Notre Dame proved to be a worthy opponent against the favored Ohio State Buckeyes last weekend. However, a scoreless second half was the nail in the coffin for the Irish to ultimately lose the matchup. Nevertheless, they beat the brutal 17.5-point spread and showcased the team’s potential. Next for the Irish is this weekend’s home opener against the Marshall Thundering Herd. Though the Irish are overwhelmingly favored in this matchup by the national press (also ranked the second-easiest game on the schedule by Observer Sports Staff), they must not be complacent and look past this game. They will need to execute what was learned from the loss last weekend. Here are three key points for Notre Dame to capture a secure win and work on some of its shortcomings.
- Less conservative play calling
Last weekend, Notre Dame came out to establish the run game and keep the ball out of the hands of the explosive Ohio State offense. This earned the Irish the lead through the end of the third quarter. However, the Buckeye defense soon adjusted and their changes were apparent and effective. In the second half, it appeared the Irish were playing not to lose, which ultimately resulted in their demise. Rees chose not to take shots downfield with deep passes and instead continued to repeatedly run the ball. This led to Buchner only completing 10 passes. There is lots of potential here this weekend, especially in a less risky game, for Rees to be more aggressive with the play calling.
- Create holes for the running game
As mentioned above, the run game struggled last week against Ohio State. The lack of holes opened for the running backs proved to be a problem for the Irish in moving the chains. Last year, the offensive line was a weakness for the Irish. it was supposed to have been much improved with the return of coach Harry Hiestand. Missing an injured Jarret Patterson didn’t help but the O-line had its challenges blocking a fired-up Ohio State defensive line. There is still time to pick up the pieces, however, and against an undersized Marshall defensive line is the time to do it.
- Don’t underestimate Marshall
Marshall begins its first season in the Sun Belt Conference after coming over from Conference USA. Head coach Charles Huff previously was an assistant at Alabama and Penn State and will have his team prepared. The Herd went 7-6 last year with four of those losses by a touchdown or less. Last weekend the Herd blew out FCS school Norfolk State in their first game of the season, capturing a 55-3 victory. QB Henry Colombi is a transfer from Texas Tech, so he has familiarity with big crowds having started five games as a Red Raider. Nevertheless, Marshall will be missing star running back Rasheen Ali. Ali rushed for over 1400 yards and 23 touchdowns last year. A difference maker on the field, he would have been someone for the Irish to watch out for.
Though it seems like an easy path to victory for the Irish, The Thundering Herd has absolutely nothing to lose. They have some talent on both sides of the ball with the capability of keeping it close for a quarter or two. The Irish should not get sleepy this weekend as The Herd will surely be intense and looking to upset the Irish. Notre Dame must fix last week’s mistakes and continue to improve on the positives to handle Marshall and continue their march to the College Football Playoffs.