Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2022*

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

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4 NOV. 26, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T hroughout this 2022 season, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman has often talked about his team needing faster starts. Other times, he's challenged his players to finish stronger. Slow starts plagued the Irish early this season after they scored only 24 points total in the first half in the three games to open the season against Ohio State (10), Marshall (7) and Cal (7). Yet, upon closer review, the finishes by Notre Dame through Freeman's first 11 games on the job (prior to Boston College), re- mained much more concerning than the starts, and a necessary fix to jump-starting sustained program success. Including the 37-35 loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl last January — when the Irish led the Cowboys 28-14 at halftime — Notre Dame dominated the first-half scor- ing battle 194-97 in Freeman's first 11 games. Meanwhile, after halftime — when adjustments are made and game plans are tweaked — Freeman's Fighting Irish were outscored 163-138, and they won the second-half scoring battle only five times in those 11 games, suggest- ing that Notre Dame is getting out- coached on both sides of the football after halftime. Ohio State (14-0) and Navy (19-0) both pitched second-half shutouts against the Irish this season. The sec- ond-half struggles dragged Notre Dame down to No. 32 nationally in scoring margin with a plus-7.4 average. In 12 regular-season games last sea- son under head coach Brian Kelly, the Irish didn't live such a wild half-to-half existence. Kelly's Irish in 2021 won the first-half scoring battle 206-85 and the second half 217-134. Notre Dame outscored its opponents by an average of 15.5 points a game in 2021, which ranked No. 7 in the country last season. And through 10 games at LSU in 2022, Kelly's Tigers won the first-half scor- ing battle 157-110 and the second half 169-100, while capturing the SEC West Division title. Point the finger at junior starting quarterback Drew Pyne, or point it at coordinators Al Golden and Tommy Rees, or go right to the top and blame Freeman for Notre Dame's second-half struggles this season. It doesn't matter. Because wherever culpability lies, the Irish program can't survive getting out- coached and outscored this regularly in the third and fourth quarters. SENIOR SENDOFF Freeman took a trip down memory lane last week when he was asked about a group of 25 Fighting Irish seniors who were set to play the last game of their careers at Notre Dame Stadium against Boston College. Freeman was a 22-year-old linebacker at Ohio State when he made his Senior Day trip down the tunnel ramp at Ohio Stadium, 14 years ago. Freeman's Senior Day in Columbus came with a game against fierce rival Michigan, so the former All-Big Ten linebacker said that refocusing after his emotional on-field introduction wasn't difficult. "I was able to do it as a player," said Freeman, whose Buckeyes throttled Michigan 42-7 that day, "to enjoy it, embrace it, to hug my coach [Jim Tressel], to hug my family and shed a tear, too." "There's a lot of emotion as a player. That's a special mo- ment," added Freeman, who urged his veterans last week to not let emotion hamper their execution against the upset- minded Eagles. "I don't want you to not enjoy, and embrace, and be in that mo- ment. But the challenge will be to get yourself back under con- trol after that moment." As far as celebrating his de- parting players, Freeman ex- pressed a sincere gratitude and appreciation for the guys that will always be the first senior class of his head-coaching career. "I'll be forever in debt to them," Free- man explained. "This will be a special group forever to me. They had blind faith when I was named the head coach, no matter if they chose me or not. And they committed to the vision I had for this football program." Freeman additionally shared how even while he doubted himself after los- ing his first two games this season, and his first three games as the Notre Dame head coach (including the 2022 Fiesta Bowl), the unconditional belief in his vision and leadership from his veteran players never wavered — even when it could have after an 0-2 start to start this season. "They have done such a great job through changes in leadership, through wins and losses, being able to keep the mindset of this program and these play- ers where it needs to be," Freeman said in tribute. "… This group has truly laid the foundation for where I see this foot- ball program going forward." ✦ Two teams in the first 10 games this season posted second-half shutouts against Notre Dame — Ohio State (14-0) and Navy (19-0). PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Halftime Adjustments Remain A Full-Time Concern 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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