Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM SEPT. 17, 2022 7 UNDER THE DOME BY PATRICK ENGEL A loss to open the season didn't morph Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman into a yeller or an intimida- tor. There were no extra up-downs after practice or Freeman pushing his players to do down-and-back sprints like he was Herb Brooks in "Miracle." Freeman started his career with an 0-2 record and saw second-half lead swin- dled in both games. In the latter, Notre Dame couldn't turn a 10-7 halftime edge into a win Sept. 3 at No. 2 Ohio State. The Irish were shut out in the second half, gained just 72 yards in the final two quarters and allowed Ohio State to march 95 yards for the clinching touchdown by running down their throats. "We had a challenge to win the fourth quarter," Freeman said. "We didn't win the fourth quarter." A decisive loss in it hasn't led him to tearing up the pages of his game week or practice playbook. Or his own personality. "In terms of punishment, it's not anything like that," junior tight end Kevin Bauman said. "For him, it's more getting back to the way we are and the way this program runs in our prepara- tion and the way we execute." Freeman doesn't view that game as an arrival, even if it exceeded outside ex- pectations. He expected to compete for 60 minutes. Heck, he expected to win. Notre Dame fell short of that. It was also a measuring stick of where Notre Dame is and what needs to happen to win games against college football's best teams the next time the Irish play one. Going on the road to play the No. 2 team in the country will give any team a firm idea of its strengths and weaknesses. Freeman sees Notre Dame's Week 1 ef- fort as the foundation, not some kind of finished product. He has 11 more weeks to get the Irish to whatever that ceiling is. Players and coaches think they're close. The Irish punching first and leading for a little more than half the game was a testa- ment to that and to their readiness. "We're right there," junior defensive end Rylie Mills said. "The big mentality is our preparation. That was the thing going into Ohio State. We're going to be the most prepared team. I feel like ev- eryone prepared as much as they could." Maybe that's why Notre Dame has thrown the first haymaker in both of Freeman's games as head coach. The Irish ambushed Oklahoma State's top-five de- fense in the Fiesta Bowl to take a 28-7 sec- ond-quarter lead. They threw a butterfly net on an Ohio State offense that posted nation-best figures in yards per play and points per game last season, holding the Buckeyes to 149 yards in the first half. Neither yielded a win. Freeman was more focused on what the bumpy second half said about his team than he was the individual or po- sition-specific concerns that arose. He saw a team that couldn't finish. What does a week of practice with fin- ishing at top of mind look like? It's highly physical. Just like it was all preseason. That's the tone he wants to set and keep, especially early in the season while the players still haven't absorbed that many hits. The first team won't ex- clusively face the scout team. Freeman wants to pit them against each other for a portion of practice. Full pads. Go hit. "We still have to have physical, tough football practices," Freeman said. "That's something that that's been pushed from the minute I became head coach. … There are periods of practice, moments in practice where you kind of just put the ball down and say, 'Let's go.'" That's not a new emphasis, though. His strenuous, contact-heavy " beat 'em up" fall camp approach indicates he would feel that way no matter the result of the Ohio State game. Keeping that tone present each week is part of build- ing on the foundation he sees. "Since the day we started, it has just been physical," Mills said. "Coach Free- man has kept it like that. You can't go out and half-ass it. You have to come every day and imagine you're trying to win a game." The faster Notre Dame sharpens that edge from top to bottom, the better its chances of polishing off wins instead of letting them slip from its grasp. Finishing isn't just a physical skill. It's a mentality. It's what helps generate a stop when you know the offense is going to run the ball and try to bleed out the clock. It's what turns two second-half possessions in plus territory into points instead of punts. Maybe seeing a lack of finishing helps kick that mindset fully into gear. They know what it's like not to finish. Some- times the feeling of not doing something is the spark for accomplishing it next time. "Everyone's intensity is raised up a notch," Bauman said. "No one likes the feeling we had [Sept. 3]. Just naturally, it doesn't take much external motivation to get everyone ready." ✦ UNDER THE DOME STAYING THE COURSE Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame keep the same practice tone after Ohio State loss Freeman emphasized physicality in practice after Notre Dame's 21-10 defeat at Ohio State Sept. 3. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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