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Notre Dame Football

Positives from the Last 72 Hours and Building Drew Pyne's Confidence

October 18, 2022

It’s been a long 72 hours for the Notre Dame program following Saturday’s loss to Stanford, but Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman delivered a little positive news on Monday afternoon. 

Notre Dame expects to get some key bodies back on defense this week and it starts with nickel TaRiq Bracy, who missed the Stanford game with a hamstring injury, but he practiced on Sunday. 

Safety Ramon Henderson recorded three tackles in the loss, but he left the game at one point as he deals with an ankle. Henderson returned to the game and he also practiced on Sunday afternoon. 

The two questions come with fifth-year senior defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola and backup cornerback Jaden Mickey. 

"Jayson was out (Sunday),” Freeman stated. “He has a rib contusion. It's just going to take a day, two days to get it to where he's breathing better. No structural or bone damage. Just a pretty good rib contusion that happened early in the game." 

When it comes to Mickey, it’s also a wait and see approach heading into this weekend and possibly beyond. 

"He had an abductor strain,” Freeman said. “He was injured. Jaden did not practice (Sunday). He's still day-to-day in terms of where he's going to be for Saturday.” 

Notre Dame will get back on the practice field on Tuesday and building up the confidence of quarterback Drew Pyne will be important over the next three practices. Pyne, who almost always carries himself with a swagger, lost some confidence in the first half on Saturday night and never recovered. 

"He was good Sunday,” explained Freeman. “He was disappointed in the performance on Saturday. The thing about Drew is he feels like he let us down, he let the coaches down, he let his team down.

“We all let each other down. We all have to perform better. We have to put him in positions to perform better. Sometimes I take his confidence for granted. Anybody in that position, when you're not having early success, I'm sure your confidence can be shaken. He doesn't show it too often, but I know his confidence was shaken a little bit.” 

A confident quarterback means everything and that’s the challenge Freeman has set out for himself and his staff this week. 

“In turn, what do we have to do as coaches,” stated Freeman. “We have to put him in position to have confidence. We've got to be able to get him some easy throws, be able to run the ball effectively, so that his confidence can take back over. That's where we got to help Drew Pyne out."

As Freeman mentioned, Notre Dame establishing an early run game will help Pyne, but also the entire offense. The Irish offense recorded just 47 rushing yards in the first half against Stanford and that includes four rushing yards in the second quarter.

"If you're able to run the ball with success, your offense is moving, then you're able to build that confidence,” said Freeman. “You really look at the Cal game and what happened from the first half to the second half, was the ability to run the ball, which really helps your confidence. You even look at the North Carolina game some of those big runs helped Drew really establish that confidence that he hits and threw some unbelievable balls. The same thing with BYU.” 

Pyne also needs to hit the easy throws when given the chance. The junior quarterback got the ball out late when taking deep shots to Lorenzo Styles and he missed Braden Lenzy on perhaps one of the easiest throws of the year. 

It was a tough miss as it would have given Notre Dame early momentum and it was perhaps tougher for Freeman to watch after the game. 

"We saw it,” Freeman said of the missed throw to Lenzy. “It was pretty wide open. I think Drew wants that one back too. We didn't hit it. That same drive, you get Michael Mayer for a touchdown and we get called for a penalty because we're not aligned correctly.

“When I'm watching the game Saturday night, Sunday morning by myself, sometimes I don't have anybody to give answers to. I got a lot of questions, but I'm going to leave those guys alone and let them go to bed and I'll get with them in the morning. I felt better because one, I had the answers, but the other part of feeling better is, okay, why didn't we do it? What do we got to do to do it? That takes practice. That takes game planning and going out there and doing it.” 

Execution has been a popular word over the last six weeks, but it’s what hasn’t happened at key moments for the 2022 Irish. The missed throw to Lenzy was a prime example of that. 

“We had a chance to hit Braden Lenzy on the corner post one-on-one and he's open and we don't hit him,” Freeman explained. “That is what we got to execute. I can't throw that ball. Drew Pyne can and we know he can, so we got to make sure we're running that route or doing it more.

“I can't just sit here and say, he's got to make that throw. How do we help him make that throw? We gotta throw it more in practice. There's got to be a way to get the results you want without just saying this is what I want and that's what us as coaches have to figure out. Instead of just saying, this is what he should do, let's figure out a way to make sure he does.” 

And while it’s easy to look at the misses on Saturday, Notre Dame also saw a few players continue to show growth on both sides of the ball. 

Defensive end Nana Osafo-Mensah recorded three tackles and one for loss, but made several key plays that didn’t go on the stat sheet. Freeman is pleased with his growth and wants to see the Texas native on the field more. 

"Nana has really shown up,” Freeman said. “I think that's the most amount of plays he's ever played. It's the most production he's had too. He's done a really good job developing in practice. That's the one thing I said to Coach Washington Sunday when we were watching film - how many plays did Nana play? He needs to play more. He's doing a heck of a job when he's in there and continuously finding ways to improve. It's been really good to see."  

Sophomore running back Logan Diggs has turned a corner and has looked more like the player who surprised many as a freshman last fall. 

Diggs has carried the rock 36 times for 200 yards (5.5 ypc) over the last three games, but it's his attitude that has impressed his head coach the most.

"Logan's so talented,” stated Freeman. “He's just a guy we've really over the past couple of months coming off the shoulder surgery, not playing much early in the season to where he's at now - he's really stepped up the challenge in the way he practices, the way he approaches game days. What we see on Saturday is a reflection of that. 

"The thing I love about Logan is his attitude, team-first mentality and not counting how many carries or plays he's getting, but making the plays count. It's really, really good to see." 

Safety Xavier Watts also showed more signs of his development since making the move to defense a year ago. The junior recorded seven tackles and stepped up as Notre Dame moved a few players around the secondary to combat the injuries to Bracy and Mickey. 

"He got a greater opportunity on Saturday because you took Ramon to nickel in place of TaRiq and Jaden Mickey,” said Freeman. "He did a good job with his opportunity. As long as X continues to grow - talent is one thing, but the skills to do exactly what is necessary for the position is another thing. He's still developing that talent he has to be an elite safety. I think he has all the ability in the world to do that." 

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