Let’s take a closer look at the Irish loss to Ohio State on Saturday. Notre Dame led for most of the game – even holding a 10-7 lead until 13 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. The Buckeyes put the game away with a long 4th quarter touchdown drive when the Irish defense had worn down.
Although the coach stated he wanted no moral victories, Marcus Freeman’s squad can take positives from the loss. The Irish held Ohio State to a lower point total than Ohio State’s lowest point total of last season (24), to a lower yards total than its lowest total of last season, and a lower yards per play than its lowest of last season.
Irish fans alarmed by Notre Dame’s low-scoring offense and Offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees’ play-calling should pause. Last season’s national champion Georgia played Clemson (a team that finished 10-3) in its first game. Georgia scored 10 points (though it won the game), finished with 256 total yards (the Irish finished with 253 on Saturday), and averaged 4.2 yards per play (the Irish averaged 5.3 on Saturday). So if Ohio State turns out to be as good as almost the entire country is predicting, the Irish have nothing to be ashamed of.
No one questioned Georgia’s offensive prowess by November or December of last season. Indeed, no one questioned it on Saturday after Georgia’s 49-3 thrashing of #11 Oregon.
So, Irish fans take pride that Defensive Coordinator Al Golden had such a solid game plan and, for the most part, shut down the vaunted Ohio St. offense and kept the Irish in the game until the end. Take solace in the fact that first-time started Tyler Buchner didn’t shy away from the moment and had no turnovers or costly mistakes. Rees had a conservative game plan, but an offensive interference on a 4th quarter drive that looked promising and difficult field position all evening didn’t help.
Wide receivers Branden Lenzy and Lorenzo Styles showed promise with difficult catches. Buchner found Tight End Michael Mayer often, and Mayer made several spectacular catches. The running back trio of Logan Diggs, Audric Estime, and Chris Tyree all showed flashes of what makes them special.
The Irish, with their strong leadership in seniors like Mayer and Defensive End Isaiah Foskey, amongst others, must take care of business against Marshall. There will be plenty of opportunities for quality wins on this 2022 schedule, including a solid BYU, potential top 5 Clemson, and potential top 10 USC.
Freeman’s key now will be how he learns from the two close losses of his short tenure. How he adjusts and how he helps Rees and the offense figure out finishing drives and adjusting after the opposing defense has had time to adjust. So far, all signs point to Freeman’s Irish being a disciplined, prepared, and hard-fighting team.
Speaking about having a 10-7 lead almost through the 3rd quarter, Freeman noted the need not to take the foot off the gas pedal.
“We have to continue to attack and continue to execute,” he said.
The Irish saw what the standard is on Saturday evening, and it included a star quarterback making impossible plays while escaping pressure, fitting tight throws into tight pockets on the sidelines, an offensive line opening holes for running backs that churned forward and ate the clock to close out a defensive battle.
“We’ve got a good football team. We’ve gotta learn how to finish,” Freeman said.
“Those guys [the Irish] fought their tails off.”
Eleven games left. Plenty of business to finish.