Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2023

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

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28 DECEMBER 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED NOTRE DAME HEAD COACH MARCUS FREEMAN … On his halftime message to the team: "It was on offense, 'Just take care of the ball.' Hand the ball to the officials is what we say. It means don't turn the ball over. Defensively, we had to make some changes. It was, 'Here are the corrections; now go execute.' Spe- cial teams, they got to be special. You can't turn the ball over on special teams. "Don't beat Notre Dame. That's some- thing you'll hear me say often. As long as we don't do that, we have a chance to be really successful every game we play." On keeping sophomore running back Gi'Bran Payne in at the goal line at the end of the first half, as well as his exchange with junior running back Audric Estimé and running backs coach Deland McCullough after Payne appeared to fumble: "We have communication before that series that it's a two-minute situation. Gi'Bran's been our two-minute back. I said, 'Good, let's go. Keep him in there.' "I get a little bit frustrated when we put the ball on the ground and kind of got on him and Coach McCullough a little bit, like, 'Hey, the standard of the room is to hand the ball to the official.' I know they reviewed it and called it a touchdown." On the defensive breakdowns in the first half and shutting Stanford down afterward: "One of them, they had a unique formation where they put the run- ning back in the B-gap and leaked him out on a deep pass — something we haven't seen. They did a good job. I told the coach before the game, he's done a great job. Looking at what they've done this year at Stanford offensively, what they've done at Sac[ramento] State, what he's done there. They've done a really good job in terms of their offensive scheme. "So, very challenging. [Defensive co- ordinator Al] Golden, the defensive staff did a great job of correcting mistakes and making sure our players execute." On improving throughout the sea- son: "I think you try not to be so out- come-driven. If you don't look at the outcome, you say this team definitely has improved tremendously. There are a couple of games between Tennessee State and now that we wish we could run it back and then do it over, but we can't. But we've learned, and we grew. "We've grown from those mistakes and those opportunities. I'm so proud of this team. We're chasing to reach our full potential. That's something you'll hear me say. We haven't totally got there. But dang, we were pretty close today. We got a couple of weeks to get ready for this bowl game, whichever one we go to." NOTRE DAME GRADUATE STUDENT DEFENSIVE END JAVONTAE JEAN-BAPTISTE … On the defense responding after giving up big plays early: "It was just all about what we were doing internally and just making sure that we stay calm. And just knowing that all you gotta do is do your job every play, and just win that one play. "And then don't let the plays behind you track you in the future, and you should be alright." On this win giving Notre Dame momentum entering the bowl game: "It should give us everything. Just turn- ing around and thinking about the sea- son, and just saying, 'Focus on that one week,' and after that, keep going. This one was very important to us, and then now, it's just looking forward to the next game. "And that's where our main attention is. We just gotta put the work in and put the effort and details and everything that we want to do." NOTRE DAME JUNIOR RUNNING BACK AUDRIC ESTIMÉ … On if he realized he was close to setting Notre Dame's all-time re- cord for rushing yards in a single game: "I realized toward the end, but I'm not really chasing records, honestly, or stats. It's nice to get it, but at the end of the day, we got the job done. "We won by like, what, 40 points? We had over 300 rushing on the ground and total offense, so that's all that matters at the end of the day." On making a decision on whether or not he'll declare for the 2024 NFL Draft: "I don't really have a timeline right now. I'm just worried about com- ing in on Monday and getting a lift in, going over this game, see how I could've done better, and then we'll start having conversations then." On if being left off the list of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award (given to the nation's best running back): "Yeah, I'm not gonna lie. It definitely fueled me. I definitely feel like I'm one of the best running backs in the country, if not the best. And I definitely want other people to notice, but I feel like, after today, I feel like a lot of people will notice." — Jack Soble FROM THE LOCKER ROOM Junior running back Audric Estimé said, "I definitely feel like I'm one of the best running backs in the country, if not the best." PHOTO BY JIM HOLTAN

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