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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Marshall Thundering Herd Week

Despite the fact it’s a holiday, we’re still meeting today to discuss last Saturday and figure out what’s important heading into Marcus Freeman’s home debut

I can’t believe corporate is making us have this meeting this week, considering it’s supposed to be a holiday and considering the rough Saturday we all undoubtedly had. Woof. I’m excited for this display of going “above and beyond” to gain us literally nothing in terms of our careers aside from a metaphorical pat on the head!!!

Okay, let’s just get this over with so I can get to my couch, then brunch with my friends, and then back to my couch for the remainder of the day.

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Good morning everybody! How’s everyone doing? How’s the long weekend coming along?

Yep yep, mine too — I can’t believe it’s already almost over. Major Monday Scaries today, am I right?

And especially because we all had to jump on this call today — on the holiday meant to commemorate and honor laborers and give people time off — to discuss our project. I really appreciate everyone taking the time — I know it’s not what any of us want to be doing right now, but at least after this we will be in a good spot for the rest of the week and can enjoy the rest of Labor Day!


Alright, well I think we’ve got everyone on the meeting who’s going to be able to join, so why don’t we go ahead and dive into the deck so we can push through all our agenda items and maybe even end early and get some time back, eh?

Can everyone see my screen?

Okay great!

Per usual, here’s our agenda for the call — we’ll talk through last week, going over the positives and negatives, tracking action items on the scorecard, recognize our team members of the week, and then finish by reviewing this week’s competitor and what’s most important in righting the ship and getting our project back on track!

Sound good to everyone?


Cool cool cool — well just as a refresher, these next two slides go through what this project and initiative are all about. I’m not going to go through them in detail again, but for anyone new to the project just let me know if you have any questions or concerns about them as you peruse the deck on your own time.

Okay excellent, so now let’s let’s discuss last week’s results at a 30,000-foot view.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it or talk about moral victories, because I think at this point, as a company, we’re pretty sick of hearing that, right? Saturday’s performance wasn’t ideal by any means, and there are a lot of opportunities for improvement.

However, I also don’t want to act like the sky is falling or that the end result wasn’t better than I personally expected heading into the weekend, because it truly was. So I want to start here by focusing on several positive accomplishments that I think we as a team can build on from here.

For instance, I think the overall game plan/strategy from Marcus Freeman and his coaching staff was not only sound, but also pretty well executed overall. Ohio State came into the game with potentially the best offense in the country, and the Irish were able to hold them to a meager 21 points at home in primetime.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Al Golden’s defense wasn’t perfect and didn’t make a ton of above-and-beyond, game-changing plays (is the ND defense quiet-quitting???), but they were excellent in executing their responsibilities and in mostly containing an opponent touting 3 potential Heisman candidates.

TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams may have combined for 175 yards on 6 yards per carry, but neither went over 100 yards individually and neither had a run of more than 16 yards.

Meanwhile, C.J. Stroud flashed why he’s more or less a sure-fire top-5 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but he was limited in production to just 223 yards and 2 touchdowns when many expected he and his collection of former 5-star receivers to torch the Irish for much worse than that. And some of the plays he made were ridiculous and just professional-level moves that didn’t even come against any bad defense.

Of course, I’d be remiss to not mention that Jaxon Smith-Njigba, considered by most to be the best WR in the country, got hurt early on and managed just 2 receptions for 3 yards. It’s of course not nearly as significant a missing piece as when ND beat Clemson when they were missing Trevor Lawrence, but it is a slightly sobering reminder of the fact that the Irish didn’t have to deal with OSU’s most potent skill position player, and you could certainly argue his healthy presence may have at least turned the tide of this game sooner than it did, if not extended the final margin by a touchdown or so.

Still, though, the Irish defense held their own against a juggernaut, loaded offense with or without Smith-Njigba, and one could argue they only broke down and allowed OSU to take over in the 4th quarter because they were being asked to do way too much in having to be essentially perpetually on the field trying to stop an elite offense in the second half.

That, of course, is because the Notre Dame offense did such a poor job in the second half. In the first, though, the offense was a major driver behind me saying the overall strategy was executed pretty well by Freeman and co. They controlled the ball and time of possession, Buchner was smart and efficient with the ball, and despite the offensive line struggling literally from the first play from scrimmage, ND even managed to move the ball on the ground and get Audric Estime into the end zone to take a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.

Buchner’s first half play, as mentioned, was a major positive. No one was mistaking him for Stroud or Bryce Young, but he started the game 8-for-8 with 128 yards passing, 22 yards rushing, and really no bad decisions of note. He led the Irish on an opening drive that garnered a field goal, and then that other drive for a TD, and always at least looked productive, if not always super sharp.

Estime and Chris Tyree had a few nice runs to flash their talent, and I don’t think their pedestrian final stats are a reflection on them but much more so on the offensive line’s paltry performance.

You could certainly argue they both should haver gotten more touches — especially Tyree, who only got 6 carries but managed to run for almost 5 yards per carry on those touches.

Meanwhile, on defense, the Irish DBs played surprisingly well all evening, with guys like TaRiq Bracy, Clarence Lewis, and true freshman Benjamin Morrison looking pretty great time and again as they did a damn fine job sticking with a bunch of talented Buckeye receivers and making sure they didn’t miss open field tackles or allow for any big plays. Ohio State’s longest play from scrimmage was a 31-yard pass, which I think we all would have happily accepted heading into the match-up.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Other very small positives I want to quickly note:

  • Michael Mayer doing as much as he could, somehow managing to have a subpar stat line for him while also still reeling in half the team’s receptions
  • Lorenzo Styles’s first play, rattling off a 54-yard reception to set up the first 3 points of the game (Buchner stepping into a blitz and delivering that pass was beautiful and painful to watch as well — it was a bad omen for the offensive line performance to come all game)
  • Matt Salerno’s circus catch — he may not be a guy I think should be playing super often against elite opponents, but he stepped up on that play and made a really tough catch. Hats off to the kid
  • Kevin Bauman’s nice catch — it was nice to see another tight end get in on the action in the passing game
  • Jon Sot, the Harvard transfer, doing a pretty darn good job at punter, especially as the game went on. He wasn’t always perfect but for the amount of work he was given on opening night, he acquitted himself quite well
  • Blake Grupe hitting his one field goal and one extra point — neither of which is ever a given in college football, as East Carolina learned on Saturday afternoon

Okay, with all the above said, we have to be able to have some real talk in this business so we can identify and begin to resolve our flaws, issues, deficiencies, etc. And BOY is there a good amount of things to discuss in that regard.

Let’s tackle the biggest one first — Tommy Rees’s offense and their performance on the evening. Let me start by reiterating that I do think he and his squad did a good job in the first half, especially in terms of the blatantly-clear strategy ND employed of focusing on keeping the ball away from the OSU offense and dragging the Buckeyes into a rock fight that allowed for it to be close and winnable down the stretch. Add in the level of opponent and the amount of raw talent they have on defense (plus their new and improved defensive coordinator) along with ND’s WR depth issues and Jarrett Patterson being out, and of course it wasn’t the absolute worst showing in the world by Rees’s unit.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

BUT, I think anyone completely defending Rees and the offense due to the above excuses still has on their Kelly-green glasses and isn’t looking at this objectively.

First of all, the WR depth is a direct result of bad recruiting the last few years, and Rees is now in his 3rd season as OC. It’s his job, whether via recruiting or bringing in transfers or developing whatever ND DOES have from the Del Alexander era (Del reported to Tommy for two seasons, by the way), to have a receiver room that’s ready to play.

Furthermore, of course the line missed Patterson, a preseason All-American and captain of this team. But he was going to start at LG, so what’s the excuse for Zeke Correll, Josh Lugg, and even Blake Fisher at times all looking completely hapless — especially in pass blocking, which is supposed to be the strength of the group vs. being able to plow a big hole in the run game?

NCAA Football: Notre Dame-Spring Practice South Bend Tribune-USA TODAY NETWORK

Furthermore, the play calling was overly conservative and predictable, especially in the second half. By that point, it was clear the Irish defense was only going to be able to hold OSU to 7-14 points for so long. Stroud is too good and the defense was getting run ragged trying to contain the Buckeyes.

The offense NEEDED to start taking some risks and attacking, instead of running yet another draw play or yet another run to nowhere, or another screen to Michael Mayer (who is an absolute stud but maybe not the fleet-of-foot kind of guy who will make a screen work very often against a good opponent???).

I’m not out on Tommy Rees yet by any means, and I would like to see him have a chance to learn and grow and prove himself over the course of the season without Brian Kelly hovering over his shoulder. But Tommy has now had two games without BK around and instead having a defensively-minded head coach who will let him do whatever he wants with the offense, and yet both times his offense has executed the plan well in the first half and then looked completely uninspired and stifled and unable to adapt or find another gear in the second.

ND has been outscored 37-7 in the second halves of the Fiesta Bowl and Saturday evening’s game, and at some point we have to actually hold the head of the offense accountable instead of making excuses for him and then placing the blame on a player being out, facing a good defense, etc. The offense only finding success against decent/mediocre teams and being crushed by great opponents is not a step up from the BK regime, at all. At some point, Rees needs to do better.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Ohio State Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY Sports

Still, though, I want to be clear that I remain a believer that Thomas Kevin Rees can figure this out and get this offense humming. But he’s gotta be more creative and aggressive, and use more of his young weapons even if only in certain situations (did Merriweather, Raridon, or Staes ever see the field? But Salerno was relied upon multiple times???). What we saw on Saturday cannot be the baseline offensive attack for this team, or Clemson will eat them alive and multiple other opponents may just be able to take down the Irish as well.

To stop my rambling about the offense, though, I want to give a quick call-out to the defensive side of the ball — specifically, the pass rush. The front seven — particularly the defensive line — is considered by most to be the strongest position group on the team, and although they did a solid job overall in this game, the one thing they completely failed to do was get consistent pressure on C.J. Stroud and do much more than contain the OSU offensive attack.

Howard Cross got a nice sack from inside early on, and there were one or two instances of guys flushing Stroud out of the pocket and making him slightly uncomfortable, but for the most part ND failed to do much of anything against the Ohio State offensive line.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Ohio State Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

Particularly disappointing, at least in my opinion, were Isaiah Foskey and Rylie Mills. Between what we already have seen them do (Foskey) and the hype we’ve heard about them from camp/practice (Mills), the fact that neither of them managed to even get a QB hurry, let alone a sack, was frustrating. The Irish stand no chance of taking down an elite opponent without some big plays off the edge, and the ND d-line simply didn’t make any plays like that on a night when they could have really used them — especially in key moments in the 2nd half.

A couple more negatives to note:

  • We don’t need to go into detail because everyone agrees, but the safety blitz on OSU’s go-ahead touchdown pass that left Jaden Mickey on an island in coverage was a bad choice. Hindsight is certainly 20/20 and Al Golden was probably just trying to get aggressive and force a big play, but Stroud was all over it and easily found Xavier Johnson for that TD
  • Punt/Kick Returns: there were no big issues like muffed punts or anything, but it seemed odd that ND kept having Chris Tyree try to return kicks caught in/just outside the end zone after it was putting the Irish in rough starting position thanks to OSU’s very solid kick coverage, as well as Brandon Joseph fair-catching punts where he actually had some room to try a return and wasn’t inside the 10 or anything when he caught the ball. Brian Mason was supposed to be a step up from Brian Polian on special teams, and I guess based on what happened with LSU last night, he technically is...but really only by default — not because his special teams units look stellar
  • We covered it with the offense’s performance in general in the 2nd half, but Tyler Buchner’s second half execution was as rough to watch as his 1st half play was surprisingly good. ND will need a more complete game from him in future match-ups with really good teams, no doubt

Okay, we’re currently on pace to go way over time in this meeting, my apologies on the tangents. If anyone wants to discuss any of this more, we can set up a separate call or connect offline or something.

Moving right along, let’s take a very quick look at our Project W.I.N. scorecard to monitor the status of our key initiatives!

A lot of this was hashed out in our discussion of Last Week’s Results, so I’ll let you read through this on your own time. But I would like to note the few items we’ve completed this week — namely, starting the game with a solid plan and executing it (at least for much of the game), holding a super dangerous offense to a very mediocre performance by their standards, and saving some face at the end by punting with just a few minutes to play, down 11.

I’m not sure how I feel about that last one, personally, because technically the Irish could have converted the 4th down, driven down and scored, gotten a stop, then scored again to win, but obviously the odds of that all happening were nearly 0 and it WILL look a lot better late in the season to have lost 21-10 at OSU instead of 28-10. But it felt like a Brian Kelly kind of move to save face, which maybe is why I’m uncomfortable with it.

Otherwise, we’ve got a lot of red and yellow circles there to address, particularly with the offensive line, the play-calling, playing more of the offensive young guys, healing Jarrett Patterson ASAP, and trying to move on and focus on Marshall after all the emotion and build-up that went into last weekend. I think this team can still go tackle a lot of these objectives, but it will just take a lot of hard work and maybe some changes in how we approach things.

Alright, now that we’ve covered the Scorecard, it’s time to hand out some recognition.

I’d like to offer some major congratulations to the fellas on this slide, as they’ve all done some great work for the team recently, amidst a great deal of adversity and many obstacles, and even though we aren’t where we want to be yet as a project, I believe in celebrating even the small victories to ensure the team savors the good stuff and is incentivized to keep building on it.

So, congrats to the defense — particularly TaRiq, Clarence, Howard, Jack, Bo, and Benjamin, as well as First Half Tyler, Michael, Audric, and Jon! We really appreciate what you’ve been able to accomplish so far and hope we can continue supporting you in this great work as the season and the project progresses. You will all have Chipotle gift cards in your inboxes by the end of this meeting!!!

Before we turn our attention to next week, I just wanted to show you all a quick slide I pulled together to sum up a lot of what was going through my head on Saturday night. I watched the game with a bunch of friends at a bar near me called Fatpour, which is a solid sports bar in Chicago with tons of TVs and tables, but it is also a Michigan bar (and also Denver Broncos??? They have “bomb” shots that are called “Harbombs” on Saturdays and “Bronco Bombs” on Sundays...which, when I said it out loud a bunch, all I heard was “Barack OBombs”) with a big Tom Brady FatHead in their window, liquid (hopefully water?) dripping from the pipes/ceiling upstairs, and a DJ who refused to stop playing loud music and switching the TVs to music videos and viral video clips during commercial breaks (shout out to the video of elephants playing basketball). So that was quite the spot to take this game in, no doubt.

Anyway, while we drowned ourselves in the “special” they had for buckets of Michelob Ultra and in lots of good bar food, my girlfriend (who I might remind you all is a Michigan grad — her only flaw) decided to keep a live journal/record of a lot of the things I shouted at the TV and to my friends as the game meandered on.

So, with absolutely zero context added to help you understand why I said these things, here were my live and unedited thoughts on the game as the action unfolded. I encourage you all to head to the comments and give your best guesses as to who/what I was talking about for each quote.

Alright, with all of that really insightful commentary from Pat “Various Mich Ultras In” Rick now covered, let’s set our sights forward toward this week’s competitor, the Marshall Thundering Herd.

I’ll let you read through this in detail in your own time, but here are a few highlights to note:

  • Marshall’s coach is a former Saban assistant, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything but also definitely means he’s not an idiot and has some experience winning football games
  • Marshall’s mascot is a bison named “Marco” and I can only assume he’s named after former NBA player Marco Belinelli, a certifiable legend
  • They’ve never played Notre Dame, so this is a fun “new opponent” box to check
  • Their kryptonite is apparently playing any team from a YMCA
  • Their famous “alumni” include a famous actor who never graduated (Billy Crystal), a Christian music artist whose CD got played a lot in my friend’s mom’s car when she drove us to 7th/8th grade baseball games (Michael W. Smith, also did not graduate), an NBA coach with a great mustache (Mike D’Antoni), a cast member from Two and a Half Men, someone named “Soupy Sales,” and some guy named Randy Moss whom ND fans may be familiar with and say “what if” about a great deal

Moving right along, let’s quickly check out the best and brightest names that the Marshall roster has to offer.

My personal favorites are probably Jalen Slappy and Tyqaze Leggs, but it’s hard to put this list together and not rank a name like Stone Scarcelle at the top. Other great ones I want to type out again because I enjoy them so much: Dink Jackson, J’Coryan Anderson, Jack Stakem (I refuse to believe the last name is pronounced in any other way except “Stack ‘em”), Abraham Beauplan, and Trent Holler.

With that all said, let’s dive into more of the details here in terms of what to expect from this Marshall team.

It’s really tough to say with too much certainty, this early in the season, what the Fighting Irish should expect from Marshall on Saturday. Charles Huff’s squad has also only played one game, but unlike ND’s opener that pitted them against a great opponent, Marshall’s season opener was against Norfolk State, an FCS program whom they destroyed 55-3.

However, there are certainly still some key names and notes to consider as we try to build a clear picture of Marshall as an opponent. To start on the offensive side of the ball, Thundering Herd offensive coordinator Clint Trickett certainly has some talent to work with, especially in the backfield.

Marshall brought back starting running back Rasheen Ali for this season, as the talented Cleveland native ran for 1,401 yards and 5.3 yards per carry in 2021 while scoring 23 touchdowns, which finished tied for the lead nationally. Unfortunately, Ali decided in August to take an indefinite leave of absence from the team, and so it’s unclear if he will return for Marshall’s premier opponent in Week 2, but as of now there’s been no word that he will be back.

Either way, though, the Herd have a couple other backs ready to pick up the slack and contribute. Khalan Laborn is a senior transfer from Florida State who ran for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 12 carries against Norfolk State, and so he and sophomore Ethan Payne (113 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 carries) will form a still pretty dangerous backfield for the Irish defense to try to corral.

At QB, Marshall had to replace a two-year starter in Grant Wells when he transferred to Virginia Tech, so they went out and got Texas Tech transfer Henry Colombi (formerly of Utah State before his time in Lubbock) to fill the QB1 role.

It’s hard to judge a QB too much against such a poor opponent, but Colombi was nearly perfect in his debut, going 24-for-26 passing while tossing for 205 yards and a touchdown. He did, however, also throw a pick and get sacked twice in the game.

Colombi has a few productive targets to toss to as well, including the 2021 team leader in receiving, WR Corey Gammage. He reeled in 78 passes for 878 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2021, and at 6’4” will be a nice test for the Irish DBs in terms of bigger-bodied receivers to lock down. WR Talik Keaton (19 receptions for 268 yards and 2 TD in 2021; 8 catches for 71 yards last weekend) and tight end Devin Miller (4 catches for 39 yards in the season opener) are other names to note.

The Marshall offensive line had a bit of turnover to deal with heading into 2022, so it’s likely the ND defensive front will be able to handle and hopefully dominate them at the line of scrimmage. The Thundering Herd had to replace three 5-year starters (!!!) and one of the holdovers from last year (Logan Osborn) had to transition to center for this season. They were able to bolster the group with East Carolina transfer Trent Holler, but overall that group will likely have a tough time with Notre Dame’s veteran depth up front.

The Marshall defense should be less dangerous than their offense, with defensive coordinator Lance Guidry’s group ranked 70th in SP+ in the preseason. The Herd did bring in some Power-5 level talent in transfers such as Isaiah Gibson (Kentucky), Quentin Williams (Miami), and Anthony Watts (Purdue), and they do have some decent pass rushers in Koby Cumberlander (4.5 sacks in 2021), Owen Porter (4 sacks), and Elijah Alston (3 sacks) and veteran, experienced linebackers in Eli Neal (97 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 FR) and Abraham Beauplan (110 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF).

NCAA Football: New Orleans Bowl-Marshall at UL Lafayette Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

But all of that likely won’t be enough to slow down the Irish too much, especially with the Thundering Herd secondary expected to be a weakness. Marshall brought in some transfers there as well (Andre Sam from McNeese State, Isaiah Norman from Austin Peay) and cornerback Steven Gilmore is pretty solid, but it will still likely be night and day in terms of what ND’s receivers will be able to do in creating separation and producing through the air vs. what they couldn’t do against Ohio State’s blue-chip DBs this past weekend.

All in all, Marshall has some talent to make this slightly interesting early, but I think ND just has so much more talent and will be so motivated to purge the OSU result from their palates that they will run Marshall off the field in Marcus Freeman’s first game in Notre Dame Stadium and get back to .500 in a pretty stress-free affair heading into the Cal game. Anything less than that will be a major red flag and a harbinger for what is to come in the rest of the 2022 season with teams like Clemson, USC, BYU, and even a weird but explosive UNC team on the schedule just begging to drag ND into a shoot-out.

Now, let’s get down to it: What’s Important Now in terms of Notre Dame beating Marshall and getting this season moving in a more positive direction after the deflating near-win against Ohio State?

I won’t read all of this off to you all, but I do think this is an even more straightforward week of objectives, as one would expect heading into a game with a non-elite opponent.

The Irish offense needs to establish itself via the run game, using their size and talent advantage to bully the Thundering Herd defense and impose their will. Along with that, though, Tommy Rees needs to take the shackles off of Tyler Buchner as well as all the young offensive talent we didn’t see much from in the opener. Tobias Merriweather, Eli Raridon, and Holden Staes were the talk of summer practice in terms of how good they looked as true freshmen — get them in there and let Buchner take some bigger risks with his arm throwing to them, or Styles, or Lenzy, or whomever. Buchner and the offense can never develop and evolve to an elite level if they don’t get practice doing elite-level things. It’s time to start.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Ohio State Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, the plan is really much the same as the OSU game, just a lot more attainable. Marshall’s offensive strength lies with their running backs and a QB capable of slinging it a little bit, so bottling up Thundering Herd runners, limiting big plays, and applying lots of pressure on the QB should add up to a hopefully dominant performance for Al Golden’s group this weekend.

I can’t say I expect it to be a perfect performance on Saturday because Marshall isn’t exactly Bowling Green or New Mexico from 2019, but considering what ND’s defense was able to do against Stroud and co., Marshall scoring more than 20 points on Saturday would be a disappointment, in my opinion (and probably in all of yours, as well). And I think this defense is extremely capable of not disappointing me this week, for the record.

My final quick point: Marcus Freeman and his team need to focus on absolutely burying their opponent. If they want to be 11-1 and explaining away scoring just 10 points against OSU in the opener by the end of the season, they not only need to show progress in big games as the season goes along, but also need to show that in match-ups with lesser opponents they won’t just skate by, but instead dominate those lesser opponents. A Toledo-esque result would not be a great look here, folks.

Alright, does anyone have any questions on anything I just covered?


I figured as much — quiet group today!

Alrighty, well I will send this deck out later today for you to reference when needed, and please let me know if you need me to clarify anything, otherwise I hope you all have a lovely rest of your long weekend and will talk to you tomorrow!

Bye everyone!!

*clicks “End Call” button*

BRUNCH TIME!!!!!!!!! Peace out y’all, enjoy the Monday scaries and the short work week ahead!