The biggest storyline going into this game has almost nothing to do with the opponent slinking out the tiny tunnel. It has everything to do with last week’s game against Ohio State and how the Irish respond. The game in Columbus left a taste in our collective mouths not unlike the pole found at The Backer.
Offensive play calling, line play on either side, the Salerno pass interference call...pick your poison, it’s all a rotten flavor we as fans need to wash from collective mouths. So what better to cleanse the old pallet than the Marshall Thundering Herd! Fresh off a 55-3 game against FCS opponent Norfolk State, a game in which I took the time to watch and came away learning almost nothing. In fact, there’s almost nothing of substance you can learn from this Marshall team going all the back to 2018, because that was the last time they played a power five opponent. This makes them the perfect opponent for Tommy Rees to freshen up the offense and begin to establish their identity.
What I think I know
Marshall has stepped-up(?) to the Sun Belt this year and elevated former Florida State and West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett to run the offense. Gone is 1400 yard rusher Rasheen Ali, as he has stepped away from the team to deal with what has been reported as “family issues.” Henry Colombi comes over from Texas Tech, having started 11 games, to serve as their new quarterback. They have four new starters along their offensive line, three of departures had started together for FIVE YEARS(!) prior to this season. None of their returning wide receivers averaged more than 14ypc last season and against lowly Norfolk State(team avg 8.92yd per catch) that looks to be continuing. In summation; new OC, best runner gone, Texas Tech cast off QB, new line and dink and dunk passing game. On paper this doesn’t sound like a recipe for success against a team that held Ohio State to 21 points. The Notre Dame defensive line was awful quiet on the stat sheet against Ohio State, with just Howard Cross collecting a sack/TFL. This is where you begin to ask if the motivation to move on from Ohio State helps Notre Dame to click this game and play lights out. Marshall shouldn’t be able to do much offensively and if Notre Dame brings an edge(pun intended) then it could get real messy.
On the other side of the ball, simply put, they are a G5 school. There’s some nice pieces, cornerback Steve Gilmore is expected to hear his name called during the draft, but as a whole it’s pretty underwhelming. If Stanford didn’t exist, this would likely be the worst rush defense Notre Dame would see this season, fielding the 105th ranked rush defense last year. And before you point to them holding Norfolk State to 30yards rushing, they gave up just 71 to NC Central last year before letting 7 of the 12 teams they played rush for over 200. If ever there was an opponent set up to let Notre Dame’s offensive line “get right” it was this Marshall team.
Notre Dame looks within
I expect the 1’s to be out there longer than you might usually see in a game of this kind. Usually, when the 1’s are playing into the fourth quarter of a game against a G5, you’re looking at a sphincter clenching stress fest like last years Toledo game or the 2018 Ball State tilt. In this game however, I think we see 1’s on offense out there not to hold onto a win but to build on things and get meaningful reps. The offensive line was neither cohesive or technically sound against Ohio State, Harry Heistand needs to use this game to get thinks working. They need to figure out if the five they have in the position they are, are the five best in those positions. Tyler Buchner needs to establish a rhythm with his wide receivers, when Mayer has more targets than all the receivers combined, that is a problem. You also have to imagine that Audric Estime walked away from last weeks game with a serious case of blue footballs, never getting to really plant his foot and hit people in the second level. My guess is we’re going to see a fairly crooked number being put up by the offense and the defense, while in heavy rotation, dominating the Marshall line of scrimmage. 60-6, let’s feast on the herd.