Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Fades in Fiesta Bowl Loss to Oklahoma State

Marcus Freeman Debut Marred by 30 Unanswered Points, 21 Point Blown Lead

The final game on the 2021 Notre Dame football schedule ran the gamut from excitement to nightmare as the Fighting Irish fell 37-35 to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl. Notre Dame gave up 30 unanswered points after jumping out to a 28-7 advantage and spoiled the debut of new head coach Marcus Freeman.

Freeman turns 36 later this month but gained some gray hairs after watching the early Irish dominance fade. Notre Dame appeared to be heading into halftime with a 28-7 lead, but a quick score set the stage for the defensive slide after the break. The loss gives the Irish a final record of 11-2 and a bitter stamp on the start of 2022.

Below are some of the key aspects of the game:

Striking Quickly

Looking to make an early statement, Notre Dame took the opening kickoff and scored their first touchdown with less than two minutes gone in the contest. The first play set the tone for the drive, with a 25-yard screen pass to Chris Tyree. That was bookended by a third-down call in which Coan found a wide-open Lorenzo Styles Jr. for a 29-yard touchdown reception.

Two series later, the Irish drive temporarily stalled with back-to-back false start penalties before eventually rebounding with a 53-yard scoring toss to Tyree. That touchdown pass came about after Coan beat the blitz and found Tyree, who scampered untouched to double the Notre Dame lead with just over seven minutes remaining in the opening quarter.

Going to the Air

Kyren Williams‘ decision not to play in the Fiesta Bowl helped remove a huge chunk of the Irish running game with it. Early on, it quickly became apparent that any Notre Dame victory was going to have to come on the arm of Coan, who ended up completing 38 of 68 passes for 509 yards and five touchdown passes

Coan threw for 342 of those yards in the first half, with running back Chris Tyree serving as a better receiving outlet than running possibility. Yet, Coan ended up having his own struggles after the break, throwing a key interception in Oklahoma State’s red zone with under seven minutes left. He also failed to move the ball deep in Irish territory in their next series, which ended up with the Cowboys notching what became the clinching field goal.

Losing Control

Prior to the start of Oklahoma State’s comeback, the Notre Dame defense had largely held their offense in check, allowing 157 yards before the Cowboys’ late first-half score. However, by the time the game ended, the Irish had allowed 605 total yards and 34 first downs.

Notre Dame simply had no answer for Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders, who threw for 371 yards and four scores and also ran for a game-high 125 yards on 17 carries. The Cowboys’ receiving duo of Brandon Presley and Tay Martin each grabbed 10 passes and combined for 241 yards. In addition, Martin snagged three touchdown passes.

Adjustment Comparisons

While the late first-half score by Oklahoma State should have been a warning flare for Notre Dame, any defensive adjustments they may have made during the break appeared to be invisible when play resumed. Irish cornerback Clarence Lewis was a frequent target of Sanders, yet the missed tackles of his teammates also allowed the Cowboys to pick up healthy chunks of yardage.

In stark contrast, Oklahoma State’s ability to frustrate Coan was especially evident during the third quarter, when Notre Dame managed just 52 yards of offense. Of course, being able to ignore the Irish running game made that effort easier.

Lifelines Not Used

Oklahoma State had multiple opportunities to seemingly cement the victory but eventually won it by recovering a last-ditch onside kick. Before that contribution from the special teams unit, they found a way to provide Notre Dame with chances to avoid what ended up becoming the sad reality.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys led 31-28 before fumbling near the Irish goal line, allowing Ramon Henderson to recover in the end zone for Notre Dame. A quick three-and-out for Notre Dame led to Oklahoma State doubling their lead with a field goal. Later on, Coan’s interception was followed by Sanders fumbling in the Irish red zone. Four plays that gained no yardage ultimately led to another three-pointer for the Cowboys.

Next Up

The offseason begins for Notre Dame, though things will remain busy as Freeman prepares for his first full season at the helm. He and the Irish will be challenged immediately with a 2022 opener on the road against Freeman’s alma mater, Ohio State. This marks only the third trip to the Horseshoe for the Irish, the other contests taking place in 1935 and 1995.

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  1. I noticed Ok state picked on #6 DB clarence lewis a lot in the second half…..Was he playing hurt? He looked slow, compared to other games this year.

  2. Disappointment yes in the overall team performance but this is the beginning of a new era & coach Freeman will do just fine. I agree that it would have been nice to have seen Buckner put in during the third quarter when Coan was struggling – he couldn’t have done anything but
    improve the team’s output. Doc S is judging a bit harshly.Go ND Doc Mar

  3. I am still stunned over the one-dimensioanlity of the gamplan. That it worked so well for the entire first half was equally surprising…..I rteally thought Gundy’s staff would shut that down faster than snot.

    If I was a RB in that game, having sat and watched Williams getting enough carries to make him rich, I’d surely be thinking of leaving now. That gameplan was like not getting invited to your company Christmas party.

  4. 1. Why Coan?
    2. If defense is set up to stop the pass, why not run.
    3. Freeman needs a real Offensive Coordinator.
    4. Why not let the freshman QB start in second half. See two above.
    5. Defense? What is that?
    6. ND has the talent but not the coaches or killer instinct.
    7. May need new AD.
    8. Next year will lead off with loss to OSU but ND beats everyone else and gets in non January 1 bowl.

  5. OSU came out doing an ND impression…unready, sleepy, slow.
    Spoiler alert: they eventually woke up.

    But while they still slumbered, ND refused to take a very generous offer of 3 points offered right before the half.
    The smelling salts then got passed around, the ‘Pokes decided not to return the favor to ND, instead scoring a second straight TD after the break, and they they were….awake, and right back in the game as if nothing had happened.

    Those 3 points would not only have served to stanch nascient hope or momo, but they would have really, really, REALLY come in handy at the end.

    Another bowl for the ND classics collection.

  6. MTA, I also am willing to stay with Coach Freeman for a year or two. We hired him, we have to back him.
    BUT – be aware that this is the FOURTH time since Dan Devine left that the Administration has hired a guy with no collegiate (or pro) head coaching experience! Yes – four! Faust, Davie, Weis,, Freeman… The three who did have experience…Holtz, Willingham, and Kelly.

    BGC 77 82

  7. I have yet to read why ND lost the game yesterday. the answer is simple and twofold. The first is No running game! It was OK in the first half, but OSU adjusted and just rushed the QB and covered the receivers extensively. They forgot the running game totally because it was non existent. The second problem is that ND never adjusted to the OSU changes and thus it was three and out all second half giving OSU plenty of offensive time to come back. Hard to win if you can’t control the ball. So lets get some running back with Tyler Buchnier. Where was he? Where was the coaching? It was non existent! Who was covering the OSU quarterback? He ran free most of the game. His running controlled the game in the second half. Game over! ND needs better coaching in the future!

  8. Sometimes you learn a hell of a lot more from failure than success. Lots of holes because of recruiting in the past. Might take a couple years for the program to really improve. Will probably lose against Ohio State next year. I’m sure losing the first 2 games is Marcus Freeman’s worst nightmare, but don’t think it would have been different for whomever was hired. (BTW both Cincinnati and Michigan got hammered as well and they both supposedly have good head coaches). I wonder how bad the loss would have been if Kelly was coaching this game? Probably by a lot more give previous record against good teams.

  9. I have seen this movie before when ND elevated a DC with no head coaching experience with Davie. A new coach with a supposedly bright defensive mind made no adjustments and was simply clueless on the sidelines more focused on knowing the cameras would have him in their sights than focused on the game itself. Good coaches make adjustments. The opposing coach did, ours didn’t. Maddening to me that ND always falls asleep after getting a lead! New coach, same sad story ending…..

  10. As disappointed as I am I’m going to give Freeman more than 1 game and 3 weeks on the job before I say it was a bad hire or they should have hired so and so. A couple of things to keep in mind Freeman had nothing to do with the poor offensive line play/ recruiting that’s on Quinn and Kelly. Also same in the secondary. Secondary coaching/ recruiting was bad under Joseph and the former Notredame player who was the secondary coach .His name is escaping me at the moment. Oh Todd Lyght I believe. Right now Notredame Freeman need to make some critical assistant coaching hires, finish 2022 recruiting/ transfer portal adds , continue 2023 recruiting and find out what players are coming back next year. Finally keep in mind what all the reporters for these Notredame sites said last spring and summer/ fall about Notredame. Weaknesses oline having to replace 4 starters off of one of the best lines in the country in 2020. Secondary average at best with the best safety in the country Kyle Hamilton. Does Notredame win this game with William’s and Hamilton. Yes they probably do but that’s no excuse. Oklahoma State lost a couple of key players and a lot of teams had opt outs.

  11. The Irish should be highly embarrassed after they way they played. Ahead by 3 scores and lost by 3 points what an embarrassing way to finish the season. I guess the new Marcus Freeman era ended today because the Irish demonstrated that they do not belong on the same field with any power five team.
    I, as a long time fan, feel that Notre Dames glory days are long gone and never to return. IMHO Coan did not lose the game today all by himself he had plenty of help from the defense who came out of the locker room after the half blinded. The DC should be fired after today’s game and never allowed to set foot on Notre Dame property ever again.
    Tommy Rees has part to blame here also because he should have asked Freeman to let Ty Buchner play a few series to see if he could help out the running game.
    Well that it until next years let down which will probably start on their very first game at Ohio State!

    1. For the record, in Freeman’s post-game presser, he was asked why not Buchner. Freeman said he asked Rees about that in the third quarter, but Rees thought it wasn’t a good idea and so Freeman yielded to his OC.

  12. Choosing to be an slight optimist here – it was nice to see the team play well in Q1 and not come out completely flat & create a deficit.

    Just.. different side of the same coin in the end .

    Also, with the depth concerns at WR, Styles’ performance today could be big for 2022.

    1. Unfortunately, losing by 2 @ Ohio State would be quite an improvement compared to past games vs. elite teams, especially on the road (see OK, 2012, as one of the last wins on the road against a top team). That’s 10 years ago!
      Losing by blowing a 21 point lead is awful! I agree.
      But sadly, losing by 2 in a NY6 bowl game vs. a team inches from possibly going to the CFP is progress for the ND program.
      ND gave Kelly twelve years to belong among the elite, and it didn’t happen.
      I’m willing to give Freeman and staff more than a month.

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