Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

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

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4 SEPT. 17, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W ithout trying to read too m u c h i n to c o n s e c u t ive losses to top-10 teams in the first two outings for rookie Irish head coach Marcus Freeman, there was one troubling and shared theme in both defeats that couldn't be ignored. In each loss — 37-35 to No. 9 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, and 21-10 to No. 2 Ohio State in the 2022 season opener — Freeman and his staff were badly outcoached and soundly beaten in the second half of both games. Notre Dame led Oklahoma State 28-14 at halftime last January, be- fore getting outscored 23-7 in the second half. Then, against Ohio State, Notre Dame led 10-7 at the break but was outscored 14-0 in the second half and lost by 11 at Ohio Stadium. Put both together, and the Irish were outscored 37-7 in the second half of two games they seemed poised to win after two quarters. "We've got to get better," Free- man said after the Ohio State loss. "We've got to learn how to finish. We've got a good football team. We've got to learn how to finish." Upon his promotion to head coach, Freeman shared how retaining Tommy Rees as his offensive coordinator was priority No. 1. When Rees stayed, popular belief then followed that Freeman's promotion and Brian Kelly's departure would unshackle Notre Dame's play caller and liberate Rees and the Irish offense. Instead, on Freeman's directive, Rees stayed glued to a run-first offen- sive game plan against Ohio State. And while that ultra-conservative strategy shortened the game, and kept posses- sions and the score down, as designed, it seemed more like a plan to keep from getting blown out than it did one to pull an upset. Without sharing many specifics, Free- man — a defensive coach — explained how he approached Rees before Ohio State with an executive order to run the ball early, often and no matter what. "It can't be easy being the offen- sive coordinator and the head coach comes and says, 'Hey, we've got to limit [OSU's] possessions. We have to huddle. I don't want to snap the ball sometimes until there's 5 seconds on the clock,'" Freeman explained. "It can't be easy to do that at times. But [Rees] is a team player. He believed in that's what it takes for us to have success against a team like Ohio State." The vanilla game plan worked, ini- tially. In the first half against OSU, Notre Dame won the time of possession 16:35 to 13:25. The Irish also limited the Buck- eyes to only 28 offensive plays through the first and second quarters, and unex- pectedly led 10-7 at the break. Fortunes flipped in the second half. Notre Dame never adjusted. It kept pounding into the Buckeyes talented defensive front wall and rushed its way to 23 yards on 12 carries and zero points after halftime. Meanwhile, Ohio State outscored the Irish 14-0 in the second half and won the total yardage battle 246-72. "You have to give credit to [Ohio State] in their execution," Freeman said. "When they decided at the end of the game that 'We're going to run the ball,' they did a good job of it. We have to be better." Finishing strong is a trait all great teams share, including Ohio State. But it's one that Notre Dame has yet to master, and it's difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Conditioning, confidence, com- munication, coaching, play calling? Freeman was asked post Ohio State about the continuity and communication during the first live-game action with his new as- sistant coaches. And disappoint- ingly, he admitted it could've been better. After referencing some situ- ational snafus when the coaches co u l d n 't f i n d o r s u m m o n t h e player(s) they wanted to sub in, Freeman explained how one of his play-calling edicts shortly before halftime also didn't get communicated. As head coach, Freeman toggles his sideline headset between offensive and defensive conversations. "I was [listening] on the defensive side of the ball. We're talking about getting things corrected, how or what we're looking for," Freeman recalled. "And then, by the time I click over to tell Tommy, 'Hey, I want to take a shot with 30 seconds left. I want to take a shot. I want to be aggressive.' "It wasn't communicated in time." Did these communication break- downs make a difference in the game? We'll never know. Is it troubling to find out they hap- pened? Absolutely. Are they something that needs to be fixed? Immediately. ✦ Marcus Freeman admitted after the Ohio State contest that in- game communication with his new assistant coaches could have been better. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER In-Game Adjustments Need To Improve UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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