re probably going to run the same call twice and that’s what we ended up doing.”
But the Irish ran that same call with 10 players both times. Notre Dame had just three defensive linemen and 10 players on the field for the second-down play as well. The incomplete pass was a designed rollout and throw to the right and away from where the missing Notre Dame defensive lineman was supposed to be.
Freeman also explained the play calls on Notre Dame’s penultimate offensive possession of the game. Ohio State got the ball back with 1:26 to go for its winning drive after forcing a Notre Dame punt.
The Irish got two quick first downs on their drive and forced Ohio State to use its first timeout. Notre Dame then lost 5 yards on its third first down and Ohio State defensive end J.T. Tuimolau broke up a screen pass on second down. That incompletion stopped the clock and Notre Dame ended up running the ball on third down before punting.
“There wasn’t a way to just run the ball and the game would be over, right?” Freeman said. “So what I didn’t want to do is to concede and say, ‘OK let’s just run the ball three times and make them use two of their timeouts’ and all of the sudden we’re punting the ball and just giving them a chance to come down the field with the same amount of time they had.
“And so as I told him, ‘Let’s be smart but let’s play to win this game, let’s play to win this game.’ And that’s what we did. A second-down screen is almost as good as a run but obviously it was tipped and the kid made a great play and the clock stopped and we ran it on third and made them use a timeout.”