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Notre Dame Football

Instant Reaction | Oklahoma State 37 Notre Dame 35

January 1, 2022

The start couldn’t have been better for Notre Dame. 28 points against a defense that had only given up that much once all season. Five drives of five plays or less on Oklahoma State’s on the first seven drives on defense.

It looked like a storybook game one for Marcus Freeman was in the cards. Unfortunately as the game went on the coming of age story turned into a horror.

The Cowboys scored 30 consecutive points and climbed out of a 21-point hole to win a game that will be remembered as a collapse by the Irish. They killed Notre Dame’s defense with tempo and left the players gassed. The pass rush died down because of it and when the Irish needed someone to make a play, they couldn’t find anyone to come up with one until it was too late.

When the defense needed the offense to put together a drive to give them some rest, they couldn’t manage to produce first downs with four of the first five second half possessions taking up less than one minute of time on the clock. Throw in a poor performances by the kicking game and it was all a recipe for losing a game they should have won.

It’s a tough way to end the season and certainly not the way Freeman would have wanted his tenure to get started.

- When a game goes like this, there’s going to be a lot of finger pointing at individual players and coaches. On the defensive side of the ball, it didn’t end up as a great audition for Mike Elston to be the next defensive coordinator.

The numbers say it out loud without having to get into detail, but how things were going might have shown not only the inexperience of the head coach, but the guy running the defense.

It’s not just that they couldn’t get off the field, they never found a response when they needed it and they could have used some timely pressure calls to bail out the players in certain circumstances.

If everyone is being honest, things look much better for him if JD Bertrand and DJ Brown don’t miss some tackles in critical situations or if Clarence Lewis can find a way to win on at least one of those contested catches against Tay Martin. But the defense as a whole didn’t have answers for Spencer Sanders running and struggled when they spread Notre Dame out with 10 personnel (one back, no tight ends).

The decision to not play nickel at the end of the half is going to be one that should be looked at after all of this. Jack Kiser had to run with a slot down the field and that’s a matchup that should have been a corner rather than him.  It was the big play that led to a quick score.

- I know those three players in particular will be the focus of many when it comes to the defensive struggles, but so much of this game comes down to Notre Dame’s lack of depth at linebacker and defensive back hurting them. Those players were gassed.

It’s not just that they missed a Marist Liufau or a Kyle Hamilton as guys who could come up and dig the defense out of a hole with a big play, but simply forcing those guys to play so much without a chance to regroup shows how the depth needs to be better. There can be no doubt that Freeman understands that with the way they are recruiting. 

- Speaking of making a play to dig them out of a hole, what a phenomenal strip by Isaiah Foskey to give the offense one last chance to win the game. If this was his last game in blue and gold, he proved once again why he’s a great player today.

- Sanders threw the ball 51 times and yes, he threw the ball away quite a bit and his accuracy was not very good. Still, 51 passes and zero pass breakups for the Irish? Oof.

- I understand why they didn’t insert Tyler Buchner later in the game when they needed a kick start on offense. With the way things were going, they’d be putting him in a position to fail and that wouldn’t be fair to him or the team.

I also understand why they didn’t give him a series in the first half when Notre Dame was doing things to Oklahoma State’s offense that no one had done all season. I think the way this game played out showed why getting him involved in some way during a series would have made him an option at some point in the second half though.

They needed a spark, but it wasn’t really a situation where they could go to him for one given that he would be coming in ice cold.

- It looked like Oklahoma State played a lot more two high in the second half and were inviting Notre Dame to run. The problem is that Notre Dame couldn’t run even when they had some favorable numbers.

The game plan to come out like they did was a great one from Tommy Rees and staff. The problem was that they couldn’t take advantage when OSU adjusted.

- I couldn’t have been more impressed with the way Blake Fisher handled coming in after not playing since September and playing a full game. I thought he played well and considering the circumstances, a lot better than that.

The combination of him and Alt together should be comforting for Notre Dame fans for next season and beyond.

- Getting Lorenzo Styles Jr. matched up on safety for that opening touchdown and getting him that many touches in general was exciting to see. In case you had any thoughts that Styles might not be a star, you can proceed to throw that notion out the window.

I expect this to be the first of many 100-yard games for him during his career.

- That one Jack Coan interception will probably haunt him for a while, but he made some throws in this game that as good as any he made this season. That ball to Michael Mayer on the second touchdown was the only place he could put it to have that end up like it did. The catch was just as spectacular.

- The lack of depth at receiver was a big factor in this game. How everything played out exposed that for Notre Dame just like the injuries at linebacker and lack of players emerging in the secondary exposed those shortcomings as well. It all came to a head.

The good news is there won’t be any confusion about the roster areas that have to be addressed. It’s not that Freeman the staff didn’t know it before, but now those positions will have the microscope on them even further after the Fiesta Bowl.

Everyone would prefer to learn lessons after a win rather than a loss, but there is a lot that can be taken from this game for Freeman in terms of how he approaches things going forward.

Maybe he reflects on some game management decisions such as not taking a timeout to give his defense a rest in the second half or not being aggressive to get points at the end of the first half. I’m sure he learned a lot about the current staff and how things have to be different including if he needs to get more involved on game day with the defense or not.

There’s going to be a lot of change in the next week or so with the staff and the program. New hires will be made, new offers will go out, and the next steps are going to be taken to evolve what they’re doing to try and avoid a result like this from happening again. It would have been nice if Freeman won this game, but it’s far more important that he takes what he learns from it so the program can be better for it.

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