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.”
Pine finally relaxed, thanks in no small part to Estima, Tyree and his attacking line.
“It helped because in the second half you get a little bit of confidence in the game and then you start making passes,” Freeman said.
This combo earned Freeman enough points that he now has every coach’s favorite opportunity to coach his team after a win. The Irish made many mistakes on Saturday, perhaps the most notable of which was trying to intercept Cal’s shot on the final play rather than knock him down. Freeman had to restrain himself from immediately pulling the defense aside and going through this gaffe.
Instead, he momentarily enjoyed the victory.
“We didn’t execute for 60 minutes straight, but the execution was when it was needed the most,” he said on Monday. “There is a lot to be learned from the film. It’s always better to use these learning opportunities after wins than after losses.”
Not all defenders made this mistake. Just a few plays before, it was the elder Cam Hart speak to a junior Clarence Lewis when Lewis dabbled in return interception. Hart Lewis was persuaded to hit the turf, although the game was ultimately annulled due to a penalty for aiming at the senior linebacker. JD Bertrand this not only leaves Notre Dame without a forced shift this season, but also suspends Bertrand for the first half in North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET; ABC).
Likewise, for all the success of the offensive line in the second half, enough to turn hopes of progress into tangible signs of progress, the Irish failed to hold onto the ball in the last minutes to deprive the Bears of the chance for that tied touchdown. Second-half stats may offer a more accurate description of the game’s progress if you don’t take into account the last shot – Estime’s three rushes for four yards before a deliberately tied penalty delay resulted in a punt hitting the end zone – but forgetting that that drive failure obscures the work Notre Dame still has to do to become the O-line and D-line driven program that Freeman demands.
In response, the defensive line put pressure on quarterback Cal. Jack Plummer, including the last bag of six in the game. But in reality, the Bears should never have regained possession of the ball.
“You’re starting to see some consistency in this group,” Freeman said of the offensive line. “[Fifth-year left guard Jarrett Patterson], this is his second game. These guys have been together for three games. They are getting better.
“They are improving. The fundamentals, the execution, the techniques they play with are improving. They have a long way to go.”
A long road ahead driving Notre Dame in 2022. In the second half of Saturday they drove enough.
Notre Dame knew that in North Carolina it would have to rely on runners. It wasn’t so much a reflection of the soft Tar Heels defense as it was a reflection of the Irish lineup, although that defense was certainly ripe for use.
with a sophomore Logan Diggs healthy after missing out on Notre Dame’s victory over Cal with illness, the Irish could change three guards throughout their 45–32 victory over North Carolina on Saturday.
And they did, every one of the Diggs, Jr. Chris Tyree and sophomore Audric Estimé, who received at least 13 touches. Their 49 combined hits on 83 genuine attack shots give a good indication of how much Notre Dame depended on them. Add to junior tight end Michael Mayernine targets for seven catches and 88 yards, and 70 percent of Irish snaps come from 76 percent of Notre Dame’s yards.
Irish head coach Marcus Freeman would have you believe Mayer’s lead frees those backs, and given that Notre Dame had one game for Mayer from the backfield, perhaps that’s as literal as it is figurative.
“Michael Mayer is making sure everyone is performing at the right level,” Freeman said Saturday night. “These guys have a standard and they will have to learn. It will be nice to see him lead.”
Freeman’s tone had already changed to a pragmatic, forward-looking one despite the aggressive outburst the Irish had just enjoyed. This is because Notre Dame’s already thin skill depth charts lost another piece last week when the junior tight end Kevin Bauman tore the cruciate ligament of the cruciate ligaments. Bauman has caught three passes for 44 yards this season, including a 22 at Ohio State and an 18 at Marshall.
“We knew we were going to have to be strategic about what kind of personnel we were going to use,” Freeman said.
In the future, this will mean more Estimé, Tyree and Diggs, as well as more Mayer.
junior defender Drew Pine can have…