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Notre Dame Football

Nerves routine for Freeman, who eyes winning senior send-off

December 31, 2021
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The nerves are going to be there for Marcus Freeman.

Notre Dame’s new head coach readily admits as much on the eve of his collegiate head coaching debut and of the return of the No. 5 College Football Playoff Fighting Irish (11-1) to the New Year’s Day Fiesta Bowl opposite No.  9 CFP Oklahoma State (11-2).

But as Freeman prepares for his first-ever game as a collegiate head coach, atop the sport’s most chronicled program, no less, he wants to make sure there’s one thing clear about those nerves: that isn’t anything new for the 35-year-old Freeman.

“I'm usually nervous before every game, because you can't go out there and do it anymore,” Freeman said Friday via Zoom in the joint coaches press conference. “So you live through these young people. And I'm most excited for them to be able to go out there and compete and play against a really good Oklahoma State team.

“So we'll get to tomorrow when it presents itself. I'll figure out what I'll say to this group of guys here tomorrow. But there's really nothing else needs to be said. We practiced. We're prepared. Now they want to go play.”

Both Freeman and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said their teams are relatively unscathed from a COVID-19 standpoint; the Irish aren’t expected to miss any players from their depth chart against the Cowboys, and Gundy said his team has only a couple of players out with the virus.

“With the COVID question, we have everybody available for the game,” Freeman said. “So what we did is we made sure they understood how important it is to make good decisions as you left campus, and as you come down to Arizona. We have to make smart decisions. We have to know where we're at and understand that, ‘hey, whatever it's going to take to make sure we have everybody healthy and available to play this game, then let's do it.’ So they've done an excellent job, and everybody will be available for Saturday.”

Freeman’s maintaining his central focus on this game, an element in which he’s been unwavering since assuming the Irish mantle four weeks ago.

“As far as just focusing on the seniors and finishing the season the right way, everything else comes second,” said Freeman, who repeatedly has stressed his desire to see this group of Irish seniors cap their journeys as Fiesta Bowl champions. “The staff, the future staff comes second. The transfer portal comes second.

“Right now, it's about preparing this group to finish as champions. And that's our mindset, and that's everything that we do, is let's finish this season off the right way. And we'll handle those other situations after the bowl game.”

HART OF THE MATTER

Notre Dame junior cornerback Cam Hart was a bit dinged up earlier this week at practice, limited in what the 6-foot-2.5-inch, 205-pounder could do in early-week preparations.

But Freeman on Friday emphasized Hart was full-go and in position to start against the Cowboys.

“Cam Hart will be ready to go,” Freeman said. “He got a thigh bruise, I think it was, Monday in practice when we got down here. A knee hit him in the thigh and he was out for a day.

“He was practicing (Thursday), and he'll be ready to go. We look forward for him being 100% on Saturday.”

POKES PLAY-CALLERS

Like Notre Dame, Oklahoma State enters this game with someone new calling the defensive plays.

While the Irish’s defensive coordinator has ascended to the head coach’s chair, Oklahoma State is replacing highly regarded defensive play-caller Jim Knowles, who departed the Cowboys to run Ryan Day’s defense at Ohio State.

So, how is Gundy planning to handle the Cowboys’ defensive instructions? With a perhaps-unprecedented three-man approach.

“Well, we'll have a couple guys calling plays for us,” Gundy said. “We'll do it on first-and-10 and then third downs, passing situations. After watching it for the last three weeks, we've had a number of guys in the room that I was comfortable with. So, we're going to use a couple of guys at different times in the games based on the situations.

“You have Dan Hammerschmidt, you have Tim Duffie, and you have Joe Bob Clements. Those guys will be able to mix up the play-calling based on the situation.”

Worth noting all three of those Cowboys assistants have longevity on Gundy’s staff; they have a combined 25 seasons together at Oklahoma State.

 
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