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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Focused on Beating Exams & USC, Rotation at RB Becoming Clear

October 12, 2023
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Notre Dame is in the middle of a long stretch of football as the Irish will play its eighth game in a row on Saturday as No. 10 USC comes to South Bend. 

Is Notre Dame tired? Not according to tight end Michell Evans, who is averaging 93.3 yards receiving over the last three games. 

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” stated Evans. “None of us are more tired than normal. Today, I felt like it was week one. I felt good today body-wise and mentally.” 

It’s clear Notre Dame isn’t making excuses, but fatigue is something Marcus Freeman has to be aware of as the mental and physical demands are taxing, especially with his team taking midterms last week and this week. 

Freeman did acknowledge his team has its hands full but academics and practice, but he wants his team to embrace it as these weeks are what makes Notre Dame unique. 

”As I told them on Monday, every week at Notre Dame is challenging,” explained Freeman. “That’s what they do. I know they had midterms this week, but it goes back to preparation for your midterms and going doing a good job. 

“We won’t look to make any excuses. We embrace the challenge of the academic rigors of Notre Dame. It’s what makes this place so special. Our guys have done a great job. They have to prioritize getting rest and prioritize not wasting time. I think they’ve done a really good job.” 

And on the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame will have its hands full with USC’s offense as the Trojans enter the weekend as the nation’s top-scoring team. Al Golden knows it’s a challenging week, but Notre Dame doesn’t have time to feel sorry for itself. 

“We’re at Notre Dame,” said Golden. “There are going to be a lot of tough weeks. It’s a great challenge for us. That’s the way we look at it. As soon as we got up Sunday morning, you can’t hide from the fact the skill and talent of the quarterback, the running back room, the way they distribute the ball jumps off the screen. You have to get focused and get ready.” 

RUNNING BACK ROTATION

Notre Dame’s running back rotation has started to shrink over the last few weeks as freshman Jeremiyah Love has ascended into the No. 2 spot behind Audric Estime. Estime is still Notre Dame’s top dog as he’s carried the rock 105 times to Love’s 36 carries, but it’s clear both have found some separation. 

”I think you’ve seen an increase in Jeremiyah’s carries and production in the past few games,” said Freeman. “He’s continuously getting better. Audric is Audric. We have to continue to give him the ball and protect him and make sure we open up some run lanes for him.” 

That’s not to say Jadarian Price, Gi’Bran Payne and Devyn Ford won’t continue to have roles. 

Price seems to be the third running back, while Payne continues to be used in short-yardage situations and it seems like Deland McCullough is comfortable with how the rotation has shaken out through seven games. 

“We still feel comfortable with Jadarian (Price), Gi’Bran and even Devyn Ford coming in the game in their specific roles,” stated Freeman. “We know as the season goes on, as I said weeks ago, you can’t continuously play five guys equally. That’s what you’ve seen. Audric and Jeremiyah have taken probably the majority of the load with Jadarian being third.

“I think you’ll see a similar type of mindset as we go into this game. There are certain packages for certain guys, but we're going to continuously make sure Audric Estime and Jeremiyah Love have a chance to do some things with the ball in their hands as well as Jadarian Price.” 

And as it relates to Estime’s health, it certainly seems like he might not be 100 percent, but that’s expected halfway through the year. 

”Physically, he’s good,” Freeman explained. “I’m sure being in the position he’s in, he’s never 100 percent in the second half of games, but he’s had a great week of prep. The first thing Audric Estime asked on Sunday or Monday was how do I continuously help this team? He’s not the only one that said that. He’s a reflection of a lot of guys on this team who want to do whatever it takes to have success. I’m really proud of the preparation he’s had this week. I expect him to really have a big game on Saturday.” 

GUARDS ON GUARD? 
Notre Dame experimented with a guard rotation (and center rotation) last weekend. It didn’t draw rave reviews as it saw Billy Schrauth get thrown in at both guard spots. It didn’t do any favors to him, but it sent a message that competition is the expectation. 

Now, some of the rotation was due to Pat Coogan not practicing for a few days last week. Freeman expects Notre Dame to start its regular starters, but he didn’t rule out replacing someone if they don’t play to the standard against USC’s big front. 

“I feel like everybody has had a good week of preparation,” said Freeman. “We’ll go into the game planning to use the normal starting five. Again, play at times dictates putting guys in the game. If we don’t play to the standard our offense or anyone on our team should, then you have to be able to put guys in the game that you feel can do their job.

“I don’t ever want our guys playing with fear of being taken out of the game, but we also have to make sure our guys that are in the game are executing.” 

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