Notre Dame will open its 2022 home slate Saturday afternoon when the Marshall Thundering Herd visits Notre Dame Stadium (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC). The game will mark Marcus Freeman’s first home game as Notre Dame’s head coach. Fighting Irish head coaches are 12-3 in their first game at Notre Dame Stadium, which opened in 1930. Marshall, coached by Charles Huff, routed Norfolk State 55-3 to open their 2022 campaign last weekend. The game will mark the first meeting between the schools.

While evaluating Notre Dame’s performance last week in its 21-10 loss at No. 2 Ohio State is a matter of perspective, Saturday afternoon’s game in South Bend, Ind., won’t be. The Fighting Irish need to be ready to play from kickoff and need to win impressively, handing Freeman his first win as Notre Dame’s head coach in the process. A big win would give Notre Dame much-needed momentum ahead of the Sept. 17 matchup against Power 5 opponent California and dates after that at North Carolina and against BYU.

In addition to grabbing their 1st victory of the season, here are 5 things the Fighting Irish need to show Saturday against Marshall.

More dominance from the defenseĀ 

The Fighting Irish led 10-7 at the half Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, a margin that could have and perhaps should have been bigger had the offense capitalized on the defense’s consistent ability to get a great Ohio State offense off the field. The Fighting Irish were particularly impressive up front, where defensive tackle Howard Cross III was stout plugging the middle against the Buckeyes’ run game and linebacker Marist Liufau was a force, blowing up several Ohio State plays before they got off the ground and proving tough to block without help.

Notre Dame would like more from Isaiah Foskey, the All-American candidate at defensive end who was held in check by Ohio State’s offensive tackles. But the Fighting Irish tackled beautifully and disrupted the rhythm of the nation’s best offense in 2021 consistently in Game 1 of 2022. Another complete performance Saturday afternoon against Marshall would be a sign that the defense is championship caliber.

An aggressive, pass-first game plan

This isn’t a suggestion that the Fighting Irish disrespect the game or Marshall in any way. To best prepare the team to win in the weeks ahead, however, Notre Dame needs to get Tyler Buchner and the passing game going Saturday. The Fighting Irish were too conservative at Ohio State, and the end result was they weren’t able to truly make the Buckeyes uncomfortable despite leading for much of the night. A big reason for the lack of aggression was the lack of trust in the downfield passing game.

Buchner wasn’t poor by any stretch. He just wasn’t given enough opportunities, whether because of offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ design or Freeman’s instructions, to test Ohio State’s secondary. To stress the defenses Notre Dame will face in the weeks to come, the Fighting Irish need to be aggressive and throw the ball downfield. This also will help Notre Dame find answers at receiver, where at present, it is Lorenzo Styles or bust in terms of big-play potential. Perhaps the enigmatic Braden Lenzy, who caught a 32-yard pass during the 3rd quarter Saturday night, would be an ideal player to target early and often Saturday in an effort to diversify and build confidence in the Notre Dame passing game and receiver corps.

Better blocking up front offensively

The Notre Dame offensive line was supposed to be a strength of the team entering the 2022 season. It didn’t look like one Saturday. Ohio State is incredibly talented, but the Fighting Irish aren’t starting a bunch of 3-star players up front. On the contrary, Harry Heistand’s unit is loaded with blue-chip talent, even with Jarrett Patterson unable to go at guard. If Andrew Kristofic is going to play in Patterson’s stead again against Marshall, he and fellow starting guard Josh Lugg need to be better, both to insulate the passing game from inside pressure and to allow the Fighting Irish to run the ball between the tackles. Notre Dame had just a single successful run between the tackles on 5 attempts Saturday in Columbus. That type of success rate isn’t going to win enough games, and while Marshall won’t have multiple 5-stars up front, the Thundering Herd did just limit Norfolk State to 30 yards on 31 attempts in their opener. Marshall can stop the run, and it’ll present a nice challenge to a unit Notre Dame needs to be a strength Saturday afternoon.

Chris Tyree making explosive plays

Chris Tyree is the best weapon on this football team not named Michael Mayer, and he was bottled up by Ohio State. The all-purpose weapon lined up in the backfield, in the slot and returned kicks — but managed just 56 yards on 9 touches on the evening. His 2 kickoff returns going for just 22 collective yards was perhaps the most frustrating thing for a Notre Dame team that needs to find explosive plays wherever it can get them given a limited number of perimeter playmakers. If I am Rees, I am finding ways to get Tyree the ball early and often Saturday to get the former No. 1 all-purpose back in the country in the 2020 recruiting class going. Tyree had big kick returns and the memorable 96-yard touchdown carry against Syracuse a season ago, and he spent much of the offseason working with Buchner and receivers to become a better piece for Notre Dame in the passing game. It’s time to see that in action Saturday.

Was that Benjamin Morrison performance real?

Benjamin Morrison is listed as a backup cornerback on the Notre Dame depth chart for the Marshall game, just as he was for Ohio State. But he was better than starter Cam Hart in Columbus and, attacked 6 times by CJ Stroud, held his own, surrendering just 2 completions in those targets against, per Stats Solutions. Freeman has made no bones about the fact he’ll play freshmen liberally, and Morrison’s performance Saturday night showed why Freeman feels the way he does about playing freshmen who practice like they are ready.

Morrison’s pass breakup on a terrific Stroud throw to Marvin Harrison Jr. was especially promising, with the former 4-star corner showing both excellent recovery skills and eye control in reacting to the play. Considering Harrison got behind Hart for a reception to help Ohio State score its 1st touchdown, seeing Morrison handle a talented Ohio State receiver in man coverage was a big deal.

Marshall quarterback Henry Colombi is very accurate (24-of-26 against Norfolk State), and the Thundering Herd won’t be afraid to challenge Notre Dame down the field. That should present more opportunities for Morrison to showcase that he’s a playmaker and a player who Notre Dame simply cannot keep off the field — or out of the starting lineup — for the remainder of 2022.