Marcus Freeman explains why Notre Dame had 10 players on field for Ohio State's winning TD

Beating Ohio State is a tough-enough task at full strength. Doing so shorthanded is just about impossible, as Marcus Freeman and No. 9 Notre Dame discovered Saturday.

The Fighting Irish (4-1) fell in agonizing fashion to the Buckeyes (4-0) as Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord engineered a last-minute go-ahead drive, capped by a 1-yard Chip Trayanum touchdown with one second remaining. With that, Notre Dame lost 17-14, dropping them from the ranks of the unbeaten.

As if the loss didn't sting enough, a replay of the fateful sequence showed Notre Dame wasn't even at full strength: The Fighting Irish defense only had 10 players on the field for the last two plays of the game, the latter of which saw Trayanum plunge in ahead for the game-winning score.

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Speaking after the game, Freeman said he was aware the team had 10 players on the field, but couldn't take the necessary timeout to make sure he got his 11th player (a fourth defensive lineman) out onto the field.

"Yeah, we were trying to get a fourth D-lineman on the field," Freeman said. "I told him to just stay off, because we can't afford a penalty – I didn't have any timeouts, right? So we couldn't afford a penalty there. Yeah, it's on us. We've gotta be better."

Continued Freeman: "So there's two plays really to be prepared for. They went and threw that incomplete pass, had three seconds left. And we couldn't get a timeout, right? We couldn't get a timeout, 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 end up doing."

It's uncertain whether Ryan Day and Ohio State saw Notre Dame was shorthanded in that moment – McCord said he did not — but Day did intimate after the game that he thought the Fighting Irish might be "soft" in the middle of their defense:

"But then with three seconds left, we knew that was the last play. And I felt like they could be a little bit soft inside," Day said. "We gotta make a yard. We had four opportunities: two down here and two down here to get two first downs. And we didn't do it. And we had to get it right there. We got it, we won the game."

Sure enough, Ohio State attacked the weak point in the Notre Dame defense, with Trayanum taking the zone-read carry straight up the gut for the touchdown. Even so, he very nearly slipped short of the goal, but managed to get the ball over the line to gain just as his knees hit the ground.

Whether having an 11th player on the field would have made a difference can never be known. But Freeman, Notre Dame and Fighting Irish faithful almost certainly will agonize over what could have been.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Ohio State-Notre Dame: Marcus Freeman explains game-deciding play