Blue and Gold Illustrated

October 28, 2023

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

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4 OCT. 28, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED M y late esteemed edi- tor, Lou Somogyi, used to share a story with a laugh about former Michigan State head coach George Perles, who once fa- mously explained the chal- lenges and perceptions that all head coaches face. Perles said that when things go bad, the coach has no idea what he's do- ing and was a bad hire. "But when things go well for a coach," Perles said, "he could walk out of the tunnel backward with his thumb up his ass and folks would say, 'See, that's how you do it!'" That's the crossroad Irish head coach Marcus Freeman finds himself at after the recent struggles following a scintillating 4-0 start to this season. In the span of two weeks and three games, Notre Dame went from a top-10 team and very much in College Football Playoff consideration to a multiple-loss team with no chance at a playoff berth and no guarantees of even making an elite bowl game. What went so wrong so fast? Let us count three ways. PLAY CALLING First-year Irish offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was drawing rave reviews after his unit scored at least 40 points in its first four games — the first time that happened since 1900 — and the Irish won them all by an average of 36.8 points. Parker showed confidence, creativ- ity and balance in his play calling. He made terrific in-game adjustments. He handled the two-hour lightning delay in the North Carolina State game master- fully, and he put any concerns over his inexperience to rest. But as the curtain was pulled and the secrets revealed on Parker's strategies, the Irish offense plummeted. In the three games against Ohio State, Duke and Louisville, Notre Dame scored only 6 touchdowns total and averaged just 18.3 points per game. Football seasons evolve as they go, and staying ahead of the curve through smart and unpredictable play calling and game planning are a must for any successful coordinator, and it appears as if Parker has fallen behind. How do you fix it? With a defensive-minded head coach who's unable to step in and help the of- fense in the way Brian Kelly could've, and with no other offensive coaches on the Irish staff with any play-calling experi- ence, it's a difficult question to answer. OVERTHINKING THE ROOM A couple of Freeman's favorite coaching strategies are to "challenge everything," and deeply dissect all moving parts on every single play that goes wrong. "Our guys weren't prepared, for what- ever reason," Freeman said after the 33-20 loss to Louisville Oct. 7. "We've got to take a deep dive and figure out what it is." The problem with a "deep dive" and a painstakingly detailed diagnosis is that college coaches are allowed only 20 hours of practice time each week, meaning they must strike a proper balance between fix- ing mistakes from the previous game, and moving forward to the next opponent. Freeman insists that instead of getting cute, he wants to keep strategies simple and have his team play to its strengths. But instead, his Irish in recent weeks h a ve p l a ye d t i g h t l y, perhaps because of in- formation overload and analysis paralysis. Free- man seemed to recognize that pattern after the Louisville loss. "We have to simplify so there's no confusion into what we're doing, and why we're doing it and how we have to do it better," he said. Unfortunately, his rev- elation comes too late to reach the ultimate goals this season. SCHEDULE MATTERS As we decipher what went wrong seemingly overnight between the 41-17 drubbing of Central Michigan Sept. 16 and the 17-14 loss at home to Ohio State the fol- lowing week, we would be remiss to not consider strength of schedule. It's almost unheard of for a program to play — let alone survive — four con- secutive prime-time games, all against ranked and undefeated opponents. Freeman framed the difficult schedule stretch as an opportunity, saying these games are why recruits choose to play at Notre Dame. But the Irish players looked increasingly weary during this stretch, especially against Louisville. "When you say, 'Maybe we're tired, it's our fourth prime-time game against a ranked opponent,' that just leaves room for excuses," Freeman said before the USC game Oct. 14. "That's some- thing I won't let our guys do." We talked in July following the resig- nation of renowned strength and condi- tioning coordinator Matt Balis about how any negative impacts of his departure wouldn't surface until the second half of this season. Given the trend line, perhaps there is some validity to that theory. Time will tell. ✦ Head coach Marcus Freeman and his staff received rave reviews for Notre Dame's 4-0 start this season. After the Irish lost two of their next three contests, though, Freeman and Co. found themselves searching for answers on how to turn things around. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER How, Why, The Rug Was Pulled Out On The Season 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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