Notre Dame will not receive any points for Marcus Freemanit’s honesty. His transparency on Monday will not soften Saturday’s Irish defeat, which inexplicably fell to Stanford, 16-14. Any retrospective credit only comes in the shadow of the freshman head coach who initially made the mistake he willingly admitted.
“It’s been a long 48 hours trying to really figure out what happened on Saturday,” Freeman said Monday, summing up both the duties of his coaching staff and the angst of his fans.
One thing that happened on Saturday was that Notre Dame failed twice when it should have scored touchdowns. Convert either of these opportunities, beat the Cardinal by a hair’s breadth, and this game would be filed in the brimming dossier of ‘Winning is hard’ moments that the former Irish head coach Brian Kelly excelled at those three words, one of his favorite post-game mantras, derided by critics for years but now envied for its accuracy in hindsight.
The last of those scoring chances would haunt second-year running back Audric Estimé for some time, fumbling for the ball after earning a first down on Notre Dame’s penultimate practice. Now was not the time to scrape and claw every yard; it was time to put everything aside before losing this ball. It was possession to win the game, not when the Irish won the ball deep in their own territory with no time outs and time running out, as Freeman regretted on Saturday night.
Estimé will learn from this mistake, this is his first season of real work, work that has been impressive although it has now been achieved with a pair of breakaways in goal territory.
But it was the other sloppy scoring opportunity that Freeman seized on, essentially jumping on the live grenade that is the frustration and impatience of his fan base.
Facing a fourth and two from the five-yard line, Notre Dame apparently ran in Stanford’s defense. If the end-to-end transfer to the second receiver Jayden Thomas the end of the first quarter struck anyone as doomed from the start, that’s because it was. When Thomas took the ball, running to the left, the Irish offensive line was pushing to the right, a misdirection designed. While that was the intention, it essentially took the offensive line, a Notre Dame force, out of play. Thomas was waiting on the left side of the field for five Cardinals defenders and just two Irish blockers, both tight ends.
You don’t have to be a mathematician or a football coach to see the underlying problem here.
Junior tight end Michael Mayer was beaten, and as he brought that defender down, it forced Thomas to mount on those four remaining defenders, eliminating any chance of a remarkable individual scoring effort. When Thomas cut towards the goal line, he had to cover five yards to earn the first down, and there were two Stanford defenders standing on the three-yard line facing him.
How did such unfavorable mathematics become reality? Notre Dame Offensive Coordinator Tommy Ree realized the play call didn’t match the defensive aspect as the Irish took the line of scrimmage, and Freeman didn’t subsequently mortgage all of his composure to take a time out.
“We had a plan all week to say, ‘They showed they were going to stack the box, they stacked the box, we’re going to be able to get in on the jet sweep to Jayden Thomas,'” Freeman said Monday. . “Then all of a sudden I hear Coach Rees in the headset saying, ‘Oh, shoot, that’s not the look.
“I probably should have, at that point, called a time out, but I still felt confident.”
When your offensive coordinator openly regrets a play call before the slam, confidence shouldn’t be taken away.
There may have only been seconds to take that timeout, but the confidence suggests Freeman never intended to try. By the way, junior quarterback Drew Pyne did not recognize the quagmire and took the time out himself.
Freeman owning that mistake is not something most coaches would do. He shows leadership by example there, making it clear to his team that he is more critical of himself than any of them.
“I’m the first one to get up there and say, ‘Here are the areas where I need to improve,'” Freeman said. players, you lose them. As soon as you blame the coaches for everything, you lose them.
While that’s the right approach for a leader who bases his agenda on building people up rather than destroying them, it doesn’t score points on the scoreboard, especially not two days after what “the hell happened on Saturday. “.
Unlike the 77,622 in attendance at Notre Dame Stadium — a sold-out venue for the first home game of the Freeman era — the first-year head coach isn’t shy. On the contrary, he gained confidence during this 3-3 season highlighted by two upsets at home when he was favored by three scores.
The first of those upsets, the 26-21 loss to Marshall, gave Freeman a three-game losing streak to open his head coaching career, the first manager in Irish history to start his career 0-3. In another transparent moment most coaches would risk shunning their firstborn, Freeman admitted to doubting last month.
“After Marshall, it was a lack of confidence for me,” he said. “Until you have proof that all of this work you’re doing is working, you’re going to lack a bit of confidence and faith in what you’re doing.”
After Stanford snapped Notre Dame’s three-game winning streak, frustration was Freeman’s dominant emotion.
“When we perform and do things that we’re supposed to do, we’re a really good football team,” Freeman said. “There was anger after that last game because I know we’re a good football team and we didn’t play up to our expectations. That’s the frustrating part.
“If we play the way we are supposed to play and the way we are able to play, we can beat everyone we play against. When you don’t, in college football, parity is near. You’re going to lose, and you saw that on Saturday when we lost to Stanford.
To clarify one thing, Estimé could protect the ball with his life, Freeman could make the right call in a split second 10 out of 10 times, and this version of Notre Dame still wouldn’t beat a handful of teams in the country. The Irish are downright lacking in playmakers, both offensively and defensively, to stay with the domestic title contenders, not even on Notre Dame’s best day.
But the Irish should still be able to beat Stanford, even on a day riddled with mistakes, both by players and coaches.
“Don’t let it be a lack of confidence in who we are and how good we can be,” Freeman said. “Let’s make those the real issues of what happened on Saturday.
These are self-inflicted mistakes, the ones an established program should avoid, from the head coach to the offensive coordinator to the bull-headed running back, and with almost everyone in between.
Pyne finished 13 of 27 for 151 yards, focusing on Mayer almost as often as he did and not feeling the pressure of a rushing pass that led to a lost fumble. Notre Dame defenders repeatedly tackled as if it were a game of nine-year-olds playing flag football and the Cardinal tied their belts.
Avoidable errors permeated the Irish line-up, and he still had a chance to win the game before Estimé’s eighth and final shot, finishing with 57 yards, that 22 yards making it his longest getaway of the day, although It was statistical generosity, as he lost the ball after just nine or 10 yards, trying to break a sixth tackle on play when nothing else mattered but possession.
The inaccurate nature of football statistics illustrates the inaccurate nature of a game played with an oblong ball, with Notre Dame failing to land on any of the five fumbles on Saturday.
Looking back it was bad luck, the ball was still bouncing straight at them. Six balls on the floor, all go to Stanford and the one ND gets is called back. https://t.co/MgbizaiX0z
—Greg Flammang (@greg2126) October 17, 2022
Perhaps that was the lesson the Irish had to relearn during Freeman’s first campaign: Winning is hard.