By Laken Litman
FOX Sports College Football Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ryan Day walked into Ohio State’s postgame interview room Saturday smiling. Actually, he was giddy.
Yes, the second-ranked Buckeyes had just beaten fifth-ranked Notre Dame 21-10 at a roaring Horseshoe to open the season. But this wasn’t the 45-point, offensive explosion of a performance we were all expecting. This was gritty.
Ohio State’s offense had to run the ball and the defense had to grind it out and make big plays, which is the opposite of a signature Day win. His teams pass the ball. A major storyline for months this offseason was just how lethal Ohio State’s passing game was going to be with the connection between C.J. Stroud, a Heisman Trophy finalist last year, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, probably the country’s best wide receiver.
[How Jaxon Smith-Njigba became the next great Ohio State receiver]
But that’s not how this game was won. And Ohio State’s coaching staff couldn’t have been more excited about it.
“A lot of people questioned our toughness this offseason and for us to win the way we did, I couldn’t be any prouder,” Day said.
“Who said it had to be a track meet?” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson yelled in the tunnel after the game. “We can get down and dirty!”
No. 2 Ohio State outlasts No. 5 Notre Dame
RJ Young breaks down Ohio State’s 21-10 victory over Notre Dame. C.J. Stroud was huge for the Buckeyes, completing 24 of 34 passes for 223 yards.
Ohio State’s original game plan derailed early when Smith-Njigba was shaken up in the first quarter. He was knocked out of bounds after a catch, which forced him to miss the next few series. He tried to come back in the second quarter, but was favoring his left side. He also tried jogging on the sideline under the supervision of an athletic trainer, but was in and out of the injury tent.
Ohio State needed to win without him.
“Yeah, it was a struggle early on,” said Day, who expects Smith-Njigba to be back sometime this week. “When we lost Jaxon, we got a little bit out of rhythm, couldn’t convert on third down, a lot off schedule with a couple penalties that we’ve got to clean up.
“But you know, early games, we’re a little bit clunky. And again, losing Jaxon kind of threw us off a little bit, and we had to respond.”
Ohio State has a plethora of receivers at Stroud’s disposal, like Emeka Egbuka, who had nine catches for 90 yards, and Marvin Harrison Jr., who had five catches for 56 yards. Stroud also has Xavier Johnson, a former walk-on turned scholarship player, whose 24-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the third quarter put the Buckeyes up 14-10. But Smith-Njigba has a shot at winning the Biletnikoff Award, so the vibe is off when he’s not playing.
Plan B was committing to the run, which Ohio State did in the fourth quarter. TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams combined for 175 yards and a touchdown. And on a 14-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that clinched victory, Ohio State ran the ball 10 times, seven by Williams, who racked up 49 of his total 84 yards right then. He also had a catch.
[Heisman Watch: How the preseason top 10 performed in Week 1]
It’s worth wondering how the game might have unfolded had Ohio State committed to the run earlier. If Day hadn’t waited until the fourth quarter, maybe the Buckeyes would have put Notre Dame away sooner.
“We have to be able to win that way, we do,” Day said. “We have to find ways to win like that. Because there’s going to be games certainly in the Big Ten like that, and Notre Dame is kind of built like some of the Big Ten teams we play. And so for teams that want to run the ball and eat up the clock and keep the offense off the field, we have to run the ball in those moments. And we did. We had to do that. And that was something that we spent a lot of time in the offseason saying, we have to be able to win ugly on offense and stop the run on defense. And that’s what happened.
“They all count the same. When you have that versatility, it’s going to pay off down the road. So this is a huge start for us. We have a lot to improve on, a lot to build on, but I’m proud of our team.”
Stroud went 24 of 34 for 223 yards and two touchdowns and made some huge plays down the stretch. Many of those were scrambles on the run where it looked like he was about to go out of bounds, but instead completed a 12-yard pass to Williams here and a nine-yard pass to Harrison Jr. there.
“I think you can see who C.J. wants to be,” Day said. “He could want to go out there and have all these yards and everything like that. It’s not important to him. What’s important is winning, and he’s a winner.”
[RJ Young’s Top 25 after Week 1]
Notre Dame was a formidable opponent that likely surprised everybody outside of South Bend. It held Ohio State to 99 passing yards in the first half and one touchdown before the final three drives. For a good chunk of the game, the Fighting Irish were more dominant in the trenches, which is an area Ohio State has strived to be better.
Ultimately, Ohio State’s defense, a retooled group under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, held the Irish to one touchdown and 253 total yards. They stopped the run, holding Notre Dame to 76 yards on 2.5 yards per carry.
“The story of the night was the defense,” Day said. “It turned around after what’s been said about them in the offseason, questioning their toughness.”
“We were called soft all last year and had to eat it,” added safety Lathan Ransom.
[Top plays from Week 1 in college football]
There was a lot of hype surrounding Ohio State this offseason. Day’s team is a favorite to win the national championship, and that trickled down into the atmosphere at the home opener. Noted famous Buckeyes fan LeBron James was walking the sidelines before kickoff, as was Jayson Tatum, Andre Iguodala, Justin Fields, Ezekiel Elliott, Joe Burrow, plus the entire 2002 Ohio State national championship team, which was honored during the game. It took awhile for the Buckeyes to settle in and click, and while they relished the environment, the pressure didn’t help.
“I mean, thinking about the game, we’re playing the No. 5 team in the country,” Stroud said. “It’s kind of weird being out there again, to be honest. It’s like, seeing the fans, dealing with all the outside noise and trying to lock in. At the end of the day, we got the win.”
The expectation at Ohio State is to win the national championship. This is a group that truly believes last year’s 11-2 season, in which it won the Rose Bowl, was a failure. The Buckeyes’ goals are to beat Michigan, win the Big Ten and win a national title. All of those things are still very much possible, but there is work to be done. This team is not quite on the same level as Alabama or Georgia just yet, but there is still time to get there.
“If we can continue to win games like that, then that’s how we’ll win games,” Day said. “And when you can win in different ways, it says a lot about your team and I think this game is going to pay dividends down the road.”
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers seemed determined to keep playing. And playing. And playing.
The teams opened their Eastern Conference final playoff series with Florida’s 3-2 victory in four overtimes early Friday, with the game ranking as the sixth-longest game in NHL history.
Matthew Tkachuk’s goal came at the 19:47 mark of the fourth OT to end this one, which marked the 15th four-overtime game in NHL history and the longest game in franchise history for each team.
The longest game in NHL history came on March 24, 1936, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime on Mud Bruneteau’s goal at 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra play.
Florida’s previous record for longest game was 104:31 in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup final against Colorado. Carolina’s previous record was 114:47 for Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final.
The only good news for the teams is they had an extended break before this series began. Carolina closed out New Jersey exactly a week earlier, while Florida eliminated Toronto a day later.
But this game ended roughly six hours after Thursday night’s puck drop, and the teams have a Game 2 in less than 48 hours.
AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club
MADRID (AP) — The investigation ordered by Barcelona into its controversial payments for refereeing reports found no evidence of corruption by the club, president Joan Laporta said Monday.
Laporta reiterated that the club’s payments over several years to the company owned by the vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee were only for technical reports and not to influence referees. He said he believed there were no ethics breach and that Barcelona was the victim of a campaign to hurt its reputation.
“This is one of the most ferocious attacks in our history,” Laporta said. “I ask FC Barcelona supporters to be as united as ever in defense of our crest, our essence, and our ownership model. No campaign to discredit us will prevent us from continuing to be an organization of reference in the world of sports that is beloved and admired by millions of Catalans and by many more millions of people around the world.”
It was the first time Laporta spoke at a news conference to give explanations after it became public that the club paid 7.3 million euros ($8 million) from 2001-18 to the company of then committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira. Prosecutors have accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of mercantile documentation.
Barcelona opened the probe to look into the actions of all the different presidential administrations that made payments over the years, including Laporta’s first at the club. The investigation was conducted by an external company.
The club said the probe found that “no conducts of a criminal nature associated to sporting corruption have been identified, nor are there any grounds to investigate any form of criminal activity associated to bribery.” It added there was “official documentation on the invoices and payments” for the services of “scouting and advice regarding referees, which are common practices in the professional sports sector.”
“Consulting on technical-refereeing issues does not constitute any type of illegal act,” Laporta said. “Consulting, as is done by the big clubs, that was carried out transparently, with the corresponding invoices, at least in my first mandate as president.”
The probe found 629 technical refereeing reports and 43 CDs that the club received over 18 years for what Laporta called “market price.” More reports were likely lost over time, he said.
“I reiterate with all my resolve, I am convinced that FC Barcelona has not committed any crime of sports-related corruption. I hope that sooner rather than later, it is fully exonerated,” he said. “Accusations must be proven. We live by the rule of law, which guarantees among its basic principles the presumption of innocence.”
He said that if there were any irregularities committed by Negreira, Barcelona would be a victim of them. He also said Negreira was not in a position to directly influence referees, and that it was Negreira’s son who actually produced the refereeing reports.
“I dare anyone to show an instance in which Barcelona was favored in a match because of these payments,” Laporta said. “We will allow the justice system to do its work and I’m sure that Barcelona will be cleared. I am fully convinced that FC Barcelona has never performed any act with the intention of altering the competition to gain an advantage.”
The Spanish league, Real Madrid and other clubs have been among those taking part in the legal proceedings against Barcelona. Laporta criticized league president Javier Tebas for making accusations against Barcelona, and also took a shot at rival Madrid.
“Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favored by refereeing mistakes,” he said.
Laporta said Barcelona has always been a club that takes pride in its values, and it would never want to win anything with outside help.
“Throughout its 123-year history, FC Barcelona has always been a model of fair play, both on and off the field,” he said. “If we have won for so many decades, it has undoubtedly been a result of effort, talent and knowledge.”
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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Silicon Valley city councilman has been charged with perjury after he allegedly lied about leaking a grand jury report to the San Francisco 49ers last year that detailed a purportedly unethical relationship between the team and the city council, prosecutors said Friday.
Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker is accused of providing the secret report titled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Santa Clara City Council” to the team’s former top spokesperson and a local media outlet in 2022, days ahead of its official release.
Becker then allegedly lied to the grand jury about the leak, prosecutors said, prompting the criminal charges.
The 49ers play in Levi’s Stadium in the city of Santa Clara, about 35 miles (56.33 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Santa Clara County is broadly considered home to Silicon Valley.
The city of Santa Clara owns the stadium and leases it to the team; fighting between the two groups has led to ethics complaints, legal disputes and years of bad blood.
Al Guido, the team’s president, and Larry MacNeil, the former CFO who worked extensively on the team’s stadium project, were named in the indictment as witnesses who spoke to the criminal grand jury for Becker’s indictment.
“The 49ers have cooperated fully with the District Attorney’s Office in their investigation, and will continue to do so,” team spokesperson Brian Brokaw said in a statement Friday. “However, because this is an ongoing legal matter, the organization is not able to make any further comment at this time.”
Prosecutors say the team has bankrolled Becker’s political career by spending $3.2 million through independent expenditure committees for his 2020 city council race, which he won, as well as his unsuccessful 2022 mayoral bid.
The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” report alleged that Becker and four other councilmembers regularly voted “in a manner that is favorable to the 49ers” and would routinely meet with the team’s lobbyists but not disclose what was discussed.
Becker faces a felony charge of perjury under oath, as well as a misdemeanor charge of willful failure to perform duty. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.
Becker did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
“Councilmember Becker violated the public’s trust,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “That an elected official would commit perjury and lie under oath before the grand jury strikes at the very heart of our justice system and requires accountability.”
Representatives for the Santa Clara City Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.