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Friday at 4: A shortened honeymoon doesn’t change the reasons for Notre Dame’s marriage to Marcus Freeman Things We Learned: Notre Dame OL’s second-half surge against Cal a step forward despite ‘a long way to go’ Highlights: Notre Dame 24, Cal 17 — A chaotic final minute, a repeated play call and late-game dominance from the Irish defensive line Notre Dame defense, RB Audric Estime push Irish past Cal in miscue-filled afternoon Notre Dame vs Cal: Time, TV, Preview & Prediction as Irish seek first win of Freeman Era

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Notre Dame did not hire Marcus Freeman for this September. The Irish obviously did not expect to start the season with a score of 0:2; they hoped to overcome the setback in Columbus to open the season. But taking Notre Dame to the next level in college football has never been this month, disappointing as it is.

Freeman was promoted last December and this December. While recruiting rankings do not guarantee success—insert Texas A&M link here—success in wooing high school students is a prerequisite for winning the playoff game. This hand-to-hand combat determined Brian Kellyin South Bend as many as his record 113 wins.

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Freeman’s 0–3 start as head coach presents quite a dichotomy compared to Kelly’s time, as Freeman helped Notre Dame retain the No. 6 recruiting class last cycle and assembled the No. 3 class this year. even if he hasn’t won a single game yet.

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Recruiting success isn’t enough for a head coach—again, insert a Texas A&M reference here—but the problems plaguing the Irishman arose much earlier than Freeman. The baffling lack of recipients has its origins in recruiting mishaps back in 2019, when Notre Dame never signed a single recipient. Cam Hart became the ultimate defender. Of the three signed in 2020, two were quickly transferred, and the third, Xavier Wattsspent spring training and much of the preseason working on safety.

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Compounding these recklessness, the Irish now have five fewer receivers than Freeman and the offensive coordinator. Tommy Rhys He is expected to enjoy himself when Freeman is promoted. Between injuriesAvery Davis, Joe Wilkins, Deion Colzy) and late cancellations of Notre Dame’s already thin depth chart halved.

RELATED READING: On a long-term silver lining to the lack of depth of the Notre Dame receiver

This roster trouble has nothing to do with Freeman, nor does the university’s delay in entering the transfer portal. In fact, it was these obstacles that Notre Dame hired Freeman to overcome and/or change.

But they were never going to clear this September.

Kelly took a program devoid of any consistency or universal direction and turned it into one of the best in the country, envied by some 120 teams. It took the better part of 12 seasons, and yet its ceiling doesn’t compare to that of Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, or Clemson. In Kelly’s opinion, this was no match for LSU. Without that ceiling, it would be hard to ever present the Irishman as a national title contender in 2022, even if he gets into the top five in the Ohio State game or comes out of that tough defeat.

Freeman never intended to raise that ceiling in the offseason. The establishment of such a registry would not have been possible in nine months. But it was for this task that Notre Dame hired him at the time.

Deep down, Freeman knows this, but any athlete will lose sleep over a 0-2 start. The Irish veterans are more frustrated than anyone, as was evident from the 26-21 loss to Marshall a week ago. Given that player support played a role in Freeman’s promotion, some might think that these losses reflect poorly on their support. Playing against Cal (2:30 AM ET; NBC) with that kind of anxiety won’t help anyone.

“If you continue to listen to all the voices that have an opinion about what you do or what we do as a football program, you will feel the weight of the world,” Freeman said on Thursday. “Focus on the important things that will determine the outcome of the Sabbath. That’s what I want the pressure to be on.

“What really determines the outcome of the game, and if we continue to focus on those things, we won’t have to worry about additional outside pressure.”

Available players determine the outcome of a game, and aside from quarterback injuries, remember that no team can be as good or as bad as their last game. Notre Dame did better than he did against the Stud, though the loss ended Freeman’s honeymoon.

But as they say before many honeymoons, “It’s not about the wedding, it’s about the wedding.”

The Irish marriage to Freeman was always planned for the post-honeymoon period. This ending earlier than expected does not change the basic fact. Notre Dame didn’t hire Marcus Freeman because of this month’s worries, and this month’s worries don’t change the long-term fee for the 36-year-old head coach.

Marcus FreemanThe verb tense coincided with the present, and it is no coincidence that this happened right after Notre Dame (1-2) took the first victory of their head coaching career, defeating Cal, 24-17.

“We are an O-line, D-line driven program,” Freeman said Saturday. “You have to be able to control the ball, but you can’t just say that’s what we’re going to do, that’s all. You have to be able to adjust to what works and what gives you offense or defense.”

A week ago, Freeman had to formulate his wishes for the program with an “if” specification. In the first half against the Bears, this seemed to be the case again on offense, although the biggest problems with the offensive line early on were repeated false starts, not bad blocks.

Instead of constantly putting pressure on him, the Irish players in the skill position failed to support the junior quarterback. Drew Pine at his first career start. Missed pitches made his first few possessions look worse than they really were, as did he missing several open looks in the pre-season All-American tight end for juniors. Michael Mayer. Less obvious, but equally problematic freshman recruit. Tobias Merryweather failure to make a pre-tie move when expected resulted in an aborted third down attempt deep in Cal territory.

“We have to have people who make the quarterback look good,” Freeman said. “Most of the result of the game falls on the shoulders of the quarterback, but there is so much going on during the game that really determines the result.

“But the quarterback will have to answer for it.”

While several moments of telephone conversation between Pine and the Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rhys attracted the most attention and were clearly aimed at Pine’s mistakes, reminding him of the failures of others was undoubtedly a beautiful feature on the edge of the field. Giving the quarterback some leeway in recognizing that stagnation is not entirely up to him could not be achieved at the cost of undermining his confidence in his teammates in the game plan.

Regardless of who to blame, Notre Dame scored just seven points in the first half for the second week in a row..

“We have to launch the attack faster,” Freeman said on Monday. “We just didn’t use those routines early in the game. Much of the blame will fall on Drew’s shoulders, but not just Drew. We had a few falls, we had a few penalties. Drew has had several uncharacteristic shots.

“We just couldn’t start the game early in the game. To really look at how things have changed in the second half, we were able to install a running game. What does it do? This unlocks areas in the skip game.”

The Irishman gained 109 yards in the first half over 30 plays. They scored 189 points in the second half in 31 games (not counting the final out due to a yard loss as Notre Dame exhausted the game clock). Their first four possessions were 3-pointers followed by a fumble before finally they made a 60-yard, 10-play touchdown march. Six of Notre Dame’s seven possessions in the first half were the exact opposite of “quality drives”.

His first three second-half possessions resulted in points scored, with only one real possession deemed a waste.

What changed? It’s a ground game, as Freeman said. “If” became “now”. Sophomore running back Audric Estimé and Jr. Chris Tyree combining 18 carries for 75 yards (again ahead of a final three, somewhat meant to pin Cal deep in his own territory) is far from glamorous, but averaging 4.2 yards per try is a viable offensive approach.

It’s no coincidence that Pine went 10 of 11 for 93 yards in the second half. Compared to his 7-of-12 for 57 yards in the first half, it was the difference between night and day, both in scoring and confidence.

“First off, you’re like, ‘OK, he’ll get it,'” Freeman said Saturday of Pine’s early troubles. “You pat him on the shoulder pad.

“And then it didn’t work, he sort of went to the other end of the spectrum, tore his ass a little bit. It didn’t help much.”


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