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Irish football trampled by Thundering Herd, start season 0-2

Notre Dame football fell to Marshall on Saturday afternoon, 26-21. This is the second Irish loss of the season, and the third of Marcus Freeman’s tenure as head coach.

“It’s never easy to come in here after a loss, no matter to who, it’s disappointing,” Freeman said. “You know, we didn’t execute and it comes down to execution. We did not execute the way we needed to win in this game. And so we have to look at ourselves as individuals just as a team. We all have to look at ourselves, starting with the head coach on down and say, ‘Okay, what do I have to do? What do we have to do to fix the issues that we’re having?’”

Notre Dame took the ball to open the game. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner found sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles in the air twice for the first two first downs of the game. But that momentum didn’t last long as the game started slow. Neither team was able to score in the first five drives, leaving the first quarter scoreless. But it was Marshall who broke into the end zone first, and that lead would ultimately be enough to carry them to a win.

The Irish took an attempt on fourth down. Buchner found graduate student Braden Lenzy down the sideline. But the wide receiver couldn’t get his feet down in bounds. Turnover on downs for the Irish. Ultimately, neither team could capitalize on this as Marshall turned it over on downs seconds later. After failed rushing attempts, and a sack, graduate student punter Jon Sot placed the Herd at the 21.

The Herd pushed forward on the back of Caleb McMillan who snagged two first downs into Irish territory. The Irish failed to tackle throughout the drive, giving up what looks like a touchdown only for it to be called back due to illegal motion on Marshall’s side. Jayden Harrison reels in another first down from Henry Colombi to put Marshall in the red zone to start the second. Laborn takes it up the middle for those four yards to break the scoreless tie. Up six, Marshall kicker Rece Verhoff missed the PAT, wide right. 

The Irish came out swinging in their first possession of the second quarter. Junior running back Chris Tyree returned the ball 32 yards to the Irish 33, followed by Styles snagging 22 yards. The momentum was squashed though when Micah Abraham stepped in the path of a pass to Lenzy at the Irish 48. 

Still, the defense came up with the stop again, forcing a punt from Marshall. Both teams exchanged punts again after that.

With 5:03 left in the half, the Irish ran an early two-minute drill after a Marshall punt. Notre Dame started the drive from their own 44 with a 14-yard rushing first down from Buchner. Buchner went again for a seven-yard gain to the 36. After an offsides call, Buchner completed a first down pass to junior tight end Michael Mayer for 18 yards. Buchner found Mayer again, who shook off a defender, to make a 12-yard run to the goal line. To finish the drive, Buchner rushed out wide to the left leaving three minutes in the half and Irish up 7-6. This was Buchner’s fourth rushing touchdown, his first of the season.

The Thundering Herd was just that though and were able to use the three minutes. Marshall took the ball from their own 22 and, after a successful first down attempt, and a facemask from senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey, the Herd crossed into their own half. Laborn and Corey Gammage brought two more first downs, before Colombi found Harrison at the four. Laborn would run twice more for no gain as he found DJ Brown and J.D. Bertrand waiting for him. Colombi looked to pass, but Bracy was there on the coverage. With 18 seconds left, the Herd settled for a field goal to go up 9-7.

To open the half, Marshall punted, leaving the Irish at their own twelve. Two carries from sophomore running back Audric Estime brought the Irish to a first down at the 28. Buchner rushed and then hit Styles for eight yards and a first down. Estime was then stuffed twice, and the Irish turned the ball over on downs for a second time. 

Marshall faked a flea flicker and instead Talik Keaton took off past several defenders for a 30-yard gain. From the Irish 11, quarterback Cam Fancher gained seven yards before senior linebacker JD Bertrand took him down. Graduate student defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola pushed the Herd back to the seven and graduate student safety DJ Brown made the stop on a quarterback, forcing another field goal attempt. Verhoff made it though, and Marshall extended their lead 12-7. While some red zone stops were there, the Herd was able to march downfield repeatedly over the Irish.

The Herd outran the Irish 219 to 130 yards and Marshall’s Henry Colombi saw 76% completion to sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner’s 56%.

“I really don’t think we were hurt that much in the vertical pass game,” Brown said of where Colombi found success when he did throw. “It was just those intermediate throws and RPOs and things like that. You know, we can always correct this.”

The Irish also saw three interceptions to the Herd’s none. Freeman said the biggest issue though was the lack of tackling.

“Too many times where run or pass, we didn’t get the ball carrier. You can’t let an offense run 95 yards at any moment, but especially not the fourth quarter, when the game’s on the line, you’re up and you’re trying to, you know, put the game away,” he said.

After a touchback from the Marshall kickoff, Mayer was fouled and the Irish moved to their own 36, seemingly shifting the momentum once again. From there, Buchner found Mayer again, connecting this time for a 30-yard gain to the Marshall 35. Tyree caught a pass and ran for nine yards and then Buchner completed the 10 with a sneak around the side plus five more. From the 19, Buchner hit junior tight end Kevin Bauman who took off to the one. 

To start the fourth quarter, and bring his rushing touchdowns to five, Buchner snuck into the end zone for six points. He then went around the side for two more. The Irish took the lead 15-12. 

The Irish defense allowed one first down from Marshall before turning on the jets. On third and seven, junior safety Ramon Henderson and graduate student defensive end Justin Ademilola took Colombi down for a loss of eight. At fourth and 15, the Herd punted and safety senior Brandon Joseph returned it to the Notre Dame 40. 

After seven plays, the Irish punted. Marshall opened the drive at the Irish 6. Mainly on the ground, the Herd marched down the field yet again. Khalan Laborn broke several Irish tackles to bring the Herd to the Notre Dame 6 on a 42-yard run. Colombi found Devin Miller through the air to put the Herd up again. After the kick, the score sat at 19-15.

The Herd wasn’t done scoring though. Steven Gilmore picked off Buchner shortly afterward to make the score 26-15. 

From the Marshall 25, the Irish gained a 15-yard penalty to move to the 40 before finding Mayer over the middle. Buchner rushed for another first down, but left the field hurt on the play. With junior Drew Pyne in at quarterback, the Irish turn the ball over again. Pyne looked to pass, but ultimately threw the game’s third interception. Owen Porter snagged the ball from the Irish.  

The defense came up with the stop again though as graduate student linebacker Bo Bauer blocked the punt and the Irish took the ball on the 32. Through a Marshall penalty, a sack, a completed pass and his own 13-yard run, Pyne managed to bring the Irish to the five. There, he found Mayer to break into the endzone for the Irish one last time. He failed the two-point conversion though, and the Irish fell 26-21.

After the game, Mayer officially broke the threshold of 120 career receptions, but he said he didn’t care about that. What he cared about was winning.

“I’m pretty frustrated because we lost but we’ll watch the film tomorrow. And Tuesday, we start preparing for Cal and, you know, hopefully, we get a win there and several [others],” Mayer said. “I mean you really can’t just sulk in these losses. I mean, we’re 0-2, yes, and it’s horrible, it’s horrible, but we’re just going to prepare for the next team. Try to execute the best we can execute and just keep playing.”

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