Marcus Freeman is going to have to wait a little longer to get his first win as Notre Dame’s head coach.
Marshall played spoiler on Saturday in No. 8 Notre Dame’s home opener, upsetting the Fighting Irish 26-21 in South Bend. It was an ugly performance all around for the Irish, who are now 0-3 during Freeman’s brief time as head coach.
On Saturday, the Irish came out of the gates sluggish and fell behind 9-7 at halftime. The Marshall lead grew to 12-7 entering the fourth until the Irish finally went back in front, 15-12, with a Tyler Buchner touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Though the Irish offense was scuffling, it looked like the defense would be able to hold off the Thundering Herd and give Freeman his first win.
But things changed in the final minutes.
Marshall embarked on an 11-play, 94-yard drive and went ahead on a third-and-goal touchdown pass from Henry Colombi to Devin Miller. That gave the Thundering Herd a 19-15 lead, but Notre Dame still had 5:16 on the clock to avoid the upset.
Instead, disaster struck.
On the third play of the ensuing drive, Marshall’s Steven Gilmore stepped in front of a Buchner throw for an interception that he returned 37 yards to the house for a back-breaking touchdown.
BSKEBRJDGEKBDODBROEBEOEBROEJ MARSHALL PICK SIX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/IXFMYAUgNf
— Mr Matthew CFB (@MrMatthewCFB) September 10, 2022
From there, the shell-shocked Irish attempted a comeback but it failed to materialize. On the next drive, Buchner led the Irish into Marshall territory but took a hard fall onto his left shoulder and exited the game. His backup, Drew Pyne, then threw an interception. Pyne would hit Michael Mayer for a touchdown in the final minute, but it was too little, too late, as the Irish suffered an embarrassing home loss.
Notre Dame's issues on offense again on display
Notre Dame’s issues on offense were on display in the Week 1 loss at Ohio State. The Irish couldn’t get much of a push up front and the passing game was extremely underwhelming with few reliable options available outside of Mayer, the All-American tight end.
But those issues weren’t supposed to be as evident against Marshall, an opponent that was expected to be overmatched.
The offensive line — supposed to be a major strength for this program — couldn’t open many holes for the running game. Notre Dame averaged just 3.5 yards per rush. Buchner, making his second career start, struggled as well. He went just 18-of-32 for 201 yards and two interceptions through the air. Pyne, despite the late TD pass, wasn't much better.
Now it's back to the drawing board for Freeman and his staff with Cal visiting next week.
The Irish are 0-3 under his watch. After Brian Kelly left for LSU and Freeman was elevated to head coach late last year, Notre Dame blew a lead in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. To open the 2022 season was the 21-10 loss in Columbus to the Buckeyes.
Those two losses were defensible, but Saturday's performance was a really rough turn of events in the early stages of a new era of Notre Dame football.