“The Honeymoon Stage Is Over” For Coach Marcus Freeman | Notre Dame Loses Fiesta Bowl, Now The Work Begins

The beginning of the Marcus Freeman era at Notre Dame couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. And it couldn’t have ended with more unceremoniously.

The Fighting Irish jumped all over the Oklahoma State Cowboys and led 28-7 in the Fiesta Bowl, only to see the Cowboys score 30 unanswered points in a 37-35 comeback win by Oklahoma State. It was the Irish’s first loss after leading by 21 points since 2014. The program was 79-0 up to that point.

The Fighting Irish showed some positive signs for the future. They can consistently be a Top 20 program. However, if Freeman wants Notre Dame to return to legit national title contenders, he has some work to do.

Freeman’s Game Plan Early Was Great: Not Enough Of The Run Game

The Irish didn’t try to establish the run enough for a team that prides itself on running the ball and winning in the trenches. They rushed the ball 21 times for 42 yards. They never mixed it up and gave the Cowboys defense the impression that they were willing to throw on first down and run on second down.

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That in itself allowed the Cowboys to run blitz on first down, knowing that it would be a run 90 percent of the time. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has to do a better job of mixing it up on early downs next season.

Freeman Says Honeymoon Stage Is Over

The new head coach said the “honeymoon stage is over” following the Fighting Irish epic collapse and subsequent loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Freeman didn’t seem overwhelmed or nervous in his first game as the leader of the Irish, but the second half collapse proved there’s some work ahead for the new staff in South Bend. Mainly some symmetry, which will enable adjustments on the fly. That’s one of the areas that’ll get better as Freeman gets the chance to incorporate his culture on both sides of the ball.

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Freeman didn’t cop any pleas after the stunning loss.

“The fans deserve a winning product. They deserve a team that every week goes out there and wins. It’s our job to make sure that we prepare and do everything necessary to give this team, the fan base, the university and everybody else that deserves a really, really good product on the field. We’ll get back to work.
“That’s the only thing we know how to do, and win or lose, we’re going to get back to work and we’re gonna find ways to improve and make sure that we’re even more prepared and have a better opportunity to have success next time we’re on the field.”

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Additionally, Freeman mentioned this when asked how it was coaching his first game as head coach.

“Like everything else that has happened in these first 28 days, it’s an honor, it’s a surreal feeling at times, and I tried to take it in and tried to understand the platform you’re on.

“But at the same time, the foot hit the ball and it’s time to go and it’s time to lead and it’s time to be the head coach. I just want to make sure to be the head coach. I just want to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to give these kids a chance to have success.”

Recruiting Is Always The Key To Success In College Football: ND Has Top Classes Coming In

ND’s 2022 recruiting class is currently sixth in the country with 23 commits, including five-star do-it-all linebacker Jaylen Sneed, who’ll have an opportunity to contribute as a true freshman. Freeman isn’t done on the recruiting trail, with National Signing Day right around the corner on Feb. 2, and he should add some more top talent on that day.

Freeman and the Irish are at a bit of an academic disadvantage for landing the top recruits. Notre Dame’s academic requirements remain elite. Therefore, it’s harder for the university to lock down the elite athletes who fall short of its demanding academic standards.

The university’s history attracts the elite scholar-athletes to Notre Dame, which has the No. 1 ranked class for 2023. Currently, that class has eight commits, led by five-star edge rusher Keon Keeley out of Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Florida.

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The success of Freeman, as with any coach, will rely heavily on recruiting. ND must keep those five-star commits like Sneed and Keeley in the fold. If they stray toward Alabama, UGA, Clemson, etc., is a bad idea if he wants to have any shot at winning a national title in the future.

Freeman has never been in the head coach seat, and some of that inexperience showed in the second-half letdown. Now he’s got to understand he can overrule some of the things he might not like on offense and defense since his headset now has both frequencies. It’s a learning process for the talented Freeman, and he’ll be better next time out.

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