North Carolina head coach Mack Brown has walked the football sidelines longer than Irish head coach Marcus Freeman has walked the Earth.
The Tar Heels enter Saturday’s 3:30 pm EST contest with Notre Dame 3-0, while the Irish are fighting to return to .500 on the season. When a reporter asked Freeman in Monday’s press conference how he could make up for the experience gap he has with Brown, Freeman laughed and said he doesn’t think there is a way to make up for such a difference. But then, he did what he always seems to do – he found a silver lining.
“I don’t know if you can make up for that lack of experience… I really just gotta focus on our team and the preparation in terms of giving our team a chance of having success…
We both have the same amount of experience with our current roster of this current year,” Freeman said.
Since his first win as head coach, Freeman has preached several themes repeatedly: routine, consistency, and teachable moments.
“There’s a lot of good learning from the film [from last Saturday’s win against California]. It’s always better to use those teaching opportunities after wins than it is after losses,” Freeman said.
“We have to build off of this [the win].”
Freeman is humble enough to admit he is aware of what he doesn’t know and what even he needs to learn.
“Mack Brown has been through a lot of scenarios or situations that I haven’t been through or am just starting to go through…
A lot of these guys that are playing for us have been to Chapel Hill and played at North Carolina. I’ve never been down there,” Freeman said.
The best way to overcome the lack of experience is consistency, executing, and making winning plays become routine after the teaching moments.
“You’re starting to see some consistency out of that group [the offensive line]. They’re getting better; the fundamentals, the execution, the techniques.
They’re an extremely talented group, but they’re still young. They’re really starting to become cohesive. You watch the film, and there’s teaching plays left and right for us to make a 1 or 2 yard gain into a 5 or 6 yard gain or a 5 or 6 yard gain into a 12-yard gain,” Freeman said.
Freeman has used the word ‘cohesiveness’ often when speaking of the offensive line, other units on the team, and communication amongst coaches when making in-game adjustments. For example, Freeman addressed freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather and his playing time last Saturday and freshman defensive backs Jaden Mickey and Benjamin Morrison and their strong play in the secondary.
Those freshmen are starting to complement veterans like front line: Isaiah Foskey, the Ademilola twins, and Jacob Lacey, who all had massive performances last Saturday.
The entire team is learning and improving.
When addressing one of Cal’s touchdowns, Freeman took the blame and acknowledged the learning experience for the team and himself.
“Maybe I should have called a time out there. Maybe they review it. Even if they review it and we don’t get it overturned, maybe it was a chance for us to regroup because the very next play, we don’t get lined up, and they score a touchdown. There’s teaching moments for all of us,” he said.
The first-time head coach is learning on the job. But, like his team, he’s not satisfied.
“There’s not a satisfaction amongst anybody in the football program [right now],” he said.
To win against an explosive offense like North Carolina, averaging over 50 points per game through three games, the Irish must improve on even the last game.
Execution was lacking in the first half against Cal. False start penalties on top of low throws, bobbled snaps and dropped passes provided plenty of teachable moments for Freeman and his players. The last play of the game provided one.
“To teach from that moment after a victory is something I’d much rather do than if they would have caught that Hail Mary,” Freeman said, addressing Cal’s final play of the game when the Irish failed to bat the ball away from Cal receivers without a serious scare.
The key this week against North Carolina is to find teachable moments in victory. Freshmen contributing on offense and defense and veterans making plays are the kind of cohesiveness Freeman is looking for.
This game is strength vs. strength and weak vs weak for both teams. Defense strong for ND vs strong O for NC and weak ND offense,
against weak NC defense.
IRISH win, but is it low scoring, or high scoring? Hard to say.
IRISH 27-24, because Irish offense is more likely to perform above their baseline with Pyne than the NC defense is likely to suddenly come to life.
BGC 77 82
Had we beat Marshall I might be more optimistic for this season. But so far the Irish haven’t shown me a whole lot to be confident about. Their best game so far was a loss to Ohio State. Yes, they beat Cal, and I would argue that was a must win game for them. But the win against Cal didn’t give me a lot of confidence (though yes, at the end of the day a win is a win so I’ll take it).
But I’m at a point now after following ND since the TW years that I need to see it to believe it. And through 2016 I was a believer in BK, that we were just one step away from a NC. Then 2016 happened and ever since then I need to see it done on the field.
Now, all that being said, I know this is Freeman’s first year, and we’ve had some coaching changes on staff and obviously player turnover. Perhaps it was unreasonable to hope for a NC this year considering all that. And I’m not at all suggesting Freeman is going to fail at ND. I’ll see how this year shakes out. Do they show gradual improvement as the year goes on? Beating UNC will be a step in the right direction for sure. And I want to see Freeman succeed. He’s a likeable guy, he says all the right things and he seems to have the makings of a good HC. But after over 10 years of BK I’m not going to just drink the Kool-Aid.
Tastes more like vinegar so far. NC will attack the LBs. ND needs to score more points than they’ve been scoring. Whomever makes the most chunk plays will win. Go Irish.
Kelly was a fraud. Now he’s a rich fraud.