No. 14 Notre Dame sent its players on their own for much of its idle week, practicing through last Wednesday before giving the roster the weekend off. The Irish coaches had some of the same luxury, spending the first half of the weekend recruiting and the second half largely off, most notably watching their children play flag football.
But early last week, they took a look at Notre Dame’s own tape, and one thought stands counter to what the Irish (6-2) put together in the last month.
“We have to continue to build confidence in taking shots (downfield),” head coach Marcus Freeman said Monday. “Especially playing the defense we play this week.
“You’re going to have to take some shots and some play-action shots. We’re continuously looking at the things we do.”
Notre Dame has managed three pass plays of 30 yards or more in its last four games. Just nine of 121 pass plays in the last four games have yielded explosive results, 7.4 percent.
Some of that tied to the quality of opponents — Ohio State, Duke and Louisville with defenses ranked No. 5, 18 and 26, respectively, by SP+ measurements — some of it was the nature of the defensive blowout of USC, and some can be ascribed to the injuries continuing to bother Irish receivers Jayden Thomas and Jaden Greathouse, both slowed by hamstring worries.
Note the word choice: continuing.
“They’re going to be as close to 100 percent as they’ve been all year,” Freeman said. “... Both of those guys will be as close to full-go as you’ll see all year. That’s a week-to-week basis.”
Freeman said Thomas actually regressed from Louisville to USC, while Greathouse’s recovery has been a bit more linear.
With them slowed — not to mention junior Deion Colzie recovering from a knee scope and sixth-year former walk-on Matt Salerno out for at least the regular season — Notre Dame has had three healthy scholarship receivers at its disposal, plus freshman Jordan Faison, now on a football scholarship after playing at Louisville required his lacrosse scholarship be flipped to football.
Among them, sophomore Tobias Merriweather has managed just two catches for 23 yards in the last four games, arguably the best Irish deep threat rendered an afterthought.
“We talked about this today in our meeting,” Freeman said. “We have to try and find ways to get him the ball and take some shots down the field with Tobias’s body, length and speed. We have to try and continuously find ways to truly take shots and not look for the wide-open perfect play.
“That’s what at times we can end up doing. We have to take shots and believe he’ll make a play on a 50-50 ball. We have full faith that he will.”
That remains to be seen, but until it is, Notre Dame’s offense will continue to sputter unless set up with excellent field position by the Irish defense.
- "Helluva day X"
- Sam Hartman is *clearly* having fun. "This is mission control. We got him."
- That's at least the third time this season Notre Dame has called the turnover it would force. (the second int) https://t.co/PxupdYNqjt
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 18, 2023
FREEMAN’S IDLE WEEK
Marcus Freeman and his staff are as much football fans as the rest of us. Many of their kids play on the same flag football team, one coached by Tim O’Malley of Irish Illustrated. Freeman and O’Malley have bantered a few times this season about O’Malley’s coaching, all very much in good fun as it is a second-grade team. It apparently won Sunday’s championship game, but that did not leave Freeman without a few gripes about the coaching.
Here's Marcus Freeman turning the tables on Irish Illustrated's @timomalleyND during Monday's press conference. O'Malley coaches Freeman's son's flag football team and Freeman had a couple hard hitting questions on some coaching decisions/mishaps. pic.twitter.com/jIKtJkuQKQ
— ND Football Discord (@NDF_Discord) October 23, 2023
One can wonder how quickly Freeman hatched that comic bit after seeing his son’s touchdown run waved off due to a flag infraction, how quickly a father’s frustration gave way to the coach’s opportunity. One can wonder that because the coach’s mind struggles to turn off.
Freeman struggled to watch games over the weekend, certainly not Pittsburgh’s lost chance at Wake Forest or even Clemson’s loss to Miami.
“I don’t want to watch a team we’re going to play, because then you feel like you’re working,” he said. “... I do enjoy the chance to sit down with my kids and watch football like a normal father and be able to look at other coaches and teams stress.”
On the couch, Freeman was able to find some of the fan viewing experience, watching less for scheme and more for fun.
“You kind of watch the ball,” he said. “When you’re a fan, you watch the ball. When you’re game planning, you watch specifics. Offense, defense, what are you trying to do? When I’m with my kids, I just try to watch the ball and watch the game.”
A FIFTH APPEARANCE?
When pondering which players have already played in four games this season, meaning one more appearance will use a year of eligibility, only two names stand out: freshman linebacker Jaiden Ausberry and Colzie. Any others in that situation have preserved a season previously, so there is nothing to be gained by managing their Saturdays now.
“We’re now going onto week nine, so guys who want to redshirt, that chance is probably over in terms of playing more than four games,” Freeman said. “We have to have those conversations every week. It’s so important that our kids understand exactly what we’re thinking.”
But, logically speaking, Colzie coming back for a game or two in November would not be worth costing him an entire season down the line.
In a few weeks, there may be a wonder about Faison, having played in two games to this point.
Will readily admit I'm surprised to see Notre Dame pushed back out to a 19.5-point favorite this week against Pitt.
Maybe Jayden Thomas and Jaden Greathouse are actually healthy?
I mean, Pittsburgh is bad, worse than many realize, but nearing three TDs feels like too much.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 23, 2023
INSIDE THE IRISH
— Notre Dame 48, USC 20: How thoroughly the Irish dominated the Trojans went far beyond turnovers
— Things We Learned: Notre Dame rout of USC underscores Marcus Freeman’s push forward, often a rarity
— Notre Dame’s 2023 Opponents: Pittsburgh, Wake Forest offenses struggling; Dabo Swinney scolds Clemson fans
— Sources: Michigan football staffer center of scouting scheme
— Sources: Michigan staffer had tickets at 11 Big Ten schools
— Air Force’s Four-Year Win Streak over Notre Dame
— Week 8 recap: What ugly wins by Ohio State, Oklahoma, Washington mean
This is hilarious.
"We don't do bets in this facility. We made an agreement, and it was outside the facility." https://t.co/YMlnfRoI0g
— Bennett Conlin (@BennettConlin) October 19, 2023