Well folks, last weekend both didn’t go as well as we all hoped but also for a lot of us did go better than expected, so it’s with weird and mixed feelings that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football fanbase enters Week 2 of the season along with their 0-1, 8th-ranked ND squad.
After the hard-fought loss in Columbus, the Irish should enjoy a nice bounce-back/reprieve over the next few games, starting with Marcus Freeman’s home debut on Saturday afternoon against the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall enters the game with a 1-0 record, having blown out the Norfolk State Spartans (an FCS program) last weekend for a 55-3 victory to start their season.
A demolition of a bad FCS opponent is to be expected from just about any FBS school, and so it’s unclear after only one week how good head coach Charles Huff’s team is in his second season, which also happens to be their first in the Sun Belt Conference. So, instead of sitting here and trying to project how close the Thundering Herd can keep the game against a team who was leading Ohio State for three quarters, we reached out to Joe Londergan, co-Managing Editor at Underdog Dynasty, SB Nation’s one-stop shop for everything Sun Belt, American, C-USA, and FCS.
Some of you might remember Joe from his time doing some writing for OFD in the recent past, but if not, I highly recommend you devour his answers below, as he did a great job answering both the serious and silly inquiries we tossed his way, and helped fill us in on everything from Charles Huff’s bright future to the names to know on this year’s Herd squad to ranking FBS schools with first names, and more.
Let’s not waste another second here, it’s time to arm ourselves with knowledge!!!
1. Let’s begin with Charles Huff, who’s just begun his second season at the helm of the Thundering Herd. Are Marshall fans pleased with him so far, and do you think he has the ability to take them to a Sun Belt title anytime in the near future? What are your expectations for Year 2 (Year 1 in the Sun Belt)?
Underdog Dynasty: I like Coach Huff. He’s been generous with his time and has come on our podcast a few times since he was hired at Marshall. Fans seem to be pretty happy with him. He’s building some strong connections within the community. He’s a people person.
Given his pedigree from programs like Penn State and Alabama, I think he’ll get this team competing for league titles during his time. The issue right now is just how competitive the Sun Belt East really is. You have Coastal Carolina, Appalachian State, and a James Madison team that’s pretty good. It’s definitely not going to be easy getting a step ahead of where those programs are, but it could happen.
As far as this year, I’ve personally got them third in the Sun Belt East and finishing with eight wins. We’ll see if they can live up to that.
2. Like the Irish with the departure of last year’s starter, Jack Coan, Marshall is breaking in a new QB this season after the departure of Grant Wells (although Henry Colombi is much more experienced than Tyler Buchner given his time at Texas Tech and Utah State). What can you tell us about Colombi (strengths, weaknesses, etc.) and how he played in the season opener vs. Norfolk State?
Underdog Dynasty: There aren’t a lot of glaring weaknesses to Colombi’s game other than he’s not particularly mobile. Because Colombi is a sixth-year guy, he’s tough to rattle. He’s played in high-pressure moments before at his previous spots. I’d say that’s his biggest strength.
Colombi is used to throwing the ball about 28 times per game and I think they’ll stick to that, even though Huff is a running backs guy.
In the opener against Norfolk State, I thought he looked very good but it’s always hard to get a sense of what offenses can do against FCS teams — especially one they beat 55-3. He completed 24 passes on 26 attempts for 205 yards with one touchdown and one interception in that game. Interceptions were a huge issue for Marshall in the last few seasons so if they can cut down on that, they’ll consider it a step in the right direction.
3. Who are the key skill position players on the Thundering Herd offense that Irish fans should be aware of heading into this match-up, and how do you expect the Marshall offensive line to hold up against a deep and veteran ND defensive front?
Also, is Rasheen Ali expected to continue his leave of absence, or is it possible he will be back this weekend for the biggest game on Marshall’s schedule?
Underdog Dynasty: It’s unlikely Rasheen Ali will be back for this game. We likely would have heard something by now. That’s a tough loss for the Herd for a game like this. They’ve got some promising underclassmen in that position group, but this isn’t really the kind of game where you want to just let your young guys get snaps. I expect the rushing load to be shared by Khalan Laborn, a transfer from Florida State who’s got quite a bit of eligibility remaining due to the COVID year, and sophomore Ethan Payne.
Junior receiver Corey Gammage was a huge part of the offense last year, catching 78 balls for 878 yards. He wasn’t very involved in the Norfolk State game, but I doubt that lasts.
Marshall’s offensive line is pretty young in the interior and I imagine Notre Dame will take advantage of that. Based on what I saw from Notre Dame’s defensive line against Ohio State, I think they will find Marshall to not be as much of a challenge, if you can believe that.
4. Defensively, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Marshall defensive coordinator Lance Guidry’s group, and how would you attack them if you’re ND offensive coordinator Tommy Rees? Any key players Irish fans should expect to see flash some skills come Saturday?
Underdog Dynasty: As someone who has watched a fair bit of Marshall football over the last few years, I’m intrigued to see what happens with this game and how Marshall’s defense measures up against an offense like Notre Dame’s.
Playing in Conference USA last year, Marshall sacked opposing quarterbacks 40 times (most in the league) and had 99 tackles for loss. Linebacker Eli Neal was an all-league honorable mention with 97 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks. He was a constant nuisance for opposing quarterbacks with nine other QB hurries, on top of his other backfield plays. Abraham Beauplan is also very good after a 2021 season that led to 110 tackles and 11 TFLs for him.
Long story short, this front seven is really good. Potentially even better than they were last year — and they were one of the better defensive line and linebacking groups in the Group of Five last year.
From Notre Dame’s standpoint, it seems like they’re going to need to beat them with a fantastic day by the offense and specifically establishing the rushing game. The Herd gave up over four yards per carry last season, so I’m expecting a pretty physical contest.
5. Which players/position groups on the Notre Dame side scare you most in this match-up? Do you see Marshall as potentially having the ability to out-play the Irish in any areas?
Underdog Dynasty: I don’t know about out-play. But the best part of this Marshall team is the defensive front seven, like I said. I think that group has the potential to create some problems in the early going.
Michael Mayer I feel is the obvious answer. We’ll see him play on Sundays and will obviously be a critical part of their season.
I like what I’ve seen out of TaRiq Bracy, I can see him making some plays in the secondary. Clarence Lewis looked solid against Ohio State as well. So I guess the defensive secondary concerns me the most due to their wealth of experience.
6. What is the origin of the Marshall nickname “Thundering Herd,” and where do you think it ranks among other unique and fun/funny FBS nicknames like Crimson Tide, Fighting Irish, Razorbacks, Ragin’ Cajuns, Golden Gophers, Cornhuskers, Boilermakers, Horned Frogs, Roadrunners, etc.?
Underdog Dynasty: Well, obviously this was before my time, but the story goes that the school could never really decide on a mascot in the early 1900s after they officially decided “Indians” wasn’t the way to go around 1910. After that, local sportswriters were referring to the team by a bunch of different names.
One writer infamously really made a push for “Booger Cats” all the way through the 1930s.*
*Pat Rick Note: That is incredible, I’m so mad it didn’t catch on.
The most common one until the late 1920s was “The Big Green” until a writer named Duke Ridgley apparently started calling the team the “Thundering Herd,” which was a reference to a popular novel at the time, apparently. It caught on relatively easily. They didn’t make that the official team name until 1965 though, when it was approved by the student body.
It’s a unique name, for sure. Not quite “Booger Cats,” but what are you gonna do?
I think my personal favorite mascot name ever is the Banana Slugs from UC Santa Cruz. It’s just weird enough. Plus, you know, Pulp Fiction reference. The Youngstown State Penguins are great too. In FBS, it’s probably the Akron Zips. Part of me has always wanted a pet kangaroo.
7. FAN QUESTION: Better Marshall — Wyatt Earp or Randy Moss?
Underdog Dynasty: As much as I like westerns, Randy Moss, for sure. The documentary Rand University is one of those ones that I find myself watching once a year. Moss was an absolute monster for Marshall in their FCS days. Plus, I’m sure folks know this by now, but Moss almost played for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, but his scholarship was revoked due to some trouble with the law. Moss on Notre Dame is always something fascinating to think about.*
*Pat Rick Note: it makes me so sad that ND could have had one of the coolest players and, in my opinion, the best wide receiver of all-time. WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN. Alright, let’s take a quick break to watch the GOAT at work:
8. FAN QUESTION: Please rank the other First Name Schools 1-5: Troy, Charlotte, Virginia, Houston, Elon
Underdog Dynasty: In terms of football right now, 1. Houston, 2. Virginia, 3. Troy, 4. Elon, 5. Charlotte.
9. FAN QUESTION: The Marshall and WVU rivalry was rebranded the Friends of Coal Bowl. If Marshall were to develop a long-standing rivalry with ND, what should it be named?
Underdog Dynasty: Is it cool if we call it the Friends of Strong Liquor Bowl? A head to head battle between Moonshine and Whiskey? Battle for A Still? Maybe I just need a drink.
10. FAN QUESTION: Matthew Fox plays “Red” Dawson in the movie We Are Marshall. He also plays Jack Sheppard in the primetime drama Lost.
Can you explain Lost to me? How does the time travel work? What’s with the big black smoke?
Underdog Dynasty: The only bits of Lost that I have seen are what one of my past roommates had on when I walked past the room. I think it’s about some people that go camping? And they’re all mean to the fat guy for some reason? As we all know, time travel happens when you hit 88 miles per hour and black smoke means that the dementors are coming.
11. Alright, time to get down to it: what’s your prediction for this game? Who wins, what’s the final score, and give your reasoning why.
Underdog Dynasty: I think Notre Dame wins and they cover the 20 point spread that’s on that game right now. 38-17 sounds good.
Marshall’s going to bring a lot of QB pressure, so as long as Buchner can stand that, he’ll be fine. Marshall’s offense is good, but not quite what you need to take down this Notre Dame team at this point in time.
Alright y’all, before we wrap this up I just want to give another major shout-out and thank you to Joe for all his thoughtful and insightful responses — considering most of us probably haven’t watched a ton of Marshall football since the Byron Leftwich years, I feel comfortable saying that we learned a lot of useful info here today.
I implore you all to go visit the Underdog Dynasty site this week, as they do a fantastic job covering multiple conferences/schools with their articles and podcasts, and can really provide some helpful context about Marshall and their standing in the Sun Belt as we approach this weekend.
Welp, that’s it now — as always, Go Irish, Beat Thundering Herd!!!