Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM SEPT. 10, 2022 31 ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at BY PATRICK ENGEL I t's not that Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman sees no achieve- ment or significance in holding No. 2 Ohio State to its fewest points in a game since 2018 or allowing just one touch- down in the first half. He recognizes the rarity. He understands few teams have the skill to do either, let alone both. He is, though, entirely disinterested in celebrating it as a win. Not when the scoreboard says Ohio State 21, Notre Dame 10. Freeman smashed apart the idea that a better-than-expected game is worth acclaim. He doesn't deal in moral victories. Neither does Notre Dame — not in the past and not under his watch. It's only wins and losses. And this was a loss. In a game Notre Dame gave itself a real chance to win. "You can't be surprised when all of a sudden it's a 10-7 ball game midway through the third quarter against a re- ally, really good football team," Freeman said. "Don't be surprised. That has to be the expectation for this group." It's the expectation because Notre Dame's season-opening loss illustrated that Freeman's first team has a captivat- ing collection of talent with a consider- able ceiling. No defense holds Ohio State quar- terback C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes' reservoir of high-end skill position players to 9.3 yards per completion without some talent itself. No average quarterback completes eight straight passes to start a game or leads an 87- yard touchdown drive that lasts more than five minutes. Yet Notre Dame's 10-7 halftime lead felt more like a pleasant surprise than a deserved development, even though it was no fluke. "I think we found out we have a really good football team," Freeman said. "We have a good, tough football team. We have to learn how to finish." Freeman saw signs of a team he thinks can go toe to toe with any heavyweight, land a punch and dodge blows for nearly three quarters. He also saw it break down as the game went on, prompting him to declare Notre Dame must "learn how to finish" about five times in his 11-minute press conference. Sure, this loss was a better outcome than the sportsbooks and even many Irish fans expected. But the idea some- thing is better than expected is still inherently short of its ideal. Freeman shoots for nothing lower. It's why he doesn't care for whatever public good- will comes from Notre Dame putting forth 60 competitive minutes against a top-tier team in a loss. "To hold that offense to seven points until the end of the third quarter is a huge accomplishment," Freeman said. "But again, we're not in it for moral vic- tories, man. We have to look at it and say, 'Where do we have to improve?'" And on that, there are several areas. Start with an offense that, outside of that 10-play, 87-yard pièce de résis- tance in the first half, spent most of the game stuck in neutral. There were flashes. But not consistency. Notre Dame wanted to run the ball, but couldn't. The Irish ended the game with 24 non-sack or scramble rush- ing attempts for 88 yards. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner completed his first eight passes, but went 2 of 10 the rest of the way. He connected with a wide receiver just three times. Notre Dame ran just 20 plays on its four sec- ond-half possessions, none of which topped 40 yards. "That last stretch of the game, just didn't execute," Buchner said. "We didn't do the little things at the stan- dard we hold ourselves to." As impressively as Notre Dame started on defense, it ended with a thud. Ohio State went ahead for good with 17 seconds left in the third quarter when Stroud shredded a double safety blitz for a 24-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Xavier Johnson. The Buckeyes forced a three-and- out, then chewed more than seven minutes off the clock with a 95-yard touchdown drive. They had the same ball-control idea as Notre Dame, but simply executed it better. It was the ex- emplar of a drive Notre Dame hoped to mount itself, but never did outside of one first-half possession. "[Defensive coordinator Al] Golden did an unbelievable job, called a great game," Freeman said. "They played their tails off. But it goes back to they scored 14 points with a quarter and seconds left. That's where our focus has to be." Notre Dame still has its 2022 goals in front of it. One loss to a popular pre- season national title pick isn't curtains for Notre Dame's College Football Play- off hopes. The Irish aren't down and out. But Freeman wants to make sure they don't confuse better than expected with a feeling of arrival. "We have to finish when it matters most," Freeman said. "We have a lot to learn from this game. "You don't have to wait 245 days. You have seven days for another opportu- nity." ✦ Marcus Freeman and Notre Dame aren't inter- ested in acclaim for exceeding expectations. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Irish Want Nothing To Do With Moral Victories

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