Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 32 of 55 SEPT. 10, 2022 33 GAME PREVIEW: MARSHALL BY TYLER HORKA M arcus Freeman is going to draw comparisons to Brian Kelly at every turn. Fair or not, it's just the way it's go- ing to be for him as Kelly's successor. Here's a Kelly statistic Freeman might not know himself but will be sure to soon figure out if his Fighting Irish somehow lose to Marshall as a heavy fa- vorite at Notre Dame Stadium Sept. 10. In 12 years at the helm, Kelly only lost one home opener. He held a record of 11-1 in the first game of the season played at Notre Dame Stadium. A loss would give Freeman as many defeats under these circumstances in one year as Kelly had in a dozen. That's not good for optics. Is the mark going to be in Freeman's mind? No. It doesn't do him any good to think of something like that while preparing his team to play. But it adds context to this weekend's matchup from an outsider's perspective. Kelly's lone home-opening loss came in 2011, his second season in South Bend. The Irish were the No. 16 team in the na- tion per the preseason Associated Press poll. They were up against unranked South Florida coached by former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz's son, Skip. The Bulls went 8-5 the previous two sea- sons before knocking off Notre Dame. A program of similar stature, Marshall has won at least seven games in every season since 2017. The Thundering Herd went 7-6 in head coach Charles Huff's first season last fall. Marshall is not, say, 2021's version of USF; a 2-10 team without a shot in Ha- des to beat a program like Notre Dame on its own soil. The same could be said for the 2020 USF team Notre Dame blasted 52-0. Those Bulls went 1-8. The Thundering Herd finished second behind Western Kentucky in Conference USA's East division last year, meanwhile, and are a team that should not be taken lightly. They've been to eight bowl games in the last nine seasons. Marshall certainly doesn't take itself lightly. "You have to create and protect your identity every day," Huff said. "You have to come out with the right energy and the right intensity and the right focus. That doesn't mean you're going to make every play and have no missed assignments, but the focus is on making sure every time we hit the field we protect our identity." MISSING A PLAYMAKER Are the 2022 vs. 2011 comparisons uncanny? No. Eleven years ago, Notre Dame's home opener was also the sea- son opener. It wasn't fully known what to expect from the Irish or their oppo- nent. This year, Notre Dame has already played Ohio State, and Marshall has al- ready squared off against Norfolk State. Marshall isn't going to catch Notre Dame by surprise. Especially not without its most im- portant returning offensive player. Huff harped on his team's identity. The Herd's offensive identity in 2021 was essentially one guy: then-redshirt freshman running back Rasheen Ali. Ali took a temporary, voluntary leave of absence from the program Aug. 23 for an undisclosed reason. Huff said Ali would not return until he was "mentally, physically and emotionally ready." A timetable for Ali's return was not given. Ali rushed for 1,401 yards on 5.6 yards per carry last fall. He finished tied with BYU's Tyler Allgeier for the No. 1 spot nationally with 23 rushing touchdowns. Ali also caught 45 passes for 334 yards and 1 touchdown. The biggest takeaway? Everyone should wish whatever is ailing Ali go away soon and that he's able to rejoin his teammates with a healthy head on his shoulders. More minor in the con- sequential pecking order? Ali is going to be sorely missed by Huff and company. The offensive slack is going to have to be picked up by Texas Tech transfer quar- terback Henry Colombi, a journeyman who began his career at Utah State be- fore starting nine games in two seasons in Lubbock. A three-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Chaminade-Madonna Prep, Colombi is looking to finish his col- lege career with an opportunity to be a team's starter from start to finish. Marshall head coach Charles Huff arrived from Alabama last fall and led the Thundering Herd to a 7-6 season in his first year at the helm. PHOTO COURTESY MARSHALL ATHLETICS UPSET MINDED A confident Thundering Herd team visits Notre Dame Stadium for its first-ever meeting against the Fighting Irish Facts & Figures MARSHALL AT NOTRE DAME Date: Sept. 10, 2022 Site: Notre Dame Stadium Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. ET Television: NBC Radio: This game can be heard on Notre Dame IMG affiliates and SiriusXM Channel 129. For a complete listing of affiliates, go to Series Facts: This is the first-ever meeting between Marshall and Notre Dame. Head coaches: Marshall — Charles Huff (8-6, second season); Notre Dame — Marcus Free- man (0-2, first season). Noting Marshall: The Thundering Herd's offensive coordinator is former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett … Marshall had the No. 30 scoring offense in the country in 2021 at 33.0 points per game … The Thundering Herd ranked No. 13 nationally in 2021 at 456.5 yards per game but ranked No. 81 nationally in total defense at 396.6 yards allowed per game; the Herd's 192.0 rushing yards allowed per game ranked No. 105 nationally … Running back Rasheen Ali was a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt pick … Linebacker Abraham Beau- plan and defensive back Steven Gilmore were named to the preseason All-Sun Belt second- team defense … Marshall graduated a total of 132 starts from its 2021 offensive line, leaving a rather inexperienced corps of offensive line- men to start the 2022 season … The Herd tied for No. 15 in the nation in 2021 with 40 sacks; players who logged 28 of those are back in 2022 … Like Notre Dame, Marshall has a new placekicker and punter in 2022.

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