Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 25, 2023

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 25, 2023 27 I f you didn't know the score and didn't know any better, you'd have thought debris raining down onto the turf at Notre Dame Stadium was an out- ward expression of disapproval from Fighting Irish faithful. It was exactly the opposite. Score: Notre Dame 45, Wake Forest 7. Better: Head coach Mar- cus Freeman's team at home in 2023. The Irish went 4-2 inside their own friendly confines a year ago with inexplicable, excruciating losses to Marshall and Stanford. In Year 2 of Freeman's tenure, the Irish improved the mark to 5-1 and culminated a season-ending three-game home winning streak with a decades-old, customary marshmallow shower from the student section. The only loss came by a field goal to unbeaten Ohio State, the No. 2 team in the coun- try going into the final week of the regu- lar season. Even with a defeat to the Buckeyes in a game that was one second away from going down as a Notre Dame victory, the Irish outscored opponents 262-71 in South Bend in 2023. Freeman's second season was far from perfect, but he did learn how to avoid no-shows in front of home fans. That, on its own, independent of shortcomings in other venues, was a step forward. There were teams on this year's Notre Dame Stadium slate whose rosters resembled those of the Thunder- ing Herd and Cardinal from last year. Programs that, in their respective cur- rent states, have no business walking out of such hallowed grounds with wins. The Irish didn't let those types of teams — Central Michigan, Pitt and Wake Forest — get over on them this time. And they absolutely put the smackdown on reigning Heisman Tro- phy winner Caleb Williams and the USC Trojans, too, sending their season into a complete dumpster fire of a downward spiral. That was the poster child of what was nearly a perfect campaign under the gaze of Touchdown Jesus. "We talk about it often, how special it is to play in Notre Dame Stadium," Freeman said. "The history, the tradi- tion. We take pride in our performance in Notre Dame Stadium." The field was literally littered in the aforementioned marshmallows, plung- ing aplenty from above over the heads of Notre Dame players and coaches on the sideline. One even ended up in gradu- ate student quarterback Sam Hartman's cup of hot cocoa. He promptly chugged the balmy beverage, as one does on a brisk evening. The hearts most of the 77,622 specta- tors making up yet another sold-out crowd at "The House That Rockne Built" must've been as warm as the liquid flowing down to QB1's tummy. Hartman did not have a Heisman Tro- phy-caliber season, qualify the Irish for the College Football Playoff or even lead them to a New Year's Six bowl game. But he did complete 99 of 142 (69.7 percent) passes for 231.7 yards per game with 12 touchdown tosses and just 2 intercep- tions in six matchups in South Bend this season. In multiple games, he was good enough to allow sophomore Steve Angeli to get good reps in during garbage time. Angeli completed 18 of 24 (75.0 percent) throws for 270 yards with 4 touchdown strikes and 0 interceptions at home this year. All that from a guy who didn't attempt a single throw in 2022, a season in which he spent 11 full games as the Notre Dame backup. The Irish were so good at home this fall that the world actually got a peek into what the future might portend for Angeli. "He's got a big career ahead of him," Hartman said. "His career percentages right now are look- ing really good. Probably an all- time stat leader. I think he should walk away from it all. Totally kid- ding. If he does, record books for sure. No, it's just great." It really is, Sam. It really is. That's of- ten the case when your average point differential at home over the course of an entire season is plus-31.8. Freeman might not ever orchestrate a number that high for as long as he remains the head coach at Notre Dame. The only thing he can do is keep striving for it. The home schedule wasn't the tough- est, but it included a team that eventu- ally ascended to No. 1 in the land and a Heisman Trophy winner. And the Irish very nearly ran the table anyway. That's reason enough to hold heads up high. That's reason enough to make jokes about record books. "There is a sense of pride when you come out of the locker room and you touch that 'Play Like a Champion' sign that you carry when you take this field," Freeman said. No joking about that. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at Head coach Marcus Freeman got the most out of the Fighting Irish at home, nearly running the table and beating opponents by an average of 38.8 points in five victories in South Bend. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Notre Dame Caps Sensational Home Showings With Another Landslide Victory

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