Notre Dame football started the 2022 calendar year by getting a commitment from safety Peyton Bowen in the 2023 class. A few hours later the Irish jumped to a 28-7 first-half lead on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.
We all remember how that game ended. And mega-recruit Peyton Bowen’s recruitment, which wound up with him signing with Oklahoma, will not soon be forgotten by anyone.
It’s safe to say now 363 days later that Marcus Freeman has experienced quite a bit leading the Irish as their head coach in one year. Huge ups and massive lows were just some of the stories of 2022.
After Notre Dame’s incredibly entertaining 45-38 victory over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl, Freeman met the media to recap the game and season. Here are some of the key things he had to say.
Great Feeling a Bowl Victory Brings
“What a great feeling. As I told these guys in locker room, the opportunity to finish as a champion, there is no greater feeling. And I’m so proud of the way they continued to battle today, which is a great representation of what they’ve done all season long.
“I know I’ve said this before, but when we’re on that bumpy road and they continue to trust the coaches, to trust their leaders. And this is a great way to finish off this 2022 season. I told them … this is what real life’s about, their ability to respond to some of those situations that happened to you.”
Recruiting boost to win in Florida?
“Yeah, for us, listen, the best recruiting we can do is to go out there and play well and win. And we’ll find the right guys no matter where they’re at, because this university attracts the right people. And that can be in Florida, that can be East Coast, West Coast, it can be a kid in Germany.
“And so, we recruit, obviously, nationally. But for these guys go out there and play the game the right way, and to beat a really good South Carolina team, that’s the best recruiting we can do.”
On the late pick-six play call
“We were looking for a specific look. We thought we had it. We didn’t have exactly what we were looking for. And the guy made a great play. Obviously, at that moment, we were running the ball really well. Again, ultimately we probably honestly shouldn’t have threw it, shouldn’t have called it.
“But the greatest thing about it was to be able to, again, use that situation as another example for the future, the ability of that offense to have that happen, look at him on the sideline and say, ‘In about five minutes or two minutes, you’re going to go right back out there and you’re going to march down the field and score.’
“That’s what it’s all about.”
Role reversal compared to Fiesta Bowl last season
“Yeah. I remember saying this before after the Clemson game, it’s never how you foresee it on the front end. Right? And all the days you can sit here before this game and daydream about how you think this game will go, it wasn’t like that. But the ending was, right? And that’s what we’ll remember. But again, to send these guys off the right of way, no matter how we could achieve it, that’s what matters. And so, I’m happy we got it done.”
Tyler Buchner's Big Game
“He’s special, man. And I told him on the sideline and told him after the game that there’s many different examples we use him, [autotag]Tyler Buchner[/autotag] as an example of a guy that had a bumpy road. And the way he finished this season, his first year in having a chance to start, you know, and the ability to just really tune out all the noise and focus on his job. And that’s within bowl practice, within a season, that’s within a game. That’s why I’m proud of him.”
Did he realize right after how great of a game it was?
“Now it does because we won. (Laughs). You expected to play a tough game because you knew that opponent was really good and that quarterback is special. And we knew that coming in. And you know what? Take your hats off to them; it’s a well-coached program. It was the first time I got the chance to meet Shane Beamer. He’s first class. And he runs a really good program.”
On the successful fake punt
“We ran a punt earlier in the game, we wanted to see a look we would get. And after we ran the punt, [autotag]Brian Mason[/autotag] said, ‘It’s there if you want it.’ And right before we went out there, he said, ‘It’s there.’ So, let’s do it. And we’ve been practicing that fake all year long. And there’s no more games left. And I wanted to run it.
“I knew going into the game that if the opportunity presented itself I wanted to run it. Makes sense, let’s do it here. He said, ‘Let’s go.’ And we executed and it was beautiful when we executed.”
Defensive Adjustments Key
“As I told the guys at halftime, I don’t know what the score was, but it should have been 17 to 10. The defense had given up 10 points. The field goal fake is the field goal fake. That’s not the defensive coordinator’s job.
“And as I told them, they played really well to give up 10 points in the first half on defense. And so, all I told them (was to) stop beating Notre Dame, right? And they were able to go out and put it all together in that second half, and I think they only gave up seven points in the second half.”
Offensive Line's Performance
“I’ve always said this, when you have the ability to run the ball and the other team knows you’re going to run it, that’s when you know things are rolling. And they knew we were going to run ball. Except the last steps when they thought we were going to run the ball and we didn’t. But that’s why we do those inside runs drills. That’s why you challenge those guys up front.
“I say this all the time. We’re an O-line and D-line-driven program. I said that at halftime. This game will come down to our offensive line and defensive line, and they want that. They want the pressure on them. They want to run the ball in those critical moments. And hats off to them. They’re an excellent group and they’ve done an excellent job all season.
What bowl win means heading into 2023
“Well, I don’t want to take away from how we finished for the seniors. That’s the most important thing, it’s now. Right? It’s right now because if you continue to just think about the future, you lose this opportunity to send these guys out the right way.
“But once you get through that, then he said, ‘OK, let’s look at the young guys that have a chance to play. Let’s look at the ability to for about 10 practices really develop that middle part of your roster,’ knowing we didn’t get into South Carolina until probably two practices before we came down here.
“And so, the ability to really improve your roster, those guys that are coming back next year and the ability to send these guys off the right way by winning a bowl game.”
On Braden Lenzy's big night
“I remember saying it after the Navy game when he had that big catch for a touchdown. You don’t know when your number’s going to be called. And for a guy like Braden, just continue to do his job and run as hard as he can, and runs his routes to perfection, that’s an unselfish position. It’s just great to see him get the opportunity to go make a play and make them pay.”
On the Mitchell Evans game-winning touchdown reception
“Yeah, that was meant for Mitch. It went beautifully. Again, it’s a credit to how we were running the ball. You know, run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, and then a short-yardage situation … it’s a tough play for that defense, especially when you’re able to run the ball. But it was great execution by these guys.”
Offensive aggression in second half
“Yeah, that played into a lot of my thoughts. And I think early in the game, I was probably a little bit more vocal on running the ball. But in the second half, I wanted to be aggressive. Let’s not be cautious. Let’s be smart, but be aggressive.
“And getting the interception was a chance for us to to be aggressive, but it also wasn’t smart. (Laughs). So, we can’t play keep away. I sit there and I challenge these guys every day to be relentless and aggressive and go after them and let loose.
“With eight minutes on the clock, I can’t see us playing keep away. And I wanted them to be aggressive, and other than that one interception, they did a really good job.”
On South Carolina's fake punt for a touchdown
“(I didn’t call a time out) because the communication was, ‘Do we have everybody covered?’ ‘Yep.’ Because I mean, we’ve repped so many different fakes on field goal and punt. It was just a miscommunication.
” ‘Are we good. Do we need to call time out? No, we’re good. We’ve got everybody covered.’ It was miscommunication between two guys, we’re talking about two guys covering one guy, meaning somebody’s open.”