Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

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

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Page 26 of 55 SEPT. 17, 2022 27 IS NOTRE DAME MISSING SOMETHING THAT MADE THE IRISH SUCCESSFUL IN RECENT YEARS? Michael Mayer seemed like he wanted to scoff, as if the question was outlandish. Is this version of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the one that started a season with an 0-2 record for the first time since 2011, the one that lost to Marshall to snap a streak of 42 con- secutive wins against unranked op- ponents, the one that wanted to win a national title so desperately but was eliminated from the College Football Playoff conversation before the calen- dar even officially flipped to fall, miss- ing something that made previous it- erations of the Irish far more infallible? "No," Mayer said with an incredu- lous tone. "No." What it is missing two games in is a number other than zero in the win column. If the season-opening 21-10 road loss to then-No. 2 Ohio State was a reason to be optimistic and a data point that suggested Notre Dame could compete with anybody in the country, Week 2's 26-21 home loss to the Sun Belt Conference's Marshall Thunder- ing Herd was the complete opposite. Give Marshall its due. Head coach Charles Huff could be building some- thing special. But "special" is rela- tive. Marshall isn't a perennial CFP contender in the way Notre Dame has been in the last five seasons. The Herd probably won't ever be a factor for the CFP even when it expands to 12 teams in the near future. So don't put too much stock in Notre Dame senior defensive end Howard Cross III explaining how great of a team Marshall was and that upsets happen in college football. That shouldn't be the takeaway. The Herd were 20-point underdogs. Notre Dame hadn't lost to an oppo- nent it was favored to beat by at least 10 points in 36 tries. And that makes Mayer's definitive stance on this year's team a shaky one. Whatever it was that made Notre Dame so suc- cessful against inferior foes in recent years was missing against Marshall. Period. That's a proposition that left Mayer perplexed, even if he didn't explicitly say as much. "I think we already, kind of — I don't know, it's hard," Mayer said when try- ing to formulate a response for why the Notre Dame offense has struggled through two weeks. "We execute in practice. We do great runs in practice. Fifteen, 20, 25 yards. "At this point, I think it's just about coming out here and executing our runs. We know what we have to do. We do it every single day in practice. We did it all camp. We ran the ball so much and so well in camp. I just think it's about coming out here and executing." Executing. It's a word head coach Marcus Freeman uses over and over in press conferences. His apples haven't fallen far from the tree. But is it really that simple, or could it be that Notre Dame is not what everyone thought it would be, or at the least, thought it could be? Notre Dame only ran 37 times for 130 yards (3.5 yards per rush) against Marshall. The Herd ran 50 times for 219 yards (4.4 yards per rush). The two Ohio State backs who recorded carries against the Irish ran 29 times for 175 yards (6.0 yards per rush). Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner is Notre Dame's season-long leading rusher with 24 carries for 62 yards (2.6 yards per rush). Sophomore Audric Estime is Notre Dame's top back with 19 carries for 54 yards (2.8 yards per rush). Those aren't promising numbers. If the Irish offense could run on its own defense in fall camp, did that say more about the offensive attack or the potentially feeble nature of the defensive front? It could be too early to tell. But the small sample size says the Irish have issues with both, and coupled together those areas were supposed to be the team's M-O. The thing Mayer did not want to admit Notre Dame is missing? Maybe it's execution itself. If that's what winning and losing comes down to in Freeman and his players' eyes, then it wasn't there against Marshall. The scoreboard reflected that. ANOTHER LONG FOURTH-QUARTER DRIVE SINKS DEFENSE Marcus Freeman knows the over- all numbers on Notre Dame's defense are solid. The Irish have allowed 40 combined points and three pass plays of 20-plus yards to opposing offenses through two games. They're allow- ing just 9.2 yards per completion and MARSHALL GAME NOTES BY TYLER HORKA AND PATRICK ENGEL Junior tight end Michael Mayer caught 8 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown, but the Irish largely struggled offensively again. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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