The last time junior quarterback Kyle McCord recalled playing in a prime-time game was during his junior year of high school at St. Joseph’s Prep when he faced off against Marietta High School in Georgia.
Three years later, he now has the opportunity to play in another, on a much larger stage.
This time, he’ll wear an Ohio State jersey in South Bend, Indiana., as the No. 6 Buckeyes kick-off against No. 9 Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m., Saturday.
For McCord, this game marks their “first real test” of the season.
“I’d say [it’s] definitely our biggest test yet,” McCord said. “Tough environment, really well-coached team, really talented team. So I think it’s definitely our toughest test yet, but I think everyone has risen to the occasion this week because we know what’s on the line Saturday. ”
Former Ohio State linebacker and current Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman is set to lead Notre Dame against the Buckeyes once again.
It will be both teams’ first top-10 game of the season and for McCord, one of the biggest games of his football career.
McCord threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns, completing 80 percent of his passes against a tenacious Western Kentucky defense that forced six turnovers in its first two games.
However, Notre Dame’s fourth-ranked defense will make the game even more challenging. McCord said that although he approaches each game with an even-keel mindset, he recognizes the significance of playing on such a big stage against one of the top programs in the country.
“I think every week I hold myself to an extremely high standard, regardless of who we play or where we play,” McCord said. “But I think in the back of your mind, obviously, you know what it is and what type of test you’re going to see on Saturday night.”
Notre Dame’s Benjamin Morrison, a ballhawk sophomore cornerback, lines up opposite McCord and the Ohio State offense.
Last season, Morrison had six interceptions, and he added his first of the year against North Carolina State Saturday.
Undoubtedly, the All-American will look to record another, making McCord’s task of throwing deep balls even more challenging. Ohio State’s head coach, Ryan Day, praised Morrison, calling him a “great corner.”
Day said the game plan against Notre Dame will remain unchanged, but the team must stay aware of Morrison’s whereabouts on the field.
Luckily for Ohio State, it has multiple ”good players” on the other end who can contest against the young talent, he said.
Day said the depth on both sides will be useful in a game of this magnitude.
“The good news for us is that we have multiple really good players back there,” Day said, “It’s the same thing on offense. When you’re getting into games like this, oftentimes, it can come down to the matchups.”
Day said he feels most comfortable heading into Notre Dame with the team’s offensive balance. Ohio State has arguably the nation’s top wide receiver and deepest running back room.
Junior wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. recorded consecutive 100-yard games and a career-long 75-yard reception against Western Kentucky, surpassing his previous record set just a week prior. Junior wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, also reached the 1,500-yard milestone, joining Harrison in the club.
Meanwhile, Junior running back TreVeyon Henderson reached 2,000 yards, and senior running back Chip Trayanum scored his first rushing touchdown of the season.
Day said having multiple players who can shift the game’s momentum is crucial against a highly trained defensive team like Notre Dame.
“That’s good when you can attack from different personnel groupings,” Day said. “It forces the defense to have to play the entire field. They can’t just focus in on one guy or one thing that you’re doing.”
Day said the offensive line will also play a significant role in Saturday’s contest as they face off against Notre Dame’s fierce defensive line, including ends Jordan Botelho and Joshua Burnham.
Despite struggling during the opening week, the Buckeyes performed well in the past two games, sustaining blocks and creating holes for the run game.
Day said he is confident in the team’s ability to perform on the grand stage. Even though McCord has never played in a top-10 matchup, Day said his experience of being around such competition, like last year with C.J. Stroud at the helm, has prepared him for this moment.
McCord said he and his teammates are excited to be part of history as they prepare for the eighth all-time matchup between both programs.
“I feel like this week we’ve obviously ramped up the intensity,” McCord said. “I think just because we know who we‘re going up against on Saturday. I feel like everybody has kind of had an edge to them, which is good.”