’22 Notre Dame Game Rankings #7: Home Opener Finds Notre Dame Taking on Marshall for First Time

Irish facing Thundering Herd in potential letdown game after their huge Ohio State matchup

In the first of two games against new opponents for the 2022 campaign, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish start the home portion of their schedule against the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall is moving into the Sun Belt Conference this season and has managed to hold its own during road non-conference matchups in recent years. However, the caliber of those schools pale in comparison to what they’re facing at Notre Dame

Thundering Herd head coach Charles Huff is beginning his second season after a 7-6 season in 2021 that led to a berth in the New Orleans Bowl. Huff undoubtedly has much higher goals this season and hopes to combine some key playmakers on offense with a much-improved defense to make another stronger bowl run.

Marshall Offense: Fixing Line Gaps a Key This Season

Last year’s starting quarterback Grant Wells has departed for Virginia Tech, with the Herd inserting a transfer of their own in his place, Henry Colombi. After spending his first two collegiate years at Utah State, Colombi moved on to Texas Tech, where he threw for 2,356 yards and 13 touchdowns in two years there. He also tossed nine interceptions, so if he hits a rough patch, Huff may try Cam Fancher behind center.

The good news for Colombi is that he has an outstanding running back to reduce the pressure in the form of Rasheen Ali. Last year, Ali had a breakout campaign by rushing for 1,401 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns, while also catching 45 passes. When Ali does need a breather, either Florida State transfer Khalan Laborn or Ethan Payne will likely tote the ball.

Colombi also has some receiving threats to consider, like possession wideout Corey Gammage, who had a team-high 78 catches last year. Talik Keaton is more of a big-play threat despite having only 19 grabs in 2021. Shadeed Ahmed and Jayden Harrison figure to also contribute, with Devin Miller likely focusing more on blocking from his tight end spot.

Finding a way to replace three starters on the offensive line might be Huff’s biggest challenge on offense. That unit kept defenders out of the Marshall backfield and allowed Ali to run wild. Right tackle Kendrick Sartor is one of the players back, with fellow returnee Logan Osburn and East Carolina transfer Trent Holler versatile enough to play at either guard or center. The left side is likely to see Ethan Driskell at tackle and Jack Murphy at guard.

Marshall Defense: Focusing on Opposing Running Games

The interior of the Marshall defensive line has also received an infusion of transfers who will take the two tackle spots and hopefully improve the Herd’s run defense. Kentucky transfer Isaiah Gibson will be on the nose, with either Anthony Watts from Purdue or Miami’s Quentin Williams handling the other tackle berth. On the ends, the trio of Koby Cumberlander, Owen Porter and Elijah Alston all have the quickness to get past the line and get to the quarterback.

Among the linebackers, Eli Neal did a little bit of everything, including leading the Herd last year with 5.5 sacks. Joining him on the strong side will be Charlie Gray. Meanwhile, weakside backer Abraham Beauplan is coming off a season in which he led Marshall in total tackles and tackles-for-loss.

Opposing passers will be challenged by the Herd’s returning duo at cornerback, Steven Gilmore and Micah Abraham, who combined for 22 pass deflections last year. Gilmore also led Marshall with three interceptions, a number that needs to be higher for the Herd to improve. Among the deep men, hard-hitting free safety E.J. Jackson is back and will be joined by another pair of transfers: strong safety Isaiah Norman from Austin Peay and nickel back Andre Sam from McNeese State.

Marshall Special Teams: New Hopes for the Kicking Unite

After using two placekickers last season, Marshall will put their faith in newcomer Kenyon Bowyer to handle the job. The same goes when it comes to punting, where new arrival John McConnell is expected to take over that role. For return duties, Harrison appears to be the top candidate to again handle kickoffs, with Keaton also returning to handle opposition punts.

The Last Time Notre Dame Faced Marshall

Not only will this be the first time that the Irish have faced the Herd, but it will also be the inaugural foray against a team from the Sun Belt Conference. That fact isn’t that surprising, considering that the conference only began sponsoring football in 2001. Notre Dame has slightly more experience against teams in Marshall’s old grouping among teams in Conference USA. The Irish have played three home games against such teams, the last being Rice in 2014.

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  1. So. Miami is ditching the “Turnover Chain”, after a 5-year run….because it’s a tired, boring old gimmick.

    In other news, ND will wear green jerseys against….Cal.

    1. Sales and revenue boosters.
      Looking to make a few more bucks on Green = the same color as cash,
      and add more interest to . . . Cal.
      Green out game !
      “Follow the money.” Following suit. It is college sports, after all.

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