Keys to the game: How No. 8 Notre Dame can win its home opener against Marshall

Justin Frommer
South Bend Tribune
Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman reacts to the missed field goal during the second quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

These keys to the game could likely decide if No. 8 Notre Dame (0-1) can get its first win of the season against Marshall (1-0) on Saturday in South Bend. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. EST at Notre Dame Stadium and will be televised on NBC.

Be better in third-down situations

One of Notre Dame’s biggest offensive problems in Saturday's season-opening 21-10 loss at No. 2 Ohio State was its inability to sustain long drives. The Irish were 3-for-13 on third conversions. Only nine teams (Wyoming, Miami (OH), South Carolina, Akron, Old Dominion, San Diego State, Colorado State, Bowling Green and Duke) finished with a worse conversion percentage. 

Notre Dame football set for Marshall:Here's how to watch on TV, stream on Peacock

On the flip side, Ohio State was able to convert 7 of its 13 third-down conversions, which ranked 32nd in the FBS. 

Marshall, who beat FCS Norfolk State 55-3 in its first game, converted 7 of its 12 third downs, which ranked 25th in college football after Week 1. Granted the level of competition for both the Irish and Thundering Herd weren’t nearly the same level, Notre Dame will have to find ways to keep its offense on the field, and Marshall’s off the field to find sustained success.

A better push from the offensive line in run game

Notre Dame's offensive line, expected to be one of the team’s strengths, struggled to generate any sort of push in the running game against the Buckeyes. The Irish finished with 76 rushing yards on 30 carries (2.5 per pop), this after doubling down on the run game in the second half. Chris Tyree accumulated 28 yards on six carries to lead Notre Dame's running backs.  

Chat transcript:Talking targets, leaky lines and must-wins as Notre Dame tries to move past opening loss at Ohio State

Per Pro Football Focus, Notre Dame’s offensive line ranked 113th out of 131 FBS teams with a run blocking grade of 50.4. Only three other teams below them were from a Power Five conference (West Virginia, Utah and South Carolina). Certainly that situation wasn’t aided by the absence of All-America Jarrett Patterson, who was replaced at left guard by Andrew Kristofic and is still considered as questionable this week, according to Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman. 

In its Week 1 win Marshall’s defense allowed only 30 rushing yards on 31 carries, albeit against a lower-division opponent, which ranked eighth in college football.

Create more connection between QB Tyler Buchner and receivers 

A positive of Tyler Buchner’s 10-for-18, 177-yard outing against the Buckeyes was he spread the ball around, connecting with five different receivers. The downside, however, was six of his completions went to tight ends (five to Michael Mayer and one to Kevin Bauman) and one to a running back (Tyree).

Only three of Notre Dame’s receivers, Lorenzo Styles (a 54-yard reception on the first play from scrimmage), Braden Lenzy (32 yards)  and Matt Salerno (31 yards) caught a pass. Furthermore, Joe Wilkins Jr. played one offensive snap, per PFF, and Deion Colzie and Tobias Merriweather dressed but did not play. 

Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Lorenzo Styles (4) catches a pass and runs up the sideline ahead of Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Steele Chambers (22) during the first quarter of the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

“Everybody's got to continue to improve, but it's an area that we have to continue to utilize,” Freeman said Monday of Notre Dame’s receivers. “I know going in that game (vs Ohio State), I said we got to establish the run, and that's always gonna be my mindset because to me, establishing the run can open up the pass game. That's going to be important, but we have to continue to grow. Those guys got to continue to mature, we got to continue to protect the quarterback.”

Marshall could be the perfect stage for Buchner, making his second college start, to build more trust with his outside threats. It could also give younger guys like Merriweather and freshmen tight ends, Eli Raridon and Holden Staes, to get some playing experience, if the situation dictates it.

Generate a better pass rush 

When a defense’s top tackler is a cornerback, as was the case with Notre Dame’s Clarence Lewis who finished with a team-high seven tackles, it is rarely a good sign.

Throughout Saturday’s loss, the Irish’s defense couldn't generate consistent pass rush against Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, who finished 24 for 34 for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Howard Cross III, recorded Notre Dame’s only sack for a loss of 5 yards, while defensive ends Isaiah Foskey and Rylie Mills failed to generate the havoc on the edge as many thought, combining for seven tackles. 

Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) drops back to pass during the NCAA football game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

It was clear by Ohio State’s final drive that Notre Dame’s defensive line was worn down, as the Buckeyes recorded 59 rushing yards on their game clinching 14-play, 95-yard touchdown drive, capped by Miyan Williams’ two-yard plunge. 

Marshall’s pass-block rating (85.5) finished 13th in college football in Week 1, per PFF, against much lesser competition.