Irish Head Coach Marcus Freeman noted the electric atmosphere at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium last Saturday for the Notre Dame-BYU game. The Irish faithful were so loud, he said, “It sounded like a home game.”
The Irish felt about as comfortable in Vegas as they do at home in South Bend. Comfort levels are rising for their three-time starter quarterback Drew Pyne, for the offensive line, their running backs, and wide receiver Jayden Thomas.
“Our offensive line is just getting better… five guys are just gelling and really communicating and executing at a high level,” he said, as the offensive line continues to improve and open up holes the size of an actual bus for running backs Chris Tyree, Logan Diggs, and the new “Bus,” Audric Estime. On several long runs on Saturday for Diggs and Estime, especially, linemen Blake Fisher and Jarrett Patterson reached the second level – opening space with crushing blocks on BYU linebackers.
Estime broke one run for 46 yards, running through contact and bursting into the BYU secondary. Diggs sealed the game with a 33-yard run on a second and 17 with the clock winding down – galloping through a giant hole created by Fisher and Patterson and then breaking a tackle for even more.
“Our O-line, even on the last drive, they continued to get those first downs when we needed them when BYU knew we were running the ball,” Freeman said.
“They knew we were running it. I’ve told them, that’s the sign of a great offensive line – when they know you’re running the ball, and you’re able to get first downs.”
Freeman spoke of the team’s growing confidence in all phases – addressing Pyne and the emerging offensive weapons.
“Drew Pyne is always ready to go. And now what you’re seeing is the execution starting to be there, so the confidence is continuing to rise,” Freeman said.
“When you start making the right decisions and taking care of the football, you also start to make plays.”
Pyne sees Thomas as an emerging threat.
“We’re going to need him to keep doing what he’s doing. And he’s going to be a big role for us in the future,” Pyne said.
Sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie played more snaps against BYU than in previous games. Freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather played some as well.
The way for the Irish’s youth to play more, Freeman repeatedly says, is to practice hard and well.
“I challenged him last week. Prince, you continue to build trust in practice,” he said.
“There is no such thing as a gamer. Your team needs you to be a great practice player. That’s my challenge to Prince, and that’s my challenge to many others in our football program. Everyone talks about Michael Mayer. Michael Mayer’s one of the best practice players I’ve been around. That’s what we need our young guys to be.
“We need great practice players, because that builds confidence in your coaches to put you out there in a game.”
Show comfort on the practice field in South Bend, and you’ll earn playing time at Notre Dame Stadium, Vegas, or the LA Coliseum. Comfort comes with confidence.
Confidence comes from trust – faith – in oneself and in each other. Linemen in each other, running backs and quarterbacks in linemen, quarterbacks in wide receivers, defense in each other, and coaches in their players.
Freeman must have used the word “confidence” over 30 times in Monday’s press conference. Perhaps to reiterate to the team that it needs confidence, or maybe such a word is subliminal or subconscious.
Or maybe all three.
A young coach gaining confidence by the day.
And figuring out his confidence hits the right notes for an increasingly in-sync team.