In Saturday’s 2022 home opener for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Marcus Freeman’s squad faces off in the school’s first-ever meeting against the Marshall Thundering Herd. Freeman and the Irish are hoping to bounce back from their opening week loss at Ohio State,
Marshall also began their 2022 campaign last Saturday, though on a happier note by easily dispatching Norfolk State, 55-3. Their contest against Notre Dame is the first of three consecutive road contests and will be against an Irish squad that’s won 31 of their last 33 games at home. Still, the Irish need to get past the painful hangover of their defeat.
Below are some of the primary matchups to watch for in this game:
QB Tyler Buchner vs. Marshall Defense
In his first start of the season, Buchner completed 10 of 18 passes for 177 yards against Ohio State, with no mistakes on the night. Buchner was handicapped by the poor field position the Irish often found themselves in, with his mobility mostly held in check. He figures to have much more freedom to take risks in this contest, though he needs more help from the running game.
The Thundering Herd defenders held Norfolk State to just 114 total yards and five first downs. Neutralizing the two most active Marshall defenders in that game could help make life easier for Buchner. Defensive end Koby Cumberlander and Stud linebacker Charlie Gray will be coming from both sides of the ball, with Gray also someone to contend with in pass coverage.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Henry Colombi
The Irish pass rush collected two sacks against Ohio State against arguably the best quarterback in college football. They also missed another that might have changed the course of the game. One of Marshall’s weak spots is an offensive line that remains a work in progress, which could mean a big afternoon for players like Isaiah Foskey and Howard Cross.
Colombi is now at his third different school. However, he got off to a solid start with the Herd by completing 24-of-26 for 205 yards and one scoring pass. He also threw one interception, with his inconsistency a problem that surfaced during his two years at Texas Tech and resulted in his benching in consecutive years.
MLB J.D. Bertrand vs. RB Khalan Laborn
Bertrand battled through injuries last year to finish with 102 tackles, but only collected three against Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ running game helped salt away their win after Bertrand and his fellow defenders had held that unit to just 87 yards over three quarters. Bertrand has made a career out of adapting to new situations with the Irish and should be primed to wipe away the sting of the opening loss.
After Rasheen Ali’s temporary departure for personal reasons last month, Marshall was forced to shift gears with their running game. Laborn is a former top recruit at Florida State who teamed with fellow back Ethan Payne to rush fir over 100 yards and score two touchdowns each against Norfolk State. Laborn has plenty of speed and can also be hard to bring down, putting the onus on Bertrand and his teammates to stop him.
TE Michael Mayer vs. SS Isaiah Norman
Mayer was Notre Dame’s leading receiver last year and figures to be Buchner’s main target throughout the year. He presents a major target and has the athleticism to outjump defenders, finishing with five catches against Ohio State. The hope is that other Irish receivers can also become part of the mix after five players caught just one pass apiece in the loss to the Buckeyes.
Norman transferred from Austin Peay during the offseason and faces a major challenge after having little trouble in his Herd debut. He played cornerback at his previous school, but Marshall’s strong secondary talent resulted in the move, with this challenge likely to be the biggest one he faces during the 2022 season.
NICKEL Tariq Bracy vs. WR Talik Keaton
Bracy’s focus against Ohio State shifted when their top receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba went out with injury, Even though Bracy ended up holding Xavier Johnson to two receptions, those two catches came at the end of the third quarter came at a crucial time and allowed the Buckeyes to take the lead for good. Avoiding those pitfalls in this game would give the Irish a boost.
During his first three seasons with the Herd, Keaton caught a total of 45 passes. On Saturday, with Colombi behind center, he caught eight for 71 yards. Keaton has had past issues with injuries and hasn’t shown himself to be a deep threat while at Marshall. However, he’s been an effective punt returner and could again be Colombi’s main target against the Irish.