HUNTINGTON — Marshall and No. 8 Notre Dame enter Saturday’s contest with two very different feelings.
The Herd, simply put, held a clinic at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in the season opener against Norfolk State in a non-competitive 55-3 drubbing. The win gave Marshall the ability to see a lot of what the offense, defense and special teams were made of.
The Fighting Irish? Quite the opposite.
Notre Dame fell to then-No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus to begin the season.
While Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said he was proud of the team’s effort in Week 1, the team is hoping for a different result in Week Two when the Fighting Irish host Marshall at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium in a game nationally-televised on NBC.
“We have to be ready to move forward,” Freeman said. “It’s tough because you have to revisit the game and learn from it, but they’ll be motivated.”
Saturday serves as Freeman’s first home game as the head coach of the program after serving as defensive coordinator a season ago and being promoted to head coach to fill a vacancy left by Brian Kelly, who took the same position at LSU.
“It’s something you dream about and ever since I was named head coach, I’ve been looking forward to this moment of leading our team into this stadium,” Freeman said.
The Irish are led by quarterback Tyler Buchner who made his first career start against the Buckeyes, completing 10 of 18 passes for 177 yards. In the loss to Ohio State, the Irish played three different running backs and, even with Buchner’s team-high 37 yards on the ground, amassed just 100 yards rushing in the loss.
While there is plenty to improve upon for both squads after their season openers, Freeman in particular finds it vital that the Irish move past the loss to Ohio State quickly and focus their attention on Marshall, a heavy underdog.
“That’s going to be the challenge for this group. We spent so many months, so many days, so many hours preparing for the Ohio State game,” Freeman said. “The (level) of preparation cannot lower. It has to increase.”
The approach is much the same for Charles Huff and the Thundering Herd, who have treated Notre Dame as they would any other opponent, keeping the focus on how well they can execute against specific schemes and looks, and not necessarily worrying about what name is on the opponent’s jersey.
It might be the first time some of Marshall’s personnel have played on a stage of this magnitude — in front of more than 70,000 fans and against one of the premier teams in college football.
However, Huff has been a part of bigger games — National Championships, even — and knows some of his players have, too.
One of those is starting quarterback Henry Colombi, who came to Marshall as a transfer from Texas Tech.
“The experience piece is huge because he’s played in what the outside world would perceive as ‘big games’ meaning a rivalry or the logo is big, somewhere with history and tradition, so he knows that when you get on the field it’s still 100 yards long and 55 1/3 wide,” Huff said.
Colombi isn’t the only one who has played in the so called ‘big games’ before arriving at Marshall. In fact, several of the 24 transfers that joined the Herd in the offseason came from Power 5 programs where they were exposed to packed stadiums in historic places.
That experience, Colombi believes, will help the entire team as they face a tall task in South Bend.
“It comes with experience, obviously, playing in these big-time stadiums,” Colombi said. “At the end of the day, it’s just football. It doesn’t matter how much the stadium holds. It’s (about) not getting distracted. At the end of the day, it’s about us and what we do on offense and defense. Hopefully we can help the younger guys in making sure the stage isn’t too big.”
At least a dozen of the players currently on the Herd’s roster have played at the Power 5 level, and those twelve are scattered all across the field at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line, secondary.
Even some of those players which transferred up from the FCS have played in some of college football’s biggest stadiums, so the environment Saturday won’t be new to all wearing Marshall uniforms.
Khalan Laborn, who rushed for 102 yards in his Marshall debut, played at Florida State previously and said that a crowds like that which are expected in South Bend on Saturday give a little extra motivation to go out and perform at a high level.
“That’s what we watch on TV. That’s what we want to do is play in big games like that and show what we can do,” Laborn said. “They’ve got good size everywhere but I don’t feel like it’s something we can’t handle. We just have to put our best foot forward.”