Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2022*

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

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38 SEPT. 10, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: MARSHALL Sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles steadily improved in 2021 and finished with 24 catches for 344 yards and 1 touchdown. Projected as a breakout player in 2022, Styles ended his freshman campaign last season with 8 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl. Graduate student wideout Avery Davis was ex- pected to provide veteran leadership and stability to the receiving corps, but he was lost for the season with a torn ACL on Aug. 12. With Davis out, expect a couple of young wideouts — freshman To- bias Merriweather and sophomore Jayden Thomas — to get plenty of work in his absence. Marshall's front seven is expected to be among the best in the country outside of the Power Five schools. In addition, its talented defensive sec- ondary is anchored by senior cornerback Steven Gilmore. Gilmore, the younger brother of NFL veteran Stephon Gilmore, recorded 53 total tackles last season with 8 passes broken ups and a team-best 3 interceptions. Advantage: Notre Dame SPECIAL TEAMS Needing to replace both the starting placekicker and punter from 2021, first-year Irish special teams coordinator Brian Mason had a lot to sort through this preseason. Graduate transfer Blake Grupe took over the starting kicking duties after coming from Arkansas State as a January enrollee. Grupe was a four-year starter and an All-Sun Belt Conference performer for the Red Wolves. Irish true freshman Bryce McFerson was ex- pected to handle the punting duties. But after some sketchy practice work, McFerson lost his starting pursuits to Harvard grad transfer Jon Sot, who is also handling holding duties. McFerson will take over the starting kickoff job. Tyree is back as starting kickoff returner and Joseph worked as the first-team punt returner, though that starting job remains fluid. The special teams for Notre Dame were solid in 2021 but not spectacular. The Irish finished 55th in punt returns, 47th in punt coverage and 53rd in kickoff coverage. Most of Marshall's specialists spots will be filled by new faces and transfers, though redshirt sopho- more Jayden Harrison should highlight the return units after bringing back 14 kicks for 358 yards with a touchdown last season. Advantage: Even COACHING For Notre Dame and its first-year head coach Marcus Freeman, the hype and the honeymoon are over, and the real work begins with this game. Marshall marks the first of seven straight outings the Irish will be listed as a prohibitive favorite, and a loss in any of these seven games won't sit well with the Irish faithful. Notre Dame has won 30 of its last 31 home games and beaten unranked opponents in 42 straight, the longest streak in the country. For Marshall, second-year head coach Charles Huff — who took the top job before last season after coaching running backs at Penn State, Mis- sissippi State and Alabama for seven years — this is clearly the toughest game on his 2022 schedule. Like many FBS head coaches, Huff relied heavily on the transfer portal to fortify his offseason roster needs and voids. How quickly his 10-plus transfers — most of whom are expected to play starting or extensive roles — are able to adapt and contribute will be paramount to his team's results. Advantage: Notre Dame INTANGIBLES With a switch this season from Conference USA to the Sun Belt Conference, Marshall athletics will begin a new chapter against some unfamiliar op- ponents in 2022. But popular belief suggests that the Herd is talented enough to immediately step in and compete for a title in its new league. Of course, those projections were made before Ali left the team. The Herd finished third in Confer- ence USA scoring last season with 33.0 points per game. Matching that output, or at least coming close, will be key to the Herd's success in 2022. But with Ali missing in the running game, match- ing that mark will be difficult until he returns. Advantage: Notre Dame Redshirt senior defensive end Koby Cumberlander recorded 41 total stops, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2021. PHOTO COURTESY MARSHALL

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