Marcus Freeman will have to wait a little longer to get his first win as Notre Dame’s head coach.
Marshall on Saturday ranked No. 8 The spoiler played in Notre Dame’s home opener, beating the Fighting Irish 26-21 in South Bend. It was an ugly performance for the Irish, who are now 0-3 in Freeman’s short tenure as head coach.
On Saturday, Ireland came out of the gates sluggish and trailed 9-7 at the break. Marshall led 12-7 heading into the fourth until the Irish finally went ahead 15-12 on a Tyler Buechner touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Although Ireland’s attack was struggling, the defense looked like it could hold off the Thundering Herd and give Freeman his first win.
But the situation changed in the last minutes.
Marshall embarked on an 11-play, 94-yard drive and went ahead on a third-and-goal touchdown pass from Henry Columbi to Devin Miller. That gave the Thundering Herd a 19-15 lead, but Notre Dame pulled away with 5:16 left 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, which he returned 37 yards to the house for an interception.
From there, the shell-shocked Irish tried to make a comeback, but it failed. On the next drive, Buechner led the Irish into Marshall territory, but took a hard fall on his left shoulder and exited the game. His backup, Drew Pine, later threw an interception. Pine hit Michael Meyer 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 problems are on display again
Notre Dame’s offense woes were on display in a Week 1 loss at Ohio State. The Irish couldn’t get much push up and the passing game was very limited with few reliable options available outside of All-American tight end Meyer.
But those issues shouldn’t be clear against Marshall, who is expected to be overrated.
The offensive line — which should be a major strength for this program — was unable to open many holes for the running game. Notre Dame averaged just 3.5 yards per rush. Buchner, starting his second career, struggled as well. He went 18-of-32 for 201 yards and two interceptions through the air. Pyne, despite a late TD pass, wasn’t great.
Now it’s back to the drawing board for Freeman and his staff with Cal visiting next week.
Ireland are 0-3 under his watch. After Brian Kelly left for LSU, Freeman was promoted to head coach late last year, leading Notre Dame in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. A 21-10 loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus to open the 2022 season.
Both of those losses were defensive, but Saturday’s performance was the most difficult turn of events in the early stages of a new era for Notre Dame football.