Immediate Overreactions: Honeymoon Over After Notre Dame Upset by Marshall in Freeman’s Home-Opener

Notre Dame records one of the worst losses of the last 20 years in Marcus Freeman's first game in Notre Dame Stadium making him the first coach in Notre Dame history to start their careers 0-3.

A loss in the Fiesta Bowl to a top-5 foe after being named head coach three weeks prior wasn’t great but was explainable. A loss to another top-5 opponent on the road in a game they led in the 3rd quarter wasn’t ideal but was understandable. A loss at home to a Group of 5 opponent that was nearly a 20-point underdog? There’s no excuse, no explanation, and no reason for that. That is the reality of the situation for Marcus Freeman, however, at this early yet suddenly critical juncture of his tenure following one of the worst Notre Dame losses in decades on Saturday.

Notre Dame’s lines – both of them – are now officially concerning

Neither offensive nor defensive line looked great for Notre Dame against Ohio State last weekend. Against Marshall, both units should have gotten themselves right. That did not happen. Notre Dame failed in multiple short-yardage situations because the offensive line created no push upfront whatsoever.

Notre Dame averaged just 3.5 yards per carry on the day, which is inflated by a 22-yard run by Lorenzo Styles. Audric Estime ran for just 33 yards on 10 carries. Logan Diggs totaled 7 yards on 7 carries. Chris Tyree 17 yards on just three carries. There was nowhere to run for any of them. Against an opponent like Marshall, Notre Dame should have been able to own the line of scrimmage. They couldn’t, and Notre Dame never established any offensive identity for the second week in a row.

On the defensive side of the ball, Marshall could do what Notre Dame couldn’t – run the ball when it mattered. Notre Dame’s defensive front couldn’t generate much pressure again this week. Isaiah Foskey did notch his first sack of the season, but the line didn’t generate pressure like we thought they would be able to this season. Notre Dame has an experienced and talented defensive line that should be much more disruptive than they’ve been the last two weeks. Al Washington, Al Golden, and Marcus Freeman have a lot to figure out and not a lot of time to figure it out before their next game and without a bye week for two more weeks.

Struggling against Ohio State was one thing. Struggling against Marshall is a whole other. While there isn’t a lot of time to figure things out, there is still time for both lines to get right. Remember how bad the offensive line looked in the first five games last year before figuring it out? The same can happen this year, but the big difference now is Notre Dame is looking for answers with two losses.

Tommy Rees isn’t helping Tyler Buchner

Tyler Buchner was not very good this afternoon. That much was obvious. His second interception that got returned for a score essentially lost the game. His first set up Marshall’s first score. That said, Tommy Rees isn’t putting him in the best of positions right now. It seemed clear that Buchner got more comfortable after making a few plays with his legs. Rees has been reluctant to call designed runs which is understandable given Buchner’s injury history. Still, it doesn’t look like they can be reluctant any longer – assuming Buchner doesn’t miss any time after getting injured at the end of the game.

Buchner doesn’t look comfortable as a pocket passer yet, but he was asked to be that most of the afternoon. On this week’s preview pod, we were asked if Notre Dame might force Buchner into a pass-heavy gameplan ala Brandon Wimbush against Ball State in 2018, and we didn’t think they would. Unfortunately, that is kind of what feels like happened today.

The Notre Dame offense is, in a word, a mess right now. Through two games of the year, it’s still tough to see what kind of offense Tommy Rees wants Notre Dame to be. Against Ohio State, we saw an offense it felt like Notre Dame thought it needed to be to win. Against Marshall, it felt like we saw an offense that Notre Dame was still tinkering with. Hopefully, against Cal, we start to see an offense that Notre Dame can sustain for the rest of the season.

There were plays to be made for Notre Dame

As bad as the offense looked for most of the game, Notre Dame left plays on the field that would have allowed them to at least eke out the win. At the end of the first half, Buchner had Braden Lenzy wide open for a touchdown with 11 seconds to go but put just a touch too much air on the ball, and Lenzy couldn’t come down with it.

After Notre Dame fell behind 11 following the Buchner pick-6, Buchner had Watts for another long touchdown for the taking, but the two couldn’t connect. Hit those both and the outcome and narrative from today are very different.

Defensively, Notre Dame had a chance to get off the field with the lead in the fourth quarter but let up a 3rd and 10 because of a blown assignment. Marshall went on to score the go-ahead score on that drive. Even the final onside kick of the game it looked like Notre Dame had a chance to recover it but didn’t quite execute.

A close win over Marshall wouldn’t have been a reason to jump for joy, but it still would have been a win.

Marcus Freeman is now at a critical juncture

No one envisioned Freeman starting his career 0-3 when he was announced amid a lot of fanfare in December, but here we are. Again, those first two losses can be explained. This one can’t. Brian Kelly lost games like this early in his Notre Dame tenure, and he got rightfully roasted for them. Freeman will get roasted for this one, but that’s part of the gig.

Nick Saban lost to Louisiana Monroe in his first season at Alabama, and he arrived in Tuscaloosa with a natty on his resume. Brian Kelly lost to Tulsa, Navy (twice), Duke, and South Florida over the years at Notre Dame and LSU gave him $100m. Jimbo Fisher has a mega-contract and lost to Appalachian State just today. Good coaches have moments like these and still go on to be successful.

We knew there would be some growing pains for Freeman as a first-time head coach, but I don’t think even the most vocal critics could have envisioned what we saw today. Unfortunately, the honeymoon was short for Freeman, but after losing a home-opener as a nearly 20-point favorite to Marshall, it ends pretty abruptly.

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24 Comments

  1. Notre Dame lost at home to who? Marshall University? The new head coach might be headed to the Indiana Department of Labor (unemployment insurance division) to collect unemployment benefits. New coach can’t coach his own players, bad execution of plays, etc. The University of Notre Dame is becoming the likes of the New York Jets football team. Notre Dame may need to use the acronym of the New York Jets — JETS — Just End The Season.

  2. Tyler Buchner was playing like a deer in headlights. He is not an accurate passer and was constantly missing his targets. I thought hiring Freeman was a good hire because you have to get good recruits to compete with the better programs. Freeman needs to get on his assistant coaches and evaluate everything as what happened against Marshall. This can be turned around, but he needs to make demands from both players and assistant coaches. Freeman might contact Lou Holtz for some help in handling this problem.

  3. Looking at the situation, this screams of a team that believed their press clippings. They thought they would just show up and win. That was not the case and will never be the case. ND is always “the hunted”. It’s time that they learn how to be “the hunter”.
    On a superficial note, it’s fine that they do karaoke in the press room, but don’t put it on the internet for all to see. I understand the need to do promotion, ala the Shamrock Series game/ hangover spoof. But right now it’s time to learn and grind. Win games and you get those videos are fun. Lose games and they make you look foolish.
    I still believe that Coach Freeman can be great, but it will now depend on how fast he can learn how to be a head coach. Go Irish!

  4. Something to keep in mind:

    In his first season as HC, Lou Holtz was 1-5 and finished 5-6. He even lost the first two games in 1986.

    It’s going to be a long season, and things will get much worse before they get better, but I’m glad Purpleface is gone.

    One thing we’ve learned as fans during the Coach Davie Weisingham era was patience. Let’s give Freeman a chance and see where it goes. Go Irish.

    1. True, PB, but a horrible comparison. Lou Holtz inherited players who had never been coached to anything similar to a real college football program, and had effortlessly been SLAUGHTERED at Miami after yet another bowlless
      losing season. And the cupboard Lou inherited was about as thin as ND ever gets, with multiple players absurdly out of position! How in hell is that similar to what Coach Freeman inherited?
      This thing more resembles Garry Faust RAPID job of turning Devine’s program around!
      And God knows I hope and pray I’m WRONG and this ship gets righted…and since Coach Freeman knows the x and o stuff a million times better that Garry ever did, we could end up OK. The problem is this (and I can’t understand why thjs is hard for so many people to see); Coach Freeman hasn’t one more second of experience as a college football team’s
      head coach than Garry did.
      As the WHO so elegantly put in their song Substitute, “It’s a genuine problem but you won’t try to work it out at all, you just pass it by, pass it by.” Fortunately, I believe Coach Freeman will try to work it out.
      My best advice to him is to quote Solomon, King of Israel …”Better that I listen with care to the admonishing from one wise man than, than listen to a chorus of FOOLS singing my praises.” I think he knows that now, and if the team responds to this situation properly, we’ll get this ship righted. If not, we’ll go down like Bruce Johnson’s Titantic prophecy. I’d bet on Freeman to succeed, if I was a betting man, which I’m not.

      BGC 77 82

    2. Idiots here expected Freeman to win the NC in his first gear as a head coach…….you know, walk in and rewrite how the game works, expose “experience” as a completely irrelevant canard, and vastly improve team performance with a group mood adjustment.
      ND being ranked 5 was either pundit malpractice or a deliberately cruel set-up.

      1. Well, yes, David. I was hoping, if not expecting, Coach Freeman would come in like Rockne, or Leahy, or ARA. That’s what we all want, isn’t it? They all came in with Championship level football, if not an NC.
        But only Rockne did it with zero experience as a head coach
        I still have a lot of hope but the ship must be righted
        I’m still “buying” Coach Freeman, as the writers on this Blog might put it.

        BGC 77 82

  5. No way to sugar coat this loss. It’s terrible. Now nobody should be calling for Freeman’s firing, and I haven’t seen that to be fair. But he’s got a lot to address for sure. Obviously there will be no playoffs this year and probably no NY Day 6 bowls. The team at this point just needs to try to win every game. I suppose one lone positive, if there is one, is that the team doesn’t need to look ahead anymore since there’s no point. Just worry now about winning the next game. Prove this game was an anomaly. That’s what I want to see.

  6. Major factor in Freeman hire was player demand. In today’s transfer environment it was nearly a knife to the throat. If players are still behind him they will dig deep and results will change. ND always has the talent needed to win.

  7. If you have a football program that makes millions of dollars, and your all-time winningest coach asks you to spend some of those millions to upgrade facilities, you should just upgrade the facilities.

    This is all Swarbrick’s fault. He didn’t do enough to help Kelly succeed, and he didn’t do enough to keep him here. Now we’ve still got the same 2nd tier facilities and a much much worse head coach.

    Why in the world would anyone think a few years of strong recruiting as a coordinator would qualify you to be a head coach? Swarbrick makes too many emotional decisions and he’s now sunk the program.

  8. The 2023 recruits are bolting – nobody wants to be thrown into a dumpster fire. It is clear that Tyler Buchner and Cam Hart can’t play. Tyler is too scared, and Cam too slow. The coach is oblivious to obvious facts.

    1. It’s not clear to me that Buchner can’t play. But it is clear that he needs a running game (other than just himself). And I was as wrong as anyone to think it would be there for Marshall.
      And my 11-1 prediction was the WORST of my entire life by far. But I do not agree that Freeman is “much much worse than BK” …I still hope Freeman ends up better…but he’s only just now starting to understand what it is to actually be a head coach for a big time program like ND. It would be a sad, and UNFORGIVEABLE betrayal for the team, which had so much input I into his hiring, to abandon him now. And I think these guys have way to much integrity to quit on him now.

      PS: Nice to hear from old posters like spicyirish and Damian, and a few others
      Where is Duranko and Southside and steel fan rob? Love to hear from you and all the old guard.

      BGC 77 82

  9. At this point, you can’t point to any part of the defense or offense and be optimistic. Swarbrick is ultimately responsible for hiring a HC w/ no experience as a H/C. This isn’t Indiana state.

    To clean up this mess, we need to 1st find out if freeman is the man to take ND to the next level. The 1st 3 games results say “no.’
    However, we must, in fairness, give him til the end of the season to make an evaluation and give him an incomplete for now. This team could easily go 3-9 on automatic pilot or turn it abound and go 9-3.
    Freeman must make some tough decisions. That’s why he makes the big bucks.

    1. I believe, from what happened today, that it will be a 3-9 season or at least one where there will be no invite to a bowl game. Marcus F. has shown that he is an excellent recruiter but has shown nothing as a head coach. Usually it’s the offense or defense or even special teams that do not play well but today it was all of them…not really special teams the kicker was great! Today I saw no fire, no killer instinct not even a desire to win what a shame.

  10. Tommy Rees is the one who should be on the hot seat. Somebody tell me why Tyree only got 3 carries. He got 17 yards on those 3 carries and also had 2 catches for 14 yards. That’s 31 yards on 5 touches or 6.2 yards per touch. Diggs had 7 carries for 7 yards or 1.0 yards per touch. Estime had 10 carries for 33 yards or 3.3 yards per touch. I don’t know how much money Tommy makes as an offensive coordinator, but I would give the ball to the guy who averages more yards per touch. I don’t know…I watched the game and Tyree actually looked like an athlete who can avoid tackles and make moves. The other two just run straight forward into the line and typically get stood straight up, or when Estime tried to go outside he wasn’t fast enough to get to the edge.

    Oh, by the the way I’m sorry but Buchner is horrible and Rees is the quarterbacks coach too.

    1. Blaming Rees? OK, but shouldn’t a head coach have some clue as to how woefully unprepared his team is? That’s what having experience at the position is all about. Dan Devine used to get mocked at ND for coaching from a tower. Dan just shrugged it off and said it was the easiest way to watch every unit, and both strings on offense and defense. That way he had more than the usual “we’re ready coach”
      that assistant coaches and position coaches, and players always seem to say! I’m not suggesting Coach Freeman watch a practice or two from the press box, but I am saying
      he needs a much better handle on what his team is and is not ready to do. I don’t know exactly how that is done; I’ve never been a head football coach. Have you?

      77 82

  11. One paragraph you say that there is not a lot of time to figure out the lines on both sides, and literally the next paragraph state that there is still a lot of time to figure out the line situation? These lines were to be the staple of this team this season. As much as I did not care for Kelly, there was comfort going into these types of games the past few years. I was not expecting this at all today. After getting last weekend out of the way I was looking forward to at least a few stress free Notre Dame football Saturdays. Cheers to Freeman and staff turning this around.

    1. Thanks, good catch. Sometimes the suggestions from Grammarly make things sound better but not make the most sense either :) Just edited. Meant to say that while there’s not a lot of time, there is still time.

  12. There is just legitimately nothing to be excited about as a fan right now.

    I loved the Freeman hire, but right now it looks like all of the naysayers were right. Of course it’s early and I’m not saying he should be on the hot seat, but it’s clear he needs to make some changes – both with players and coaches.

    This season is already a lost one, so let’s just see what underclassmen we have for the future.

    1. I really don’t see a lot of good things for Marcus F. just because of what the naysayers say. He’s a first time head coach but Notre Dame isn’t your typical 2nd tier team. You don’t start your career with an annually top 10 team with no-experience. Swarbucks should have kept him as the defensive co-coordinator and did a coach search for someone with more experience. I mean the bowl game with Oklahoma could have just as well have been won or lost by an assistant coach filling in.
      Conclusion: Swarbucks should be held culpable for some of this nightmare!

  13. Well maybe Kelly knew the talent wasn’t going to be there this year and jumped while he could. Probably would have gone 0-2 in the bowl game and against Ohio State and would not have the LSU gig. Another part of my theory is that he wanted to take Rees with him – so Rees could not have gotten stupid overnight. Unfortunately, this may turn out to be a long year.

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