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Notre Dame Football

Coan: Notre Dame motivated to launch Freeman era with a win

December 28, 2021
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Marcus Freeman wants the focus on Notre Dame’s players, and those players likewise acknowledge there’s a great opportunity at hand for the Fighting Irish to silence some doubters.

“We just knew that we had talent,” said senior center Jarrett Patterson. “In spring ball, summer workouts, watching guys work. When you see that stuff out there saying this a rebuilding year, (Notre Dame) is not going to be as good, it puts a chip on your shoulder.

“I think guys embraced that.”

Nonetheless, Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan – trying to cap his lone season with the Irish as leader of a 12-win campaign – says that the Irish are motivated to play hard for the onset of the Freeman era – even if Notre Dame’s new 35-year-old head man wants no part of such motivations.

The No. 5 College Football Playoff-ranked Irish (11-1) face No. 9 CFP Oklahoma State (11-2)

“It was amazing, it was such a special moment for him, and I would say for us, too,” said Coan of Freeman’s introduction to the team as head coach. “You can see how much we loved him and were excited for him.

“We definitely want to start him off on the right note and get a win for him. Guys are going to play very hard for him.”

A motivation to play hard for Freeman, says Coan, stems in part because of the genuine approach Freeman has taken since he’s arrival at Notre Dame less than a year ago.  

“I’d say we’ve always had a good relationship,” Coan said. “He’s always around the facility, always around the guys. Talking to different guys, both offense and defense. Getting to know everyone, getting to know their stories.

“Obviously I haven’t been in (defensive) meetings with him, or anything like that, but it’s been a ton of fun to be in the team meetings with him now and really get to know him even more. But he’s just been a great guy and so authentic from Day 1. I’ve seen that from the very first day he stepped on campus, and everyone is really excited for him and his family. We’re excited to play for him.”

REES STANDS UP FOR IRISH OFFENSE

Much talk this week is centering on Oklahoma State’s vaunted defense, which leads the nation with 55 quarterbacks sacks.

The Irish, worth noting, enter the game having allowed 33 sacks – though an evolving and more settled offensive line faces the Cowboys having protected much more effectively the back-half of the season.

So while Tommy Rees is respectful of the Cowboys’ defense, Notre Dame’s second-year offensive coordinator likewise is not about to discount his group’s ability.

“We have learned who we are through that stretch,” Rees said of the Irish’s strong finishing sprint. “We felt like we have improved in a lot of spots. That's led to the success down the stretch. So it's a great challenge that we're excited for.

“It will definitely be something that gives us a little bit of a measuring stick for how far we have come, but we have a ton of belief in our guys. And we talk a lot about their defense and them being a great defense, which they are. But I tend to think we have great players on our side of the ball, too. So I'm excited to see the match-up. I'm excited to see the challenge that presents itself.”

BACKFIELD OPPORTUNITIES

The absence of Kyren Williams, after the heralded back’s declaration that he would forgo his final two seasons at Notre Dame and enter the NFL Draft, leaves an opportunity at hand for sophomore Chris Tyree, as well as freshmen Logan Diggs and Audric Estime.

“There's a maturity and patience to his game,” Rees said of Diggs. “His ability to see things, react, keep things vertical on the front side when he needs to, not afraid to find the backside cut for a home run. We saw that early in camp. And so we saw week to week, his preparation leading him to an opportunity to play. We're excited for (Diggs) and Chris to get this opportunity to go play an extended number of snaps.

“Then the same thing for Audric Estime. He's going to have an opportunity to make an impact. You saw him play well in some limited snaps down the stretch here. And we want to see that moving forward with the first group and going against the first defense.”

Coan recalls Diggs shining from the outset in August as the Irish were opening preseason camp.

“I’d say from Day 1, he’s had a big swagger and confidence to him that was noticeable,” Coan said of Diggs. “Day 1 of fall we camp saw how talented he was. As it was going on, we saw how smart he was, making plays, picking up protections. … We were super-excited when he got an opportunity to touch the ball and knew he was going to have success from Day 1.”

 
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