Things We Learned: Change in tone around Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines the underlying issue to Irish concerns

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Marcus Freeman changed his verb tense. From the first day of Notre Dame’s preseason practices to five weeks later following the 26-21 Irish loss to Marshall, his primary message remained the same, but the verb tense told all the difference.

“We are an O-line and D-line driven program,” Freeman said on Aug. 5, the day of his first preseason practice as Notre Dame’s head coach.

“If we want to be the program we aspire to be, we’re going to have to be an O-line and D-line driven program,” Freeman said Saturday, Sept. 10, the day of his first home loss as the Irish head coach. “That’s not going to change, but we’re not where need to be. We know that.”

Of Notre Dame’s myriad issues that led to this 0-2 start and its first loss to an unranked team since 2016, that verb-tense change stands out most. The Irish offense needs to find some semblance of regular production, and it may now need to work in a new quarterback after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a shoulder injury late in Saturday’s defeat. (UPDATE: Buchner will miss the rest of the season.)

Notre Dame’s defense has now twice buckled in the game’s most crucial moments despite field-position advantages. Failing to force a turnover through the first two weeks of the season runs counter to just about everything Freeman installed defensively last season.

“It’s an evaluation of everything we’re doing,” Freeman said. “Schematically, personnel-wise, everything, to look into how we can improve.”

Everything may need improvement, but the Irish losing the struggle on both sides of the line of scrimmage to Marshall is the fault line that leads to the rest of those problems.

This space has long maintained the simplest definition of a potent offense is, “If you want to or need to gain one yard, you gain that one yard, every time.”

Yet when Notre Dame faced third-and-two in the third quarter on a drive near midfield, sophomore Audric Estime could gain only that one yard rushing up the middle. On the subsequent fourth-and-one, he could not even muster that. Estime finished with 33 yards on 10 carries, part of the Irish running back trio gaining 57 yards on 20 rush attempts, a 2.85 yards per carry average.

“I didn’t feel we could run it at will,” Freeman said. “So how do we get it to the point where we feel we can stay consistent, stay in rhythm by the ability to run the ball.”

Junior tight end Michael Mayer adamantly insisted the Irish run the ball well in practice, but a skeptic could then point out, that success comes at the expense of the Notre Dame defensive line.

That defensive front-seven was expected to be the greatest Irish strength this season. Geting bullied by Ohio State in the fourth quarter lowered those expectations, but that was in front of 106,000 fans and against two NFL-caliber running backs buttressed by a Heisman-candidate quarterback. Coming out on the wrong end of that drive was not a portent for the season, until it was.

The Herd ran for 236 yards on 47 carries, a 5.02 yards per rush average (sacks adjusted). Its two touchdown drives featured 21 plays covering 173 yards; 14 of those plays were runs for 91 yards, an intentional approach from Marshall head coach Charles Huff somewhat mirroring Notre Dame’s from a week ago in Columbus.

If the definition of a potent offense hinges on one-yard gains, then the respective definition of a stout defense focuses on the opposite. If you need to stop the opponent from gaining one yard, you stop the opponent from gaining that one yard, every time.

Notre Dame did stop Marshall running back Khalan Laborn — a Florida State transfer and one-time five-star recruit — on one fourth-and-one attempt, but he also converted two such third-downs on two different drives that both produced Herd field goals, part of Laborn taking 31 carries for 163 yards. In a five-point loss, those two field goals linger in an Irish memory.

“We have to be able to stop offenses when it matters the most,” Freeman said. “Our defense did a good job, but when it mattered the most, we didn’t get the stop that we needed.”

The Irish have a pile of issues to sort out. Freeman can challenge the leaders to keep the team focused, ignoring outside noise. He can put the onus on the man in the mirror. Notre Dame can adjust its offense on the fly for the second season in a row and third time in five years.

Veteran captains can display frustration on the sidelines and bluster in midweek interviews. Receivers can lament missed deep balls. Platitudes can be leaned upon.

But until Freeman’s verb tense changes back to the present regarding the Irish lines, the other fixes will be superficial in effect. Notre Dame needs to be an offensive line and defensive line driven program. This season that may be more true than ever given the years in coming dearth of receiver depth. Through two weeks of 2022, Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines have not driven opponents off the ball and thus have not driven the Irish to Freeman’s first win.

Notre Dame QB Tyler Buchner out for season with shoulder injury; Drew Pyne to start

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Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, Irish head coach Marcus Freeman announced Monday. Buchner suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s 26-21 loss to Marshall on Saturday on the last of his 13 rushing attempts. He is expected to have surgery and Freeman projected a four-month recovery timeline.

Freeman said Buchner suffered a high-grade sprain to his AC joint in his left, non-throwing shoulder.

Buchner finished the day with 201 yards on 18-of-32 passing with two interceptions while adding 44 yards and two touchdowns, along with a successful two-point conversion, on those rushes. While the Irish offense could not find much of a rhythm at any point, his legs and ability to find junior tight end Michael Mayer regularly were about the only two aspects that did succeed.

Junior Drew Pyne stepped in for Buchner after the injury, and his second pass was intercepted by a Herd linebacker in the red zone. That was not Pyne’s first moment in a crucial backup role, having led Notre Dame in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin last year when starter Jack Coan suffered an injury. Pyne finished 2021 with two touchdowns and 224 yards on 15-of-30 passing, eventually losing his backup role to Buchner’s situational package.

Buchner finishes his first season as the Irish starter with a 56.0 percent completion rate, 378 passing yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and 62 net rushing yards with two scores.

He beat out Pyne for the starting gig this season during the first week of preseason practices, Freeman then citing Buchner’s mobility as part of his and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ reasoning, something underscored by the Irish offensive line’s struggles thus far in the season.

Pyne will now start for Notre Dame (0-2) against Cal (2-0) on Saturday (2:30 ET; NBC). Freeman said Monday he intends to still utilize mobility from the quarterback position.

“I don’t see the offense changing extremely,” Freeman said. “We’re still going to be able to do some of the QB runs we do with Tyler and obviously the passing game will continue to enhance it and figure out ways to be more consistent in it and put [Pyne] in a situation to hopefully have more completions.

“I don’t see the offense, in terms of the entire package, changing because of Drew being a quarterback. I do see us asking, ‘Where can we be more efficient on offense?'”

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 18 Steve Angeli, freshman QB, Blue-Gold Game star

Freshman Steve Angeli will back up Pyne. An early enrollee, Angeli excelled in the Blue-Gold Game to close spring practices, scoring the game-winning touchdown as the clock expired. He threw for 180 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-17 passing that day, but the 10-yard dash to the corner pylon was all that many will remember.

Angeli has been leading the Irish scout team in practice the last two weeks, so his handle of the entire playbook is still developing. Nonetheless, he is now one snap away from having to lead Notre Dame’s offense against a defensive-focused Cal.

“We have to figure out what can Steve Angeli handle and what can he be efficient with if he needs to go into the game right now?” Freeman said. “Hopefully that package can continue to grow as the season moves forward.”

Marshall 26, Notre Dame 21: Highlights were few, but Irish lessons persist

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The unknown severity of Tyler Buchner’s left shoulder injury notwithstanding, the vast majority of Notre Dame’s struggling offensive production was dependent on the sophomore quarterback in Saturday’s 26-21 loss to Marshall. Without Buchner, one may shudder at wondering how few points the No. 8 Irish (0-2) would have scored against the Herd (2-0).

Buchner took 12 carries for 60 yards (sack adjusted) while throwing for 201 yards on 18-of-32 passing. A 6.3 yards per attempt average is not one that will push an offense for an entire season, but on a day when little was working for Notre Dame, it was nearly acceptable.

And yet, Buchner was oh-so-close to so much more. Multiple times his throws deep bounced off his receivers’ hands. A fourth-and-four shot down the sideline to fifth-year receiver Braden Lenzy was caught but out of bounds. Just before the end of the first half, Lenzy could not hold onto a pass as he dove to get to it. This became the theme for Buchner, even before his fourth-quarter hope for Lorenzo Styles — not quite a desperation heave, but the Irish were beginning to trend that way — ended up a bit behind the sophomore receiver. A week ago, a similar look landed two yards in front of Styles.

“We’ve been working on trying to get better at that every single day,” Styles said. “It didn’t hit today, we just need to work to get better at it until we’re completing it in the game.”

Deep passes fail more often than they succeed. That much should be obvious. But the rewards of a completion generally outweigh the risk of an incompletion, as long as one can avoid an interception; both of Buchner’s turnovers against Marshall came on short routes that the Herd cornerbacks jumped, be it via impressive film study or gut instinct.

Assigning blame for such incompletions can be lost in ambiguity. On Buchner’s first attempt downfield, that fourth-down look for Lenzy, he was pressured as he threw. On the try just before halftime, Lenzy had two hands on the ball … as he laid out horizontal to the turf.

Styles put the blame on himself.

“I had a deep ball,” he said after finishing with seven catches for 69 yards. “I have to make that play. That’s going to be a big-time play. I need to make that play for my teammates.”

Perhaps Notre Dame is too dependent on Buchner. If so, that is a direct reflection of the offensive line failing to make space for the Irish running backs; the three Notre Dame running backs combined to take 20 carries for 58 yards.

“I felt really good about the game plan going in, and we didn’t produce the results that we wanted to,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said. “So we have to look and see.

“Is there too much on [Buchner’s] plate? Are we asking him to do too much?”

But if just one of those oh-so-close attempts connects, this question may never even be asked. Such hypotheticals are flawed in nearly every way, but add one 30-yard completion to Buchner’s day and his yards per attempt would have jumped to 7.2, a number that would suggest a season-long viable offense.

NOTRE DAME’S WORRY OF THE WEEKEND
Losing to Marshall could go from bad to worse if Buchner is sidelined for a prolonged period. Freeman could not or would not offer any details on the injury, but junior quarterback Drew Pyne handled the short-lived end of the drive on which Buchner was injured as well as the final Notre Dame drive of the evening.

Pyne is more than a serviceable quarterback, but he also has his limitations. While Buchner’s legs could spur two Irish touchdown drives when no other ground option could be relied upon, Pyne lacks that mobility. It was a significant part of why Freeman and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees chose Buchner as the starter after only one week of preseason practice.

Maybe they foresaw some offensive line difficulties limiting the broader running game. More likely, they saw the possibilities such a dual-threat presented. Regardless, two losses have now made it clear, Notre Dame’s offense hinges on Buchner’s legs. If a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury costs the Irish that luxury, then Rees will need to reinvent his offense for the second time in two years.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY
For the Irish, not to be too blunt, the highlight of the game may have come before the game. The return of the walk from pregame Mass at the Basilica to the tunnel at Notre Dame with a brief stop in front of the Library, also known as Touchdown Jesus, was well-attended and well-received by Irish fans. More than the unique visuals it provided, as it always did, the ability to see the Notre Dame stars in a rather-open setting added to the game day experience on campus.

PROOF OF CONCEPT
At least nine transfers from Power Five programs this offseason populate the Marshall roster. That sentence starts with “at least” because an entirely-inclusive transfer tracker is a pipe dream in the current climate of the NCAA newly allowing one-time transfers without an eligibility cost combined with the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.

Among them were not only quarterback Henry Colombi, via Utah State by way of Texas Tech, and running back Khalan Laborn, a Florida State product who took 31 carries for 163 yards, but also four defensive starters that produced 18 total tackles, not to mention a starting offensive lineman.

In a very noticeable way, this was not the typical Conference USA roster, and not just because the Herd program joined the Sun Belt this season.

“It’s not like it was in the past where you couldn’t build your team, just have lower-recruited guys or whatever it is,” Irish fifth-year safety DJ Brown said. “Everybody can upset a team any Saturday.

“They did a good job and props to them.”

STAT OF THE WEEKEND
Marshall outplayed Notre Dame. No disclaimers should be added to that thought. The Irish got beat by a better team on Saturday. Maybe the Herd would not be better next Saturday or any Saturday thereafter, but on this particular Saturday, it was.

A Buchner deep completion may have flipped the result, but nothing defined Notre Dame’s loss as much as the three interceptions gifted to Marshall while the Irish failed to force any turnovers.

“Above everything else, honestly, I think we’re more upset about that because we preach takeaways, takeaways, takeaways,” senior defensive tackle Howard Cross said. “We have a whole 10 minutes during every practice about takeaways.”

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
If betting on what player would reference Kobe Bryant this season, the only choice would always be Braden Lenzy. The fifth-year receiver’s Oregon roots — and thus Nike connections — introduced him to the departed NBA legend in his high school years.

But it was Cross who brought up Bryant in his postgame interview Saturday. If this is an optimistic view of a loss, it is also the best one for any athlete to take.

“I was actually watching a video about Kobe Bryant, who was interviewed and asked the same exact question,” Cross said when asked how the locker room would respond to Notre Dame’s third straight loss, particularly a locker room not accustomed to losing. “Obviously, it’s not very nice, but he said, which I’m going to take to heart, it’s exciting. You win, you see what you did well, you see what the other team didn’t do, and you keep doing what you’re doing. If you lose, it gives you an opportunity to learn.

“[Marshall] got outside, they ran the ball on us, so what gaps are open? Are we not tackling well enough? Are we not shooting the ball? This will get us prepared better for the next game.”

Ineffective offense, turnovers doom Notre Dame vs Marshall in Marcus Freeman’s home debut

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame could not run the ball when it needed to. It could not throw the ball efficiently. The Irish could barely stop Marshall’s ground game, and then they could not even do that.

Struggling in all facets, No. 8 Notre Dame (0-2) lost to the Herd (2-0) on Saturday, 26-21, making Marcus Freeman the first Irish coach in history to start his career 0-3. On a day when Notre Dame could barely move the ball in the first place, Marshall eliminated any chance of an Irish comeback with an interception return for a touchdown in the final five minutes, giving it a two-score lead to withstand a last-gasp Notre Dame touchdown.

“It starts with me as the head coach and looking at myself and saying, ‘What do I have to do to help this football team?’” Freeman said after his first home game as the Irish head coach. “Really look at everything we’re doing because the performance isn’t where it needed to be.”

From the outset, the Herd bullied Notre Dame. It took a second-quarter lead with a long touchdown drive, a 10-play march on which six Marshall rushes gained 27 yards on the drive, the Irish able to render only one ground attempt as ineffective.

Similarly, to retake the lead in the fourth quarter, the Herd ran eight times for 64 yards on a drive that took 11 plays to cover 94 yards.

“If you can’t stop the run, get after the quarterback when it’s crunch time — if you can’t run the ball and protect the quarterback when it’s crunch time, we’re not where we need to be,” Freeman said. “… We have to be able to stop offenses when it matters the most.

“Our defense did a good job, but when it matters the most, we didn’t get the stop that we needed. We didn’t get that stop — when the ball was on the five-yard line and we’re up. We needed the stop last week when we’re down four points and the ball is on the five-yard line.”

On the drive a week ago mentioned by Freeman, Ohio State took 10 rush attempts for 64 yards, part of a 14-play, 95-yard game-clinching possession.

“I feel like at the end of the game, it’s interlocking as a group, as a defense, just tackle,” fifth-year safety DJ Brown said. “The end of the game drive is what has killed us the past two weeks. Goijng forward, when it’s crunch time, when guys are tired, we need to push through that and execute and tackle.”

Notre Dame did stop the Herd inside the five-yard line twice between those two touchdowns, Marshall making two field goals in those fourth-and-goal moments, leaving crucial points on the board in its upset bid. But even that conservative approach provided too much scoring for a struggling Notre Dame offense to match.

That game-clinching turnover aside — though, obviously, that was a critical mistake that eliminated any genuine lingering Irish hope — sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner combined with junior tight end Michael Mayer to be essentially the entire Notre Dame offense.

On the first two Irish touchdown drives, the only two before the game was decided, Buchner found Mayer for 60 yards on three catches, plus another nine yards and an automatic first down when Mayer drew a defensive pass interference flag. To get to the edge of the end zone on the second scoring drive, Buchner connected with sophomore tight end Kevin Bauman for 18 yards when Mayer drew double coverage and Bauman’s defender was also looking Mayer’s way.

Those two drives also featured six Buchner rushes for 30 yards including both scores, not to mention the two-point conversion to put Notre Dame up by three.

The other two plays on those two possessions gained no yards.

Mayer finished with eight catches for 103 yards, including a five-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Drew Pyne, while Buchner completed 18 of 32 passes for 201 yards before an apparent shoulder injury knocked him out of the game; Freeman did not provide details on the injury other than to say it was a shoulder injury. Buchner added 52 yards and 15 Irish points on 12 rushes (sack adjusted), along with two interceptions.

Otherwise, Notre Dame skill-position players managed just 79 yards on 21 rushes, and Mayer aside, they put together 118 yards on 25 passing targets.

Marshall outgained the Irish by only 13 yards, 364 yards to 351, the biggest difference in offensive productions coming from Notre Dame’s three turnovers. (Pyne also threw an interception.) But while the Irish threw the ball inconsistently — 5.8 yards per attempt is inefficient at best and ineffective more truthfully — the Herd ran the ball with repeated success. Marshall finished with 236 yards on 47 rushes (sacks adjusted).

Running back Khalan Laborn, a Florida State transfer and one of 24 transfers on the Herd roster, led the way with 31 carries for 163 yards, highlighted by a 42-yard dash on the drive that provided the final lead change of the afternoon.

QUOTE OF THE GAME
What would any team be? They would be down in the dumps. What are hey going to do? But this is how great teams are made. They pick up the pieces, put it back together. … 

“It’s Notre Dame. Everybody can say something because we lost. It’s an upset, it happens. But we have to get our stuff together. Everyone, from coaches to starters to scout linemen, everybody needs to get their stuff together and move on and fix this, because we can. We know we can. We can be a great team.”
Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle

STAT OF THE GAME

SCORING SUMMARY
Second Quarter
14:18 — Marshall touchdown. Khalan Laborn 4-yard rush. Rece Verhoff PAT no good. Marshall 6, Notre Dame 0. (10 plays, 79 yards, 3:56)
3:00 — Notre Dame touchdown. Tyler Buchner 1-yard rush. Blake Grupe PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Marshall 6. (5 plays, 56 yards, 2:03)
0:15 — Marshall field goal. Verhoff 21 yards. Marshall 9, Notre Dame 7. (12 plays, 74 yards, 2:40)

Third Quarter
3:54 — Marshall field goal. Verhoff 20 yards. Marshall 12, Notre Dame 7. (9 plays, 46 yards, 4:10)

Fourth Quarter
14:57 — Notre Dame touchdown. Buchner 1-yard rush. Two-point attempt successful. Buchner rush. Notre Dame 15, Marshall 12. (8 plays, 75 yards, 3:57)
5:16 — Marshall touchdown. Devin Miller 3-yard pass from Henry Colombi. Verhoff PAT good. Marshall 19, Notre Dame 15. (11 plays, 94 yards, 5:06)
4:35 — Marshall touchdown. Steven Gilmore 37-yard interception return. Verhoff PAT good. Marshall 26, Notre Dame 15.
0:14 — Notre Dame touchdown. Michael Mayer 5-yard pass from Drew Pyne. Two-point attempt failed. Marshall 26, Notre Dame 21. (7 plays, 32 yards, 1:42)

No. 8 Notre Dame vs Marshall: Time, TV, Preview & Prediction for Marcus Freeman’s home debut

Ohio State University vs University of Notre Dame
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Marcus Freeman has run down the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium before, but he knows doing so as the Irish head coach will be different. More importantly, walking back up the tunnel with his first career win will be a welcomed difference.

Marshall (1-0) may challenge No. 8 Notre Dame (0-1), but it should be a short-lived challenge against an Irish team not only eager to move past last week’s loss at Ohio State but also overdue for notching Freeman’s first victory.

Losing to a pair of top-10 teams to start his career is hardly something to fault Freeman for, but a win is still overdue when remembering Notre Dame was leading at halftime both in the Fiesta Bowl and last week at Columbus.

No Irish head coach has ever opened his career 0-3. Freeman should not become the first today against the Herd.

TIME: 2:30 ET, with kickoff officially slated for 2:39 ET.

That pregame show will include two-time Notre Dame All-American defensive lineman Chris Zorich and two-time Super Bowl-champion and former Marshall running back Ahmad Bradshaw, as will the halftime show.

More pertinent to the game, midafternoon temperatures will be in the mid-80s with clouds at least protecting the sellout crowd from the sun.

TV: NBC will broadcast the first home game of the season, while Peacock will also carry the game live if preferring to stream it. Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett will man the booth with Zora Stephenson along the sidelines.

To pull from this space’s 40 preseason predictions, “Jac Collinsworth will provide the one characteristic that is most vital to a broadcast booth: He will be excited to be there at Notre Dame Stadium. Everyone has heard an announcer going through the motions torpedo a broadcast.”

Another preseason prediction applicable directly to this game:
— “Notre Dame will score first in at least nine games this season, including against Marshall as a 17-plus-point favorite.”

PREVIEW: A week ago, Freeman could remind his team of the betting spread to light a fire if needed. Now, that is Marshall’s luxury.

“They’re a talented football team that’s going to be hungry,” he said Thursday. “I’m sure they’re going to be fearless.

“We have to make sure we are aggressive from the start. This isn’t a game that we’re going to ease our way into, no, we’re going to be aggressive from the start.”

Repeating that intention may better the chances of that above prediction; if the Irish score first again this weekend, it will make six straight games they have cracked the scoreboard before their opponent. Regardless of that happening or not, that kind of approach struck Marshall head coach Charles Huff. Asked what he liked about watching Notre Dame’s film at Ohio State, Huff cut straight to the point Tuesday.

“Everything,” he said. “The way they get off the bus, the way their shoes are tied.”

Such is the talent gap between the Irish and the Herd. On some level, the Notre Dame roster knows as much; it is Freeman’s task to focus that confidence.

“It’s easy, when you walk into the team meeting when you say, ‘We’re 17.5-point underdogs,’ to get them motivated,” he said Monday. “It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, we’re going into a hostile environment with 105,000 fans,’ to get them motivated.

“Now we have to use that same type of motivation as we get ready for this Marshall team.”

Then Freeman cut to the core beauty of Saturdays in the fall. He struck the chord that elicits so many overreactions and irrational claims. He summed up the strongest reason even an expanded College Football Playoff will never truly reduce the regular season.

“Maybe we’re not looking at the spread or something like that, but we’re also looking at, ‘Okay, this opportunity, you get 12 guaranteed opportunities. 12.’ We have to understand we work 300 days a year for 12 guaranteed opportunities. So for us to waste an opportunity in Notre Dame Stadium, it would be a shame.”

PREDICTION: Only so much can be gleaned from the Irish loss a week ago. Notre Dame’s game plan should not apply to much of the rest of the season, slowing that game to keep Ohio State’s potent offense sidelined.

“We didn’t have a bunch of plays on offense, which was by design, to shorten the game,” Freeman said. “That’s what we wanted to do going into the game, is shorten the game.

“As we continue to move forward, we want to continue to establish the run, but also make sure we exploit some holes in the passing game.”

Doing so would help the Irish cover the 20.5-point spread, as of Friday evening, per PointsBet, as well as threaten the combined points total Over/Under of 50.

But Notre Dame may also have reason not to open up the game, at least not overly so. Plane difficulties kept the Irish in Columbus longer than expected, not returning to South Bend until Sunday morning. Reviewing the Buckeyes’ film did not come until Monday, as a result. Essentially, this unexpectedly became a short week for Notre Dame. For context, that timeline is congruent to the Irish return from Florida State last year, playing on Sunday. Notre Dame then struggled with Toledo, winning 32-29.

A quicker start will spare that heartburn, and thus the Irish may try to spare some legs this afternoon to compensate for those travel-frustration effects. A fast start would certainly help that cause, as would Notre Dame’s defensive line producing more than the one sack it managed a week ago.

At that point, Freeman has already admitted he wants to work in the inexperienced portions of the roster when he has chances to.

“If the opportunity presents itself, yeah, you want to get — experience is important,” he said. “We’re not going into this game thinking we’re going to be able to play some guys that we haven’t been able to play. We’re going into this game ready to go.”

All deference to Marshall aside, the Irish may view success this weekend as 1) winning 2) proving their offense can push the ball downfield and 3) getting some rest for the first-string in the second half.

A quick start followed by efficient possessions could also spare Notre Dame <begin sarcastic tone> a shocking concern </end sarcastic tone> from last week.

Irish punter Jon Sot cramped up at Ohio Stadium, as did a few other players, most notably fifth-year linebacker Bo Bauer, but it was Sot who elicited a raised eyebrow from Freeman.

“I was like, ‘How does the punter cramp? Holy cow,’” Freeman said. “I guess that’s what that environment does to you. It adds a little bit anxiety to you. … The environment, the atmosphere adds onto the pressure already on you.”

The Irish could simply opt to never punt, instead scoring early and often in Freeman’s debut at Notre Dame Stadium.

Notre Dame 38, Marshall 7
(Spread: 1-0; Over/Under: 0-1; Straight-up: 1-0)

AN ADDITIONAL GAME DAY NOTE
Freeman has reinstituted Notre Dame’s game day Mass at the Basilica and subsequent walk from there over to the Stadium.

“I really want to be at peace and be a little bit calm as we come into the Stadium and embrace this place,” he said. “Then when it’s kickoff time, we’ll be ready to roll.”

The walk — presumptuously deemed “The Victory March” — will exit the Eastern-facing side door of the Basilica, commonly known as the “God, Country, Notre Dame” door, and head past the LaFortune Student Center before pausing in front of the Hesburgh Library, just south of “The Word of Life” mural more commonly known as Touchdown Jesus. Freeman will address the crowd there before leading the Irish into Notre Dame Stadium.

The walk is scheduled for shortly after noon ET.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Tyler Buchner still more an unknown than anything; plus Playoff thoughts and 100,000 fans
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Opportunity awaits No. 21 BYU, something the Irish should hope for
And In That Corner: Marshall brings a hampered yet successful ground game to Notre Dame
ND ‘expects’ three-year starter Jarrett Patterson back on the offensive line against Marshall
Things To Learn: More aggressive offense crucial now that Ohio St. is in the rearview mirror
Marcus Freeman’s first run down the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium and the natural comparisons to be made
Scenes from a clash of college football titans
How to watch Notre Dame vs Marshall and the Irish all season: TV, Peacock info for 2022

OUTSIDE READING
Marshall vs Notre Dame odds, picks and predictions: Fighting Irish suffocate Herd
Here’s what new items you can eat at Notre Dame Stadium
Football weekend events: Notre Dame vs. Marshall
Matt Salerno reaches high and low in biggest game of his Notre Dame career
Two Black football coaches will make Notre Dame Stadium history — ‘What a great representation’
Notre Dame to remain test-optional for undergraduate admissions through 2024
Why College Football Playoff expansion to 12 teams is good thing
CFP committee digs into feasibility of early expansion to 12

Twitter: @statsowar