Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame’s Stunning Upset by Heavy Underdog Marshall

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish played their first home game of the 2022 campaign on Saturday, falling 26-21 to the Marshall Thundering Herd. The stunning upset came in the first meeting between the two schools and kept Irish head coach Marcus Freeman in search of his first win after a trio of tough losses.

Problems surfaced early in this contest for Notre Dame as Marshall scored first. The Herd then closed out the first half by kicking a field goal shortly before halftime for a 9-7 lead at intermission. After the break, Marshall extended their lead with another field goal before the Irish took the lead for the final time. A Herd score at the start of the fourth, followed by a pick-six with five minutes to go gave the visitors enough of a cushion to hold on for the win.

Below is a look at some of the key aspects of the game:

Stumbling Start

During a pre-game interview, Freeman indicated that a fast start was needed against Marshall. That communication quickly became garbled when the Irish struggled to put together a sustained drive for much of the first half. Getting stopped on downs, pass protection issues and a stagnant running game helped neutralize the Irish early on.

On the defensive side, Notre Dame held Marshall in check for much of the first quarter. That changed in the final minutes of the period when the Herd began a 10-play, 79 yards scoring drive. Marshall’s Khalan Laborn culminated that drive with a scoring run after an earlier Herd touchdown had been called back by a penalty. The subsequent Irish drive then ended with an interception to continue the early woes.

Running into Trouble

In their opening game loss at Ohio State, Notre Dame allowed 171 yards on the ground, a good portion of that coming in the fatal final quarter. That late-game breakdown continued throughout the Marshall loss as the Herd collected 219 rushing yards. Laborn did most of the damage with 163 yards on the day and Marshall gaining 4.4 yards per carry.

In contrast, the Irish rushing attack again had little impact, with six different runners compiling just 130 yards. Note Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner led Notre Dame with 44 yards, but the team’s early trouble could sideline him in favor of Drew Pyne. One indication of just how much this unit is sputtering can be seen by the fact that without a 22-yard trick play run by Lorenzo Styles, the average Irish carry went for just three yards.

Showing Off the New Styles

The 2022 campaign is just two games old for Notre Dame, but it appears that wide receiver Lorenzo Styles is in line to be the main target among the Irish wide receiving corps. Tight end Michael Mayer very well could lead the team in catches when the year ends. However, Styles showed in this clash that he may put up a stiff challenge in that category.

Finishing with seven catches for 69 yards on the day, Styles also delivered the aforementioned 22-yard scamper during the second quarter. Despite one drop, those numbers suggest that Styles may be used more as an intermediate option. However, he did show off his deep route skills last week with a 54-yard grab on the first play from scrimmage. Regardless of what form it takes, any and all offense is badly needed right now for the Irish.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

The Notre Dame defense clearly had issues against the run all afternoon. Yet three interceptions proved to be deadly for the Irish, with the first two tossed by Buchner. In the second quarter, he came narrowly close to seeing his interception turned into a pick-six. Later, in the fourth quarter, that scenario became a reality and jolted a stadium mostly made up of Irish fans.

When Drew Pyne entered the game with just over three minutes left, the Irish trailed by 11. On his second toss, he was picked off just inside the Marshall red zone. Pyne did manage one touchdown in the waning seconds, but the errors for the day stood in contrast to the lack of turnovers for the Irish against Ohio State.

Next Up

Notre Dame will stay at home next week to face the California Golden Bears. The two schools haven’t met since 1967 after matching up four times in a nine-year span, with the Irish coming out on top in all of those clashes. Cal comes into the contest with a 2-0 record after defeating Cal-Davis and UNLV, the latter school also being on the Notre Dame schedule for next month.

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