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Notre Dame Football

Marcus Freeman Growing On National Stage, WR Room Depth To Be Tested

September 25, 2023

Marcus Freeman has passed most tests with flying colors as he is in his second season as head coach at Notre Dame. 

It’s been far from perfect and Freeman’s inexperience or mistakes are highlighted as Notre Dame is on national TV every weekend.

And not to throw Lance Taylor under the bus, but if he makes a mistake at Western Michigan, no one hears about it. If Freeman yells at a player or spits on the ground the wrong way, well, someone is going to be unhappy about it. 

Saturday evening served as another reminder Freeman is growing into his role in front of our eyes. The official stats have Notre Dame and Ohio State running 129 plays. For 127, it was a regular game of ups and downs. 

Sure, Notre Dame let TreVeyon Henderson get loose. Notre Dame failed to convert drives. Yet, that’s normal in a big game against a top 10 opponent. In fact, it doesn’t take a football savant to see both teams played a high level of football inside Notre Dame Stadium. 

That said, the game was decided on the final two plays where Notre Dame had 10 players on the field, which simply can’t happen in any game, much less a game against Ohio State. 

It’s a tough learning moment, but one Freeman will be better for despite the outcome. 

”We talked about it as a staff, but you don’t want to plan for having 10 guys on the field, right,” stated Freeman. “It’s just a unique situation where by that time you can’t get somebody into the game because the ball is on the one-yard line on the far hash. If that happens when the ball is at the 25-yard line, you just get somebody on the field and you should be fine. 

“We talked about having a signal to jump offsides. That’s something we usually go over on Friday.” 

Freeman also owned it. 

The head coach doesn’t control substitutions. Sure, Freeman can give his input, over the course of the game, but that falls on others in the program to carry out on a play-to-play basis. Freeman had no problems falling on the sword and vowed to fix those issues.

”There’s a whole bunch of systems in place to make sure that doesn’t happen, but ultimately, it falls on me,” explained Freeman. “That’s the reality. I’m not going to get up here and say this person should have done that. Ultimately, I have to do a better job as the head coach to make sure those systems we have in place are executing. 

“We as a coaching staff should be held to the exact same standards we tell our players. We tell our players often, you hear me say, ‘fight the drift.’ You can’t get caught watching the game. Everyone has a job to do on this play. Coaches have to win the interval, too. We all have to own that and make sure that never happens again.” 

Notre Dame will be without junior Deion Colzie this weekend as he will have his knee scoped. Colzie is also expected to miss a ‘couple of weeks’ as he recovers from the scope. Now, it’s not necessarily a massive loss, but combined with Jayden Thomas having a hamstring strain and Matt Salerno suffering a major leg injury, Chansi Stuckey’s room is becoming thin. 

The Irish will likely promote Braylon James to varsity this week, which would make three true freshmen having some type of role as he would join Rico Flores Jr. and Jaden Greathouse. It’s far from ideal, but the silver lining is Flores and Greathouse have produced from game one. 

On Saturday, it was Flores’ turn to shine as he scored a late touchdown to give Notre Dame the lead. It was the first score of his career and it was under the brightest of lights. 

Freeman had a conversation with his freshman receiver on Sunday and it centered around maintaining focus and not doing too much. 

”He continues to improve,” Freeman said of Flores. “Both of those guys, Jaden Greathouse. I know Rico played a little bit more, but they continue to improve. It’s so good to see them get some of the rewards.

“As I told Rico yesterday when I talked to him, I don’t want the loss to overshadow the improvements you’ve made. Just continue to do what you’re doing and do it better. We don’t need you to become superman and not take care of your class work and the things you’re doing every day, but just continue to improve in practice and he’ll get those rewards in a game like he did on Saturday.” 

Running back Jeremiyah Love has also started to come into his own. Love recorded 57 rushing yards on eight carries against the Buckeyes and it’s become clear the St. Louis native is going to have a significant role moving forward. 

”Jaden Greathouse, Rico and Jeremiyah - I think I’ve said this before, but it’s a credit to our recruiting staff and the evaluation by our coaches of high school talent,” Freeman stated. “Two of those guys came in early from really good high school programs. One came in the summer. That misconception that you gotta come in the winter to play early is wrong. Those three guys were well prepared when they got to Notre Dame and have done a great job.” 

Under Freeman, it’s become evident he and his staff have no reservations about playing freshmen if they are ready. And yes, ready is the keyword there. 

Several freshmen have cracked the two deep, but few played against Ohio State as Notre Dame shortened its rotations, which isn’t a huge surprise as most teams do in big games. 

”I think it’s important to just understand if you can help us win games, you’re going to play,” Freeman said. “We’re going to play guys that we can count on to do exactly what you want them to do. Freshman, senior, it doesn’t matter. That should tell recruits, if I’m good enough to play as a freshman, then I’m going to play.” 

It’s what recruits want to hear, but Freeman also made it clear that not every freshman is ready to play despite what high school rankings or folks outside The Gug may say. 

“The other thing that happens is sometimes I’m a freshman and I’m not ready to play,” explained Freeman. “I look at that freshman and he’s playing. You have to understand every journey is different. Just because that freshman is playing and you’re not playing as a freshman that doesn’t mean he’s better than you or Coach doesn’t like you.

“You have to trust your journey. It’s really hard when you’re looking around at other people’s journey or someone is in your ear saying that’s what you should be doing or getting.” 

Freeman and his staff have those tough conversations with players and he also encourages his players to ask their position coaches what they can do to get on the field or why they aren’t playing. 

“We have to constantly remind our players that you have to trust that this is your journey and figure out how to improve on this journey and not be content with it,” said Freeman. “I don’t want you to be content with it, but go see your coaches and have that constant communication of where am I at on this road, how do I continue to improve and this feedback has to be consistent. It can’t be a one-time conversation with your coach.

“I think it’s really important they understand if you’re good enough, if you’re ready to help us play and win games, you’re going to play.” 

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