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Coolican: Win over UNC must serve as turning point for Irish offense

Before kick-off Saturday in Chapel Hill, I noted that if Drew Pyne and the Irish offense were unable to get it going against the North Carolina defense, I wasn’t sure they would be able to do so against anybody. The Tar Heels came into the contest allowing opponents an average of 468 yards per game, so it was the perfect opportunity for the Irish to turn things around offensively.

Drew Pyne & Co. did that, and then some. After two unsuccessful drives, the Irish offense was absolutely dominant for the remainder of the game. The Irish rattled off six consecutive scoring drives and only punted once. It was an offensive masterclass in every facet of the game. The Irish rushed for 287 yards and passed for 289. 

North Carolina does have one of the worst defenses in college football, and that was on full display Saturday afternoon. But that shouldn’t take away from what the Irish were able to do offensively. 

“It’s what you hope Notre Dame football is going to be about,” head coach Marcus Freeman said after the game. “That you’re going to have an O-line that can run the ball…to be able to run the ball at will for four or five yards, that’s something that you have to be able to do.”

Notre Dame certainly showed what they are about on Saturday. The talented trio of running backs, junior Chris Tyree and sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, each had more than 100 total yards. 

After a shaky first drive, junior quarterback Drew Pyne looked increasingly confident as the game progressed. He played largely mistake-free football and consistently found open receivers downfield. Establishing the run early allowed for the offense to open up a vertical dimension that the Irish hadn’t shown previously. 

The play calling has been much maligned to start the season, and until Saturday, it appeared Notre Dame would be extremely limited offensively with Pyne under center. 

“I try to tell the team all the time. When things go bad, it’s bad play-calling. When things go well, it’s great play-calling. That’s the reality of things,” Freeman said. “I believe in the game Tommy Rees has called from Ohio State to Marshall to Cal to now. We were able to execute better.”

Pyne agreed with this confidence and sang the offensive coordinator’s praises in the post-game press conference.

“I think Coach Rees called an unbelievable game. He puts me in a position to go out there and just succeed and do my job and execute,” Pyne said. “I can’t tell you how many times I ran over to the phone and said, ‘Coach Rees, that was all you.’” 

All of this is well and good, but only if this game serves as a turning point for the Irish offense. Notre Dame must be able to build on this momentum as they approach the midway point of the season, with many of their toughest opponents still to come. 

The game was clearly an inflection point for Notre Dame; either they would drop to 1-3 and begin to cast doubts about whether the team would even be bowl eligible, or they would win their second game in a row heading into a bye week and the upcoming showdown with BYU. 

The Irish went out there and responded to this pressure in a big way. When this season is over, however, the win over UNC won’t be the first game that comes to mind. It will be the battles with BYU, Clemson, USC, and, unfortunately, the upset loss to Marshall. The Irish have to carry this momentum forward into these big showdowns.

Notre Dame is clearly getting better each week, but that will have to continue. What was most impressive about the win Saturday wasn’t the play-calling, the performance of the running backs or the offensive line, or Pyne’s play. It was the consistency. 

North Carolina quickly took a 7-0 lead on their first possession and then forced a three-and-out. Based on the first three weeks of the season, one might have expected the Irish offense to be completely demoralized, but instead, they bounced right back and put themselves in scoring position for every single drive for the rest of the game. 

A missed 44-yard field goal on their second drive of the game preceded six consecutive scoring drives, five of which were touchdowns. The Irish failed to convert on a 4th and 1 from the UNC 25 before another touchdown, and finally a fumble into the endzone. For those keeping track, that is 10 consecutive drives that finished inside the UNC 26 yard line. The Irish were moving the ball at will down the field practically all game. 

Notre Dame will certainly hope this game serves as a turning point for an offense that was at times painful to watch through the first three games of the season. North Carolina didn’t offer much in the way of resistance, but it was undoubtedly the best the Irish have looked all season. However, they’ll still need to prove it against better defensive opponents, and BYU is the perfect place to do so. 

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Evaluating the Notre Dame offense

Coming into Saturday’s game against Cal, there’s no doubt that the offense was the biggest question mark surrounding Notre Dame football. They had only scored 31 points in the opening two games, and the season-ending injury to starting sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner only added to the uncertainty. That being said, here are my takeaways from the offense’s performance against Cal.

They found a way to win

It wasn’t pretty, but the bottom line is the offense did enough to win the game. After 0 first downs and just 28 yards on four possessions in the first quarter, it was easy to start thinking the worst. But slowly, they turned it around. In the second quarter, they took advantage of good field position to score their first points of the game. After halftime, they looked even better, scoring on three straight drives after the break.

Outside of the fumbled snap in the second quarter, junior quarterback Drew Pyne didn’t make any egregious mistakes in his first career start. His final stat line was 17-23 (73.9%) for 150 passing yards and 2 touchdowns. It’s a solid line.

Lack of verticality

On the surface, Pyne’s numbers are not bad, but they hint at a troubling lack of verticality from Notre Dame with Pyne under center. On Saturday against Cal, he averaged 8.8 yards per completion, a far cry from Jack Coan’s 12.5 YPC last year and even further from Pyne’s own 14.9 average in limited action last year.

The location data on Pyne’s passes from Saturday tells a similar story: 70% of his attempts were shorter than five yards in front of the line of scrimmage. Nearly half of Pyne’s pass attempts (11/23) on Saturday were screen passes completed at or behind the line.

Altogether, Pyne only attempted three passes deeper than 15 yards with only one completion. This came after Buchner attempted 9 such passes against Marshall, completing three for 71 yards. Granted, this lack of aggression down the field isn’t all on Pyne. The receiving core is limited for Notre Dame, both through injury and inexperience, and it’s clear that that position group will need to find a way to improve quickly to give Pyne better options on the outside.

This reality was reflected in Pyne’s top receivers on Saturday being two running backs. Sophomore Audric Estime and junior Chris Tyree combined for eight receptions and 87 yards out of the backfield to lead the Irish. Even so, it’s telling that the two biggest passing plays came when they were able to run past the line of scrimmage and receive the ball in space down the field.

First, Tyree ran uncovered out of the backfield where Pyne hit him for the 21-yard touchdown. Later, he hit Estime on an angle route out of the backfield where he beat the linebacker to catch a pass that he turned into a 36-yard gain after the catch.

Simply put, the Irish will need to find a way to generate more chunk plays on offense to increase their margin for error. Being able to score more efficiently will also take some pressure off their defense in games against high-scoring offenses like North Carolina and USC later in the year.

Resurgent offensive line and run game

On Saturday, the offensive line reminded us why we thought so highly of them coming into the year. After two shaky games where they struggled, there’s no question Notre Dame dominated in the trenches this week. In fact, PFF graded sophomore offensive linemen Joe Alt, graduate student Jarrett Patterson and senior Zeke Correll the top offensive players for Notre Dame last weekend.

In the run game, they did a great job opening holes for Tyree and Estime, and allowed Notre Dame to control the tempo. In total, the two backs combined for 140 yards on 35 carries. Despite giving up two sacks, they also did a great job in pass protection, often giving Pyne enough time to go through multiple reads. Coming into the season, high-level offensive line play and a tough run game was supposed to be the backbone of this team — on Saturday, they played like it.

Get Michael Mayer the ball

Junior tight end Michael Mayer is by far Notre Dame’s best offensive weapon. He is a projected NFL first-round pick, and he’s slowly climbing to the top of a lot of Notre Dame’s tight end leaderboards. Coming into Saturday, it was expected that the All-American would be a safety blanket for Pyne. A reliable pass catcher in an offense sorely lacking a truly elite threat at wide receiver. Instead, Mayer had just two catches for 10 yards on just five targets. With Buchner under center, Mayer had nine targets against Marshall and eight against the Buckeyes.

Mayer had four targets in the first quarter against Cal and just one reception. In part, it was a product of Pyne’s poor play in the first half. That was most obvious on a crucial third down situation where Mayer got wide open in the middle of the field, but Pyne sailed the throw high and out of the 6’4” tight end’s reach forcing a punt.

Moving forward that can’t happen. Pyne has to be able to get Mayer the ball and do it accurately. They can’t just forget to target him for two and a half quarters after it doesn’t work a couple of times. Michael Mayer is a game-changing talent at tight end and he needs to be a focal point of the offense every single game.

The offense saw some significant progress against Cal. They ran the ball well with someone other than Tyler Buchner for the first time, and the offensive line stepped up in a big way. However, they also showed a worrisome lack of explosiveness and the receiving core is still a big concern. It was encouraging to see a willingness to adapt to what was working and ultimately, they were able to win the game. The onus falls on offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to find ways for this offense to play to its strengths and hopefully continue to improve across the board.

Contact José at jsanch24@nd.edu

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Golden, Rees coordinate plan for major changes 

After a devastating defeat against unranked Marshall, the Irish are looking to regroup and revitalize this weekend at home against Cal. The loss of sophomore starting quarterback Tyler Buchner due to injury threw an even bigger wrench for the Irish. Both the defense and offense came out flat in last week’s game. And there is a dire need for improvement on both sides of the ball. 

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and defensive coordinator Al Golden shared similar sentiments about their mindsets and where they hope to go. Taking accountability and standing behind Marcus Freeman and the team, both coaches are determined to fix the mistakes of the last two weeks.

‘It all starts with me’

The Notre Dame offense has consistently fallen short this season. Shortcomings and red flags seen during the Ohio State game were only exemplified in the disappointing performance against Marshall. Buchner’s inaccuracy on deep passes coupled with the lack of holes created by the offensive line made it difficult for the Irish to move the chains. With Buchner out, however, junior quarterback Drew Pyne could be the switch the Irish need. Experienced and ready to assume Buchner’s role as starting quarterback, Pyne brings a different perspective to the table.

“Drew’s care factor is about as high as anyone you can be around,” Rees said. “I told Drew, we are in a tough spot right now and we need you here. Drew knows the playbook and has respect for his teammates. He’s prepared himself for this for a long time.”

Though this new change will certainly shake things up on offense, Rees foresees it as a way to pivot and create enhanced offensive play. 

“There’s certainly things that Tyler does at a high level that we’ll adjust to or pivot from,” Rees said. “We have a lot of faith and trust in Drew, and we are building that in Steve Angeli right now. Our job is to make sure these two guys are ready to go and play in a football game.”

Rees recognizes that the success of the offense stems from him, and he takes ownership of the team’s performance. Rees’ play calling has been largely conservative, so it will be interesting to see what he does this weekend.

“It all starts with me,” Rees said. “I have to be better, I have to do more to make sure everybody knows what is expected and what needs to be done. We are extremely driven to make sure that we will fix what we need to.”

Rees “believe[s] there can be expansion in the playbook” and must put players in a place that is advantageous to the offense. Running back Chris Tyree, said to be a key asset for the Notre Dame offense this year, has seen little action on the field. 

“We have to continue to find ways to get the guys who will make our offense more explosive and get more touches,” Rees said. “Tyree certainly falls under that category.” 

Despite all the negatives on the offense, there were some good moments. Rees emphasized the importance of recognizing these positives to stay motivated and replicate them while replacing the negatives. 

“There are positives and you gotta find them,” Rees said. “We need to make sure that everyone is doing their job and improving.”

‘We have to do a better job tackling, number one’

The Irish expected their defense to be a huge strength. But so far, their performance has been less than stellar. Missed tackles. No turnovers. Collapsing at the end of long drives at the end of the game. All of these problems have plagued the Irish defense. Though they were able to keep the points down, the defense needs to step up. Golden recognizes this, feeling “disappointed by not discouraged” by the early results, getting straight to the point.

“We have to do a better job tackling, number one,” Golden said. “And our fourth quarter execution has to improve. That’s on me, I have to do a better job putting them in a position to execute in the fourth quarter, and we have to do a better job tackling as a unit in general.”

Golden’s ownership of the team’s shortcomings is similar to that of Rees, highlighting the accountability of both coordinators.

“We can mix it up and do a better job,” Golden said “We’ve limited explosives and have kept the points down. But what we haven’t done is turn the field on a takeaway. So takeaways, more hits and sacks on the quarterbacks are things we can do a better job of.”

These elements, especially an increasing emphasis on tackling, could make all the difference for the Irish defense. However, despite the chaos, Golden recognized the three defensive captains as providing a constant for the Irish defense the past two weeks.

“(Isaiah) Foskey has shown leadership and a late in-game energy. We have to keep finding the matchup for him and help him get pressure on the quarterback,” Golden said. “JD Bertrand’s been very good in terms of setting the front and communication. Bo Bauer’s obviously doing a great job on special teams. Very pleased with all three of these guys but at the same time disappointed, because they’ve worked very hard and aren’t getting the results that they deserve. They gotta keep fighting and good things will happen.”

Preparing for Saturday

Golden, Rees, and the rest of the coaching staff are looking at everything from “the top down.” Though the Irish have not started strong, there is no denying they are trying hard to turn things around. Not taking things for granted and recognizing the importance of each play, Rees says, is the name of the game this weekend.

“Anytime you play this game the margins between wins and losses are very small,” Rees said. “You can have a number of losses that get masked because you won the game. We must not take things for granted. Play in and play out, it matters how everyone does their job.”

Contact Maddie Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu

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The Observer predicts Cal vs. Notre Dame

Emily DeFazio, Associate Sports Editor

I am not sure where to begin in predicting Saturday’s outcome; I have few words left after having to eat so many of them last week. The Irish would have to win out in order for my 10-2 season prediction to be correct, and with USC and Clemson still left to take on, I have my doubts.

The offense was already struggling, and the loss of sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner is a tough pill to swallow. I have mixed feelings about junior quarterback Drew Pyne stepping in. It is certainly his time to shine, but he will have to do just that. Interceptions like Saturday cannot happen moving forward. However, this is an opportunity for Rees to structure a solid game plan that involves more than just the run game. Pyne has proven he can pass the ball well, and he should be allowed to do so.

I am counting on those sporadic moments of greatness he posted on the field last year to grow now that he is securely in the QB1 position. Utilize juniors Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman for some tight end touchdowns Saturday. Should the offense rally under this new leadership, and the defensive line tighten up their play, I see the Irish coming away with their first win of the season. Albeit a close one.

ND 24, Cal 17

Nate Moller, Senior Sports Writer

Notre Dame Stadium is usually one of my favorite places in the world. But it was far from it last Saturday. The Irish looked truly awful throughout most of the game. With Freeman being 0-3 as a head coach, this game feels like a must-win. Without Buchner at quarterback, that will make getting a win much more difficult. Cal is by no means a strong power five team. But they have shown that they can close out games, which is something Notre Dame has yet to do. Running back Jaydn Ott has averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry this season. Stopping his production will be key for the Irish.

If the Irish are going to win this game, the offensive and defensive lines need to be much better than the mess that was Marshall. If Pyne doesn’t have time to pass and the run game can not be established, the Irish could be in trouble yet again. I think this is going to be a sloppy game. And while it may not be a good win, I do expect Notre Dame to find a way to get into the win column. A late Michael Mayer touchdown gives the Irish just enough offense to edge out the Golden Bears.

Notre Dame 14, Cal 13

Liam Coolican, Associate Sports Editor

If you’re looking for someone to blame for the Irish’s struggles, look no further. Not only did I predict the team would go 11-1 and make the CFP, I also wrote last week that “Notre Dame doesn’t lose trap games.” The good news is, my predictions, much like Notre Dame’s fortunes, can’t get much worse. Drew Pyne clearly wasn’t ready to come into the game last week, but he showed flashes of brilliance last year and I believe he can be a solid, if not spectacular, quarterback at this level. However, the Irish do have to adjust their offense substantially to play to Pyne’s strengths rather than Buchner’s in just a week’s time.

It might be another slow start for the Irish as the offense takes time to get used to Pyne under center. But the defense will keep them in the game against a lackluster Cal offense. Notre Dame should be more fired up and better prepared than they were a week ago. Pyne will get rolling in the second half, and the defense will come up with a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter. It may take a late score, but the Irish will pull this one out.

Notre Dame 24, Cal 17

Mannion McGinley, Assistant Managing Editor

The Irish have started the season 0-2 for the first time since 2011. Seeing as that’s as many losses as I predicted on the season as a whole, the Irish are not where I expected them to be. Losing Buchner on top of that was just salt in the wound. There’s potential in the change up though, especially this week. Cal may be 2-0, but the Irish need the win and this is the space to get it. Plummer is a quarterback the Irish D-line knows, and knows well. They need to get to him just as they did when he played for Purdue.

In terms of Irish offense, it’s not perfect. But Pyne’s structure may be the answer to ending the passing touchdown drought. Both UC Davis and UNLV were able to score through the air on Cal. This should mean the Irish can as well. The defense gets the takeaway they’ve been striving for. And while it’ll be tight, some of the pieces finally come together. At the risk of losing any credibility, Irish win. 

Notre Dame 21, Cal 17

Madeline Ladd, Associate Sports Editor

To be honest, I’m not sure what to say here after the devastation last week. Coupled with the loss of Buchner, there are a lot of question marks going into this weekend. However, though Notre Dame is down, they are not out. They will certainly be coming into the weekend hungry, and the changes made on offense may prove to be beneficial.

But Cal’s defense is no joke. The Notre Dame offense, now led by Pyne, will need to get it together in order to come out with the victory. I predict that Pyne will be efficient and throw for two TD’s. I see junior running back Chris Tyree with more action on the ground as well. The defensive line will control the weaker Cal offensive line, not fading in the second half as they have in the previous two games. This is a game well within the Irish’s wheelhouse and I think they can pull off the win. But it certainly won’t be pretty.

Notre Dame 17, Cal 13

Aidan Thomas, Sports Editor

Gross. I predicted Notre Dame to go 10-2 this season, which, I guess, is technically still in play. However when you lose a game that I personally ranked seventh-hardest on the schedule and start 0-2, that 10-2 dream is on very thin ice — but still alive.

The Irish currently have no semblance of an offense. They’ve scored just 31 points, blowing a bevy of opportunities over the first couple of weeks. Untimely penalties, missed open deep shots, interceptions and no running game have thwarted the Irish offense at nearly every turn. Now they turn to longtime backup Pyne to make things right.

He must do so against a Cal defense that is stiff against the pass but has experienced struggles against the run. The lead back for each Cal opponents this year averages 7.1 yards per carry. The Irish need to assert themselves in the trenches and dominate a below-average Cal offense. Notre Dame must win ugly this year. Hopefully, that trend starts on Saturday.

Notre Dame 24 Cal 13

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Moller: Freeman Era teetering on brink of disaster

It’s hard to believe that just last week, there were many Notre Dame fans across the country expecting the Irish to finish the season 11-1 after a hard-fought loss to Ohio State in the opening week of the season. Fast forward a week and the narrative is completely different following a stunning Irish defeat to the Marshall Thundering Herd.

Being a lifelong Notre Dame football fan, I have faced plenty of lows. USC’s reign of terror over the Irish during the Charlie Weis era. A 3-9 season in 2007. The national championship blowout loss to Alabama in 2013. A 4-8 season in 2016. And of course, the pair of recent CFP losses.

Despite all of those painful memories, this might be an all-time low for me. That Marshall game will forever be burned into my head as I sat in the student section in utter disbelief. Notre Dame usually finds a way to win games like that one. But that just wasn’t the case last Saturday. I had never left a Notre Dame football game early. But I did on Saturday after the Drew Pyne interception because I didn’t want to waste more time on a team that had looked lackluster and effortless all day.

Last December, when Marcus Freeman was announced as head coach, I had full faith in Freeman. I truly believed that he would be the coach to finally get the Irish to a national title. After a stunning 0-3 start to the Freeman Era, I am now beyond skeptical.

In each of Freeman’s three losses, the Irish have led in the second half and have looked like the better team in parts of each game. And just like clockwork in all three of the games, the team utterly collapses, forgets how to play defense in the fourth quarter and fails to execute late in the game. It’s one thing to have less talent than the other team and be outplayed. But that hasn’t really been the case in any of the three losses. In each of those games (yes, even Ohio State), the Irish proved they had the talent to go toe-to-toe with their opponent and win the game.

Ultimately, those close losses come down to one thing: coaching. The Irish have been out-coached in each of the three losses, and ultimately, that has been the difference. I could point fingers at offensive coordinator Tommy Rees as well, but I think the problem has been bigger than him so far. This is, after all, the Freeman Era. This is Coach Freeman’s football team. There has to be some sense of urgency in this football program, and I don’t get the sense there is right now. A loss to Marshall should be a big deal. But it seems like the fanbase and media are waving if off like everything is going to be alright.

Freeman said after the loss to Oklahoma State in the bowl game that the “honeymoon phase is over.” After the atrocious beginning to this season, the relationship is even more than post-honeymoon strained now. Freeman must do everything in his power to right the sinking ship that is Notre Dame this season. Even though the Irish will be playing mostly for pride here on out, Freeman has to energize his team and get them back to playing Notre Dame football.

I haven’t given up on Freeman this yet. But I am angry, confused and anxious. The recruiting has been great under Freeman, and I still believe Freeman can be a great head coach at Notre Dame. But I need to see something from him this year that proves that to me.

For that reason, this weekend at Cal is a must-win game for Coach Freeman. Another loss at home to a sub-par opponent will raise even more doubts about Freeman and could send this season into free-fall — if it isn’t already.

So, what do the Irish need to do to get into the win column? Losing sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner to a season ending injury certainly isn’t going to help, but hopefully the team can rally around Drew Pyne. If Pyne is going to be successful, though, the offensive line has to improve drastically. The Irish have failed to establish a run game in both games this season. And that, in turn, has made it difficult to find consistency in the passing game. The Irish should have three solid backs in junior Chris Tyree and sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs. Now is the time to get those three going offensively.

Aside from the offensive line, the Irish need to take care of the football. They didn’t do that at the end of the Marshall game, and it arguably made the difference. The Irish might find themselves in a lot of low scoring games and handing the opposing team good field position will cost the Irish greatly.

The defense has not been the issue this season. But they have struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, recording only three sacks this season. Senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey has been relatively quiet for the Irish this season. He needs to energize the Irish front seven going forward and generate some turnovers to help out a struggling Irish offense.

Let’s take a quick detour and look back to 2011, the last time the Irish started 0-2. Last week was not the first time the Irish suffered a horrible loss in the home opener. In fact, in Brian Kelly’s second season as head coach, the Irish lost the home opener to South Florida — a game I was actually at as an excited ten-year old Notre Dame fanatic. Despite the loss, the Irish managed to finish a respectable 8-5 and beat some quality opponents. The following season, the Irish completed a perfect 12-0 regular season.

I see plenty of parallels between last week’s Marshall game and the South Florida game. And if the Irish can clean up a couple of the things I mentioned, there’s no doubt in my mind that Notre Dame can get some wins this year and build confidence into next season.

These next few weeks are crucial, though. The Freeman Era is currently teetering on the brink of disaster and how this football team finishes out this year will be pivotal in Marcus Freeman developing himself as a legitimate head football coach. Marcus Freeman, I am rooting for you. But it’s time to win some football games. If these losses keep cascading into more defeats, the Freeman Era might burn out as quickly as it took over.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu

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Notre Dame vs. Marshall: Keys to Victory

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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

Madeline Ladd

Contact Madeline Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu

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McGinley: This weekend, the Irish define themselves

Last weekend, the Irish fell 21-10 to the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Irish also started a brand new quarterback, under a brand new coach, with a brand new O-line coach. 

Last weekend, the Irish beat the spread, scored first and led for most of the game all while the defense took on the three-headed hydra that is the Buckeye offense under C.J. Stroud. 

Last weekend was a different game.

Now, the Irish home opener is upon us, and Notre Dame has a different set of goals to accomplish as they take on Marshall.

This weekend, the Irish define themselves.

Outside of pulling off a win, Notre Dame’s goals Sept. 3 had two major facets, at least from where I sat. First, keep the Buckeyes at bay. The Irish were headed into a massive stadium. They knew it would be loud, and it was. They knew it would be hostile, and it was. They knew they’d be the underdogs in a space like that, and they were.

Still, the Irish defense came bounding out of the tunnel for a sack, forced Stroud out of the pocket repeatedly and only allowed one touchdown in the first half. (The lowest first-half score the Buckeyes have seen under head coach Ryan Day.) They could have kept that pace too had the offense not been in a conservative mindset in the second half. The defense was on the field for quite some time and still only let up three touchdowns overall.

This weekend, however, the defensive goal unequivocally has to be to join in on the scoring. With a defensive-minded head coach and Al Golden in the coordinator chair, the Irish were ready. You wouldn’t have known in Ohio that the Irish lost their star safety and their starting nose guard from the year before if you didn’t know you were supposed to miss them. And that was against the number three team in the country. 

Now, the Irish will take on the Thundering Herd, and you can expect the defense to be everywhere. Even the cornerback room — arguably the most questionable unit on the defensive side of the ball — has stepped up to the challenge. Last weekend was a test of how good they are. Now, it’s time for a joy ride. Marshall is a strong enough opponent that it’s an important test run for just how dominant the defense can be, not just how long it can hold its own.

The second goal last weekend was for the Irish to look like they belonged on that field. Throughout the 12 years of the Kelly era, fans of college football have told a broader narrative that once the Irish made it to the big stage, they couldn’t hold their own. While there’s a lot more nuance to that discussion, the fact of the matter is the scores were never close. Whether the talent just wasn’t there for the Irish, they weren’t coached the same way or it was just a sheer mindset issue, the outcomes were often blowouts.

Last weekend, however, they led until the third, were only down by four until the fourth quarter and only lost by 11 points. The Irish were by no means out of that game at any point. A couple conservative calls from Tommy Rees came in the form of protection for Tyler Buchner behind Hiestead’s offensive line, all on the field for the first time. While they could have been game changers had they gone for it — as Freeman ultimately said he wanted to — Rees made the right decision. There’s a just as likely possibility that a brand new quarterback makes a mistake downfield under pressure towards the end of a long, loud, hostile game as there is that he makes the game-winning touchdown throw. The difference? This way, Rees took the game — and mentally, the season — off Buchner’s shoulders. He gave Buchner the opportunities to do what he came to do without putting a tinted filter on his entire season. 

Does this mean Rees doesn’t trust Buchner? Absolutely not. Rees read the room — or the stadium for that matter. He allowed the entire team a chance to prove themselves, not just Buchner. Jon Sot is a great example of this. He did his part as well as anyone, pinning the Buckeyes deep in their own half on several punts. Had Buchner taken a desperate shot downfield and it went poorly, that’s an entirely different mindset coming off the field, one no one needs to start their collegiate career with. The shots he did take, although they didn’t all land, looked promising. This is the weekend to put those to the test. Marshall can be a threat if the Irish let them. But if Buchner takes control under guidance from Rees, this game will be a great space to shore up comfort levels on the field before the season grows more difficult week to week.

While that 1 in the loss column is going to hurt all season, 11 points is no detrimental loss, especially when they came so late in the game. And, some of the concessions the Irish made then will not be on the table this weekend. Freeman already made it well known. He wants to be aggressive this weekend, so you won’t see that conservative play calling — nor should you. It’s time to define Notre Dame Football for the season. The Irish will enter Notre Dame Stadium ready to rack up the points on both sides of the ball and they’re fully capable of it.

Mannion McGinley


Contact Mannion and mmcginl3@nd.edu