March 24, 2016

As the second-ranked University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team (5-1) makes its way to Columbus, Ohio, this weekend to take on Ohio State (5-4) in Ohio Stadium (the Buckeyes only recently have begun to play regularly in their football facility), it’s a reminder there’s no shortage of interest no matter what the sport (or anything else) in which the Irish and Buckeyes compete.

Here are the watchwords for the matchup: history, defense, attendance, ride and connections.

— Notre Dame’s series history with Ohio State outlasts anything else in the Irish lacrosse record book. The teams have met 40 previous times, including every year since Notre Dame lacrosse became a varsity sport in 1981 (including twice in 1981, three times in 1982, then twice in 2008 and 2009 when the two teams shared membership in the Great Western Lacrosse League). The next most expansive Irish lacrosse relationship is with Air Force-and those 22 previous match-ups (the last in 2009) are barely half the number of times Notre Dame and Ohio State have faced off.

This is the 36th year the two programs have met and that brings back memories of some previous meetings:

* Just two years ago, Notre Dame and Ohio State had to dodge a blizzard. After the teams warmed up at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, a snowstorm hit, delaying the game for a half-hour. Recalls Irish assistant coach Gerry Byrne, “When you see photos from the game, it looked like someone splashed Cool Whip on the players’ helmets.” Standard white lacrosse balls used during warm-ups disappeared in the snow, and officials went looking for orange balls. Ohio State staffers had to shovel off lines. Once the game began, then-Irish sophomore Matt Kavanagh took over, finishing with a Notre Dame single-game record-tying seven goals. The Irish won 13-7.

* In 2008 Irish goaltender Joey Kemp enjoyed one of his most productive career efforts in the net, making 18 saves and allowing only two goals in a 9-2 Notre Dame win over 10th-rated Ohio State in suburban Detroit in the Great Western Lacrosse League postseason tournament title game. The Buckeyes came in averaging 14 goals per game.

* Also in 2008 Ohio State began playing the “Showdown in the Shoe,” a Buckeye men’s lacrosse game played as a preamble to the Ohio State spring football game. Notre Dame came to Columbus to play in that event a year later in 2009, and Irish coaches still remember the police escorts required to move the Notre Dame team in and out of Ohio Stadium. The official attendance for the lacrosse game was 30,192 (based on fans in the stadium at halftime of the lacrosse game), then the NCAA regular-season single-game record. The game meant plenty to Irish freshman attack Nick Beattie (both his parents are Ohio State graduates), a Columbus product (Worthington Kilbourne) who whistled a shot into the corner of the net with 1:57 remaining to finish the Notre Dame scoring in the 14-8 Irish victory. Kevin Corrigan’s crew offset an early 3-0 Buckeye lead with eight consecutive goals (one at :01 of the second period, then seven in a row over the first 11 minutes of the third period). On an 80-degree day, a national record spring football crowd of 95,722 fans turned out in Ohio Stadium and many of those were around to catch all or parts of the late lacrosse action.

— Defense could reign (again)-Notre Dame achieved a rare feat in the series a year ago, shutting out Ohio State 9-0 at Arlotta Stadium behind Shane Doss’ 11 saves (and two more by Conor Kelly). And defense could again play a major role Saturday, considering the Irish team defense leads the nation in allowing only 6.33 goals per contest, while Doss ranks second nationally in goals-against average (5.94) and save percentage (.624). Notre Dame also rates second nationally in caused turnovers (9.83).

— Attendance is mandatory-That 2008 regular-season game in Columbus with its 30,192 attendance figure still qualifies as the second-highest total for an NCAA regular-season game (topped only by another Ohio State spring football collaboration the following year). The Irish also have been part of a crowd of 19,875 at Giants Stadium in 2013 in a doubleheader that included Notre Dame meeting Syracuse-and another of 19,742 in 2010 in Baltimore in a triple header that included Notre Dame against Loyola.

— Come along for the Irish ride-As good as Notre Dame’s defense and goaltending have been, don’t forget how effective Notre Dame’s ride has been in 2016. Irish opponents have been unable to clear on 34 occasions through six games, including six or more times in each of the last four games. Notre Dame’s current opponent clearing percentage of .719 compares quite favorably to those from the last half-dozen seasons: .787 in 2015, .819 in 2014, .880 in 2013, .882 in 2012, .885 in 2011 and .830 in 2010. That .787 figure for the Irish a year ago compared even more favorably to those compiled by the three other Championship Weekend participants–.867 by Denver, .868 by Maryland and .878 by Johns Hopkins.

Want to re-rank the current USILA top 10 based on how well teams force unsuccessful opposing clearing attempts? Here’s how it would look:

1. Notre Dame (#2 USILA) .719
2. Yale (#3) .735
3. Syracuse (#5) .802
4. Duke (#9) .804
5. Villanova (#6) .816
6. Brown (#4) .818
7. Maryland (#7) .832
8. Johns Hopkins (#8) .848
9. Albany (#10) .898
10. Denver (#1) .901

According to Lacrosse Film Room, Notre Dame ranks first nationally in Adjusted Clear Differential (the difference between its own clear percentage and its opponents’ clear percentage) at +18.2 percent-and second nationally behind only Yale in Adjusted Ride Percentage at 27.2.

— Lots of Names We Know-It won’t have any bearing on the lacrosse match Saturday, yet it’s hard to imagine another Division I institution with more athletic staffers with Notre Dame ties than what Ohio State offers:
* Athletics director Gene Smith (former Irish football player and assistant coach)
* Head football coach Urban Meyer (former Irish assistant coach)
* Assistant football coaches Tony Alford, Tim Hinton and Ed Warinner (all former Irish assistants)
* Head women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff (former Irish assistant)
* Assistant athletics director for football sports performance Mickey Marotti (former Irish director of strength and conditioning)

— Irish coach Kevin Corrigan on the matchup-“Ohio State is the only team that’s been on our schedule every year that I’ve been here. It’s a rivalry for us and for them. It’s a rivalry game-you’ve got to go out and beat them. There’s no two ways about that. They’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of new faces from a year ago and they’ve been a little inconsistent at times-but they are very capable. We’ve got to be prepared for them to put 60 minutes together.”

— Corrigan on the Irish-“I think we’re growing. We’ve got to get better and I think we are getting better. Sometimes you do the work to get better and you make progress, but the results don’t show right away. We’re playing better offensively than we were three weeks ago and eventually the numbers will reflect that. We have to play possessions long enough to give ourselves the best opportunities. You play a sport that has a goalie and someone else has a chance to seriously affect how many goals you’re going to score. We’ve had some goalies play very well against us. When that happens we’ve got to work for great shots and not settle for good shots.”

University of Notre Dame Athletics Communications contact:
John Heisler
Senior Associate Athletics Director
112 Joyce Center
Notre Dame, IN 46556
574-631-7516 (office)
574-532-0293 (cell)

The University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team pursues excellence on and off the field through the three pillars in which the program is built: Character, Culture & Community. These three foundational values guide the promise of the program, which is to provide its student-athletes with the most compelling and enriching experience in all of college athletics. Through academics, competition, service and travel, the program aims to immerse its players in situations that enhance their student-athlete experience to help them become the people, students and teammates they aspire to be.

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