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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

February 24, 2022

Whenever a new coach is hired at Notre Dame, there is hype involved. Even if the hire might be questionable to some fans, there’s always hope and optimism that outweighs everything else. How people reacted to Marcus Freeman being promoted was no different when it came to the excitement surrounding the program.

It was only enhanced when Notre Dame’s video team added their stamp to it. That helped people who normally could care less about Notre Dame suddenly to take notice.

I wouldn’t dare to put Al Golden in the “could care less” box, but he certainly had other things on his mind during a successful NFL season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Him being intrigued by Freeman’s opening press conference and the substance of what was said during it seemed to be the spark for Golden to consider coming back to the college game.

“I listened to his press conference and I said that would be a place that would get me back. Just what Notre Dame represents, from a community standpoint, from a character standpoint, from an educational standpoint, it just meant so much to me. It's always been about the four C's, classroom, community, on the field of competition and then what you do in the complex. Those four C's make up who we are. I was like listening to Marcus and I told my wife Kelly, I said, I don't really have to change to be a partner with that guy right there. I was really impressed."

This quote from Golden and just about everything the new members of the coaching said all seemed to make sense as to why they came to Notre Dame. No doubt that anyone who takes a job coaching with the program can understand what Lou Holtz meant when he said, “Those who know Notre Dame, no explanation is necessary. Those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.” But that is almost a given with anyone who ends up coaching at Notre Dame. The part that was more unique was just about all of the coaches expressing that they had a belief in Freeman or shared his values.

That to me makes this feel a bit different than the hype that other new coaches have brought with them to Notre Dame. Sure, the goal is to improve on what the Irish have done in recent years in every aspect, but every new staff has that goal. The idea is to do that and still continue to do the things that made the Irish successful the last five years while maintaining the culture that was talked about so much when making the decision to hire Freeman. The best way to accomplish that is to bring in like-minded individuals on the coaching staff rather than disrupt things too much.

I couldn’t help but be more optimistic about the direction of Notre Dame’s program after listening to the staff speak to the media for the first time last week. That combined with the start to the 2023 recruiting class and retention of Matt Balis to continue to do what he has done so well has me looking forward to this season more so than any I can remember for a long time.

2. Another thing that happens with every new coach is the idea of getting more former players connected to the program. Obviously if it happened like every coach said it was going to, the new guys wouldn’t have to bring that up again.

Freeman is no different. Of course he would want more former players around the program because there are so many who can sell the “4 for 40” mantra because they are currently living it.

I hope we see more and more former players around at the Blue-Gold game and home games this season. No one else can sell what Notre Dame can do for someone better than them.

3. I loved everything about what special teams coordinator Brian Mason was saying last week. His approach is something that I think has been missing from Notre Dame’s special teams where things seemed to be more about not screwing up rather than changing a game in a positive way.

Outside of Chris Tyree’s kick return against Wisconsin and Isaiah Foskey’s blocked punt against Stanford in 2019, I can’t think of many plays where a special teams play flipped a game for the Irish in recent seasons. From everything Mason said last week, he doesn’t want those kinds of plays to continue to be rare occurrences.

Mason said he wants to be creative and aggressive. If you’ve been wondering about Freeman’s overall approach to decision-making as a head coach, the choice to hire Mason would indicate that Freeman will lean towards aggression.

4. I think most people my age will tell you that the best thing about this year’s Super Bowl was the halftime show. I can’t disagree with that one bit.

However, the second best thing was watching the Los Angeles Rams pass rush and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris setting up more fronts that allowed Aaron Donald to not be double teamed.

This sack is a great example of that where having five across the front set Donald up to be one on one with guard and he put that dude on skates.

I’m not comparing Isaiah Foskey to Donald, but as Notre Dame’s best pass rusher and someone more teams were doubling later in the season, it did make me think of ways Golden can be creative in getting Foskey into one on one pass rush situations as much as possible.

We may see more of him rushing inside this year. That could be more of an option not only because of the depth at defensive end, but because Marist Liufau has the ability to rush off the edge as well.

5. I mentioned this on Hit & Hustle last night, but wanted to re-up that with Notre Dame’s lack of depth at receiver and what should be a pretty talented backfield, I would love to see Tommy Rees borrow some concepts from Coastal Carolina’s offense.

For those that don’t know, they run a ton of 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) and the stress their option game puts on the defense is incredible to watch. The variations they have on each play makes it maybe the most fun offense in college football.

One would think with two backs playing so much that the running game would dominate, but they finished first in EPA per pass last season and led the country in passing efficiency and were third in yards per attempt.

This RPO out of 11 personnel shows just how difficult it can be to defend against the pass.

Overall the offense was second in EPA per play and ninth in F+.

I see a lot of components that could work really well with Tyler Buchner at quarterback with the RPO game and that’s an area where priority quarterback recruit Dante Moore‍ could thrive as well.

6. I know a lot of Notre Dame fans are on pins and needles hoping that Moore or Christopher Vizzina‍ end up Irish. And as much as they could end up being just fine at quarterback without either of them, not all top recruits turn out to be top quarterbacks in college, the perception of landing a highly ranked recruit matters.

Maybe it doesn’t matter as much three years from now, but when it comes to recruiting receivers in that same cycle, it matters a lot.

Receivers want to play with great quarterbacks. That’s not breaking news. They want to know they are going to have a quarterback throwing to them that they can count on. As good as these top receivers might feel about what Notre Dame is saying about Buchner and what he can do, they haven’t seen it yet from him or Drew Pyne. Without the evidence with those two, they have to sell hope and hope is a lot easier to sell with an elite quarterback recruit in the class.

Quarterback recruiting is always important, but it’s especially important for this class with the need for not just quality at receiver, but quantity. It will be easier to obtain both if they get one of their top quarterback targets.

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