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Notre Dame Football: 5 Biggest Issues for the Fighting Irish Following the Loss to Marshall

Marcus Freeman's first Notre Dame team has questions on both sides of the ball that need to be addressed following an unexpected 0-2 start.
Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football

Last week's loss to Ohio State is one thing. Getting dominated by Marshall is completely different. First-year Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman now faces a daunting task: getting his 0-2 team to rebound from a humiliating loss while knowing that games against North Carolina, BYU, Clemson, and USC loom ahead.

There are many things that Freeman and the other Irish coaches have to fix. Here are five glaring problems that are killing the Irish.

1. The offensive line

It was expected, with Harry Hiestand returning as line coach to mentor Blake Fisher, Joe Alt, and Jarrett Patterson, that this would be the strength of the team. Obviously, it hasn't. The running backs are far from proven commodities, but the 115 rushing yards from that group after two games is pathetic. With the size differential between the Irish blockers and the Marshall defensive front, the lack of production from the backs is even more disturbing. Not being able to convert on 3rd-and-1 as well as the ensuing 4th-and-1 summed up everything about this group's performance. Along with the suspect run blocking, pass pro hasn't been stellar either. Considering the expectations, this has to be the biggest of the many disappointments.

2. The pass-catching group is limited

Michael Mayer is a phenomenal tight end and Lorenzo Styles is a solid receiver. But that's it and that's not nearly enough. Flexing running back Chris Tyree out wide was thought to be a possible solution but that hasn't worked early on. Someone (actually, more than just one someone) has to elevate his game to support Mayer and Styles. Injuries have hampered this position so far this season, but whether or not those that are hurt could actually make an impact is questionable at this point. If this is the Irish receiving group as the season develops even further, it's hard to imagine things getting much better.

3. Quarterback play

He has had limited protection and little support from his receivers, but there have to be questions about Tyler Buchner at this point. Even when he's had time to throw, he has stared down his target and has not made ideal decisions, forcing the ball into his primary read when there were other, more available targets. The insertion of Drew Pyne after Buchner apparently injured his shoulder did not help matters, either. If Buchner is out for the California game, Pyne's play against Marshall hardly elicited much confidence. It is true that whichever quarterback plays next week will need help from those around him. But Buchner or Pyne have to hold their own too.

4. Lack of production from the defensive front

The offense has been atrocious, but it's not like the defense should be taken off the hook. The Notre Dame front seven was another group that was supposed to be one of the team's strongest units and to this point, these defenders have not lived up to the billing. Nothing against Marshall running back Khalan Laborn, but there is no way that the Thundering Herd should be able to rush for 219 yards. Also, many of the same Irish defenders that finished 12th in America with 41 sacks in 2021 have generated very little pressure through the first two games. The offense will receive a ton of justifiable criticism coming out of this game, but with the Irish up by three in the fourth quarter and Marshall on their own 5-yard line, the Herd converted a critical 3rd-and-10 in what would eventually be a go-ahead 95-yard touchdown drive. The experienced front seven should never allow that to happen.

5. Coaching

It's way too early to think Freeman is on any kind of hot seat, but today was a disaster. Immediately after the head coach said in his pregame interview that they stressed starting fast, the team came out flat. The running game plan wasn't working, but it took well into the second half for Buchner to be included in the running game. Defensively, Marshall was able to consistently run the ball and connect on very short passes despite not having any receiver that was capable of getting downfield. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees is undoubtedly being scorched on many Notre Dame messages boards, but no one on the staff should be immune from criticism.

Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, focusing on the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.