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Notre Dame Football

Speaking it into Existence: Notre Dame Answers Freeman’s Call for Downfield Shots

October 29, 2023

Coach Marcus Freeman was open during the week when asked what it would take for a struggling Notre Dame offense to find its footing against a quality Pitt defense.

“We have to continue to build confidence in taking shots, especially playing the defense we play this week,” Freeman said on Monday. “You’re going to have to take some shots and some play-action shots. We’re continuously looking at the things we do.”

On Saturday, quarterbacks Sam Hartman and Steve Angeli  — who played most of the fourth quarter — did just that in a 58-7 win over the Panthers by connecting on three out of five deep balls (passes that traveled 20+ yards) for 108 yards and a touchdown. 

“What I remember is the shots,” Freeman said. “We said we wanted to throw some balls down the field and make plays. We saw that.”

That’s far more efficient than the previous three games, where Hartman hit 4 out of 18 deep balls for 134 yards and two scores. 

On Saturday, the Irish secured eight receptions of 16 yards or more, including a trio of big pass plays that went for 42, 47 and 60 yards. 

Still, it wasn’t perfect. Hartman’s first deep ball of the game was picked off at the Pitt nine-yard line. Wide receiver Rico Flores, Jr. may have been held on the play, but the ball was still thrown behind its intended target. 

Either way, the pick ended Notre Dame’s promising opening drive but not the team’s willingness to take chances down the field. 

“One of the first ones was picked off,” Freeman said. “I remember telling Coach Parker and telling the offense, no matter what the result is on the last play, we're going to continue to be aggressive and take shots down the field. 

“That's what I loved to see out there. They continued to be aggressive and started making those plays down the field.”

Hartman connected on his next attempts, hitting wide receiver Chris Tyree in stride 47 yards downfield late in the first period.

Once Pitt had to respect the downfield pass game, the Irish began to find success running the ball. 

The Irish had six rushes for 1.3 yards per carry in the first quarter but finished with 155 yards on the ground against one of the nation’s better rush defenses. 

Overall, the Irish wide receiver room had one of its best games of the season.

Hartman and Angeli connected with six different Irish wide receivers for 12 receptions for 233 yards.

Wideout Targets Receptions Yards
Chris Tyree 3 3 62
Rico Flores, Jr. 3 2 72
Tobias Merriweather 2 2 50
Jayden Thomas 3 2 23
Jordan Faison 1 2 14
Braylon James 1 1 12

That’s the second most the position group has produced this season, trailing only their 14 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns against Central Michigan.

It was also 50 yards shy of their production from the prior three games combined. 

“There are a lot of people to give credit to,” Freeman said. “Start with coach (Chansi) Stuckey and the job he's done with that room. When you get an opportunity to make a play, and then you go do it. That's what to me that is a reflection of.  You get a lot of guys that get an opportunity to make a play, and they go and make a play. That's the competitive spirit we talk about, right? 

“You're going to compete as hard as you can in practice, but at the end of the day, when it matters the most in the game, you make the play.”

The biggest revelation was the play of Tobias Merriweather. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver’s long strides can take the top off the defense at any moment, but he’s struggled to come down with contested catches this season.

He proved that he’s still a capable game-wrecker when confident. He hauled in a 42-yard bomb from Hartman in the third quarter that set up one of Audric Estime’s three rushing touchdowns.

“Tobias had a huge play today,” Freeman said. “It's good to see Tobias really get it going today and some of those other guys. Again, it's a reflection of coaching and being able to make the play when your number is called.”

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