Grading Notre Dame football in loss to Marshall

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This is foreign territory for Notre Dame football. The Fighting Irish hadn’t started a season 0-2 since 2011 until Saturday’s loss to Marshall at home dropped them to that mark to begin the 2022 campaign.

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was Notre Dame’s starter then. He’s in charge of a meager offense yet again. Here’s how Rees and the rest of Notre Dame’s players and coaches graded in the 26-21 loss to the Thundering Herd.

Notre Dame Passing Offense: C-

Rees and the Irish actually tried to air it out a bit with 36 pass attempts, exactly twice as many as were thrown against Ohio State in Week 1.

Execution? Proliferation? Efficiency? Same old story.

Sophomore starter Tyler Buchner was 18-of-32 for 201 yards. He threw two interceptions, the second of which was essentially a game-sealing pick-six for Marshall.

Buchner gave way to junior backup Drew Pyne, who promptly threw an interception himself with Notre Dame trailing by 11 points with less than five minutes left.

It was encouraging to see sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles bump his production up from one catch in Week 1 to seven catches in Week 2.

Junior tight end Michael Mayer was a force with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. But outside of that, Notre Dame did not have any consistency or a threatening presence with its other pass-catchers.

Fifth-year senior Braden Lenzy had one catch for five yards on five targets, for instance. Just not good enough.

Notre Dame Rushing Offense: C

Buchner was impressive in rushing for two touchdowns, but both were one-yard scores. He finished with 13 carries for 44 yards.

Sophomore Audric Estime led the way in terms of running back carries for a second week in a row.

He only went for 33 yards on 10 rushes, though. Fellow sophomore Logan Diggs carried seven times for seven yards. Junior Chris Tyree was not involved enough with three carries for 17 yards.

Rees needs to get Tyree, his most experienced back, in the game more. The upside and potential Estime and Diggs possess is intriguing, but Tyree is the most known commodity at the position.

He is more versatile and lines up in the slot or out wide more than his position mates, but it’s time to run him between the tackles too.

The offensive line needs to get better in creating room for Buchner and the backs as well. As expected, that unit was better against Marshall than it was against Ohio State. But it still wasn’t good enough.

Notre Dame Passing Defense: C+

It wasn’t a devastating day defending the pass, but it wasn’t a clinic on how to lock down a Group of Five opponent at home.

Eight of Marshall’s 16 completions went for first downs. On the play that gave Marshall the lead for good, the Thundering Herd were able to extend the down and capitalize on a connection between graduate senior quarterback Henry Colombi and tight end Devin Miller.

The Notre Dame front needed to get home. It didn’t. Instead, Colombi sidestepped and made the biggest play of the game to that point.

Colombi went 16-of-21 for 145 yards and the one score. He didn’t own Notre Dame. But Notre Dame did not do enough to own him.

Notre Dame Rushing Defense: D

Marshall was without 2021 FBS touchdown leader Rasheen Ali, and the Thundering Herd still ran 50 times for 219 yards and one touchdown. Former Florida State five-star signee Khalan Laborn led the way with 31 carries for 163 yards and the one rushing score.

Laborn wore the Notre Dame defense down, plain and simply. His 42-yard rush on second and five from the Notre Dame 48 with just over 10 minutes left was the best example of that.

The Irish could have tripped him up at the line of scrimmage. Half a field later, he set up the go ahead touchdown.

There were tackling issues for the Irish, and there were problems just getting beat by blocks. Notre Dame lost the war in the trenches against a three-touchdown underdog.

Notre Dame Special Teams: B

Notre Dame recorded a punt return for the first time this season. Brandon Joseph had one for 15 yards.

Tyree had an impressive kick return for 32 yards, and Styles took one back for 27 yards. It was more of a return game than Notre Dame displayed in both areas against Ohio State, so that was a plus for the Irish.

Marshall had one kick return for 20 yards and a punt return for zero yards. The game was not won or lost on special teams, but it was another one of those games in which a sputtering Notre Dame offense would have benefitted greatly from a return across midfield.

Or, obviously, a score. That goes without saying. The blocked punt that led to Notre Dame’s last touchdown was textbook, but it was also too little, too late.

Harvard transfer punter Jon Sot averaged 42.3 yards on his four boots. All four were downed inside the Marshall 20. His long went for 61 yards.

Notre Dame Coaching: D

If you lose at home as a three-touchdown favorite, you get a failing grade. Period. Marcus Freeman should have his first victory as the Irish’s head coach. He does not. He said the result falls on him first. So he’ll take the brunt of the blame here.

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