Immediate Overreactions: Notre Dame, Marcus Freeman Suffer Another Inexcuseable Loss

Just as things looked like they were turned around and trending in the right direction for first-year head coach Marcus Freeman, everything came crashing down in one of the worst losses the program has suffered since 2016. The Irish lost to a hapless Stanford team that hadn’t beaten an FBS opponent all year. The loss not only drops Notre Dame back to .500 but raises serious questions about whether Freeman can salvage his first season as a head coach.

Marcus Freeman looked helpless on the sidelines

The most concerning aspect of Notre Dame’s lousy loss last night was the image of a stoic Freeman on the sidelines with his arms crossed, looking seemingly helpless as the Irish faltered. He did not look like a coach in charge on the sideline but rather a coach alone on an island. That’s a bad sign not just for this year but beyond.

Freeman has often looked uncomfortable on the sideline this year, with the Marshall and Stanford losses as the worst examples. Forget Xs and Os for a minute. Freeman needs to find his own way of owning the sideline in these games in a hurry, or this won’t be the last close loss to an inferior opponent this season.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing almost all of the first-time head coach challenges play out in real-time. We knew it was a possibility when Notre Dame hired a coach with no head coaching experience, but all the good vides around the program had almost everyone looking past it. No one can look past them any longer.

Tommy Rees shoulders a lot of blame in this one

Notre Dame’s offense looked anemic against one of the worst defenses in all college football. Stanford’s defense had not been good all season long, and they came in banged up. And yet they still shut out Notre Dame in the first half and held the Irish to just 14 points.

Miscues cost the Irish some more points, but Rees had no feel for playcalling last night at all. All the good plays that we saw in the North Carolina and BYU games that built off each other were nowhere to be found. Instead, the offensive game plan felt extremely basic, and Rees had no answer when Stanford didn’t just let Notre Dame run in down their throats.

And can we please STOP running the ball every single 2nd and long? It’s beyond predictable at this point, and it’s madness that neither Rees nor Freeman have put an end to it yet.

Why did it take so long to see Tobias Merriweather?

We’ve heard for weeks that Tobias Merriweather wasn’t ready, but he sure looked ready on his 41-yard touchdown in the 4th quarter – the first catch of his career. Lorenzo Styles is the only other wide receiver on the roster who has shown they can make that same play. Merriweather needs to be on the field much, much more over the final six games of the season.

Merriweather played all of 10 snaps against Stanford but was the highest-rated player on offense according to PFF with a 79.0. Braden Lenzy played 52 snaps to Merriweather’s 10. Those snaps should be split up, at least, moving forward.

The defense played fine but still lacks game-changing plays

Notre Dame’s defense is not the reason why they lost this game. After the opening drive touchdown from Stanford, the Irish defense held them in check, for the most part, the rest of the game, allowing just three field goals – one of which was set up by an Irish turnover.

The defense was fine, but that’s part of the problem with the defense this year. It’s just been fine, and not the same standard we’ve been accustomed to. While the replay officials stole a turnover from them (more on this later), this was another game in which the defense did not force a turnover. The whole “when they come, they’ll come in bunches” mantra is wishful thinking at this point.

There’s no way the Tanner McKee fumble should have been overturned

Live refereeing is terrible in all levels of football these days, but replay exists to make up for how bad officials are in real time. McKee’s fumble getting overturned was one of the worst replays I’ve seen in a while. When every announcer is saying it looks like a fumble, and it’s called a fumble on the field, how do you overturn it? How was their indisputable video evidence to warrant an overturning of the call?

Credit Marcus Freeman for not acknowledging the replay as a reason for losing and not using it as an excuse because he had a right to be angry and upset about it.

Notre Dame needs to reevaluate its third-down defensive strategy

Notre Dame has been giving up entirely too many yards on third and longs the last few weeks. It almost cost them dearly against BYU when the 3rd and 17 conversions turned the game around for the Cougars, and last night the Irish played such soft third down defense that it allowed Stanford to kick more manageable field goals or go for it on fourth downs. Al Golden and Freeman need to reevaluate what they’re doing in these instances because it will keep burning them if they don’t adjust.

There are no more sure wins left on the schedule

After winning three in a row and beating BYU, it looked like the Irish would cruise to 6-2 and set up a showdown with Clemson on November 4. However, after last night’s performance, no sure wins are left on the schedule. Before last night, the Marshall loss could be chalked up to a fluke. The same can’t be said anymore. Notre Dame has lost two games this year to teams who have yet to beat a single FBS team other than Notre Dame.

Every game left could be a loss. That doesn’t mean Notre Dame will go 3-9 or that they can’t still win a bunch of them. It means that this team and coaching staff has shown that they can play with anybody (see Ohio State), and yet, they can also lose to anybody they play. If you lose to this Stanford team, you can lose to Syracuse or Navy or Boston College, or even UNLV.

This is a team and a head coach still very much in search of who they are. There could be more wild swings along the way this year. How Freeman holds – or doesn’t hold – it all together will go a long way in whether or not he will ultimately be successful as a head coach at Notre Dame.

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  1. Tom Fornmelli, in a CBS Sports post today:

    “…..From 2017 to 2021, Brian Kelly’s Irish teams went 54-10, and none of the 10 losses came to inferior teams…”

    Here’s my edit: “From 2017 to 2021, Brian Kelly’s Irish teams never won any games of consequence.
    (a home win against a Clemson team without its QB, avenged with prejudice a few weeks later, duly considered)”

    1. In the long run, history writes itself. In his tenure here, which was pretty long,
      he got us into the last Bowl Championship. But for BK Notre Dame would have no appearances in that entire series. He got us into the Playoffs twice. In all three of those seasons, Notre Dame won every game. In all three of those seasons we finished with a win over USC in the graveyard of ND National Championshiop teams. These are facts, not opinions. And do you really think history will judge him badly for cashing in after
      long service to ND? Why would anyone think that?
      A lot of people in a lot of sectors do that. I mean really guys…come on.

      BGC 77 82

      1. You’re a fool.

        Kelly was a cancer. He had one foot out the door as of January 2013.
        And by various reports, Swarbrick advised him to “tie his shoelaces” after the 2016 debacle.
        It took him 5 years…….and he was given those 5 years by that lazy cuck…… but he did find a “bigger fool” in LSU.

        Sober up.

  2. Rees needs to go.

    Rees demonstrated his lack of insight for this type of game on Saturday. Kick the FG and take the points when it was clearly going to be a low scoring game. Not only does he go for it down there, he calls a stupid play where a not so speedy ballcarrier is running parallel to the LOS. That would be like the one type of play Lenzy could possibly excel at with his speed if you were deadset on running it.

  3. Time to ditch the complex pro-style scheme for something more simple in which athletes can operate more freely. The scheme helps prepare O-linemen very well for the next level, that’s clearly shown out in NFL littered with ND starters. But it’s apparent skill guys suffer from this constraining and paralyzing approach. Tennessee does not have superior athletes to ND, QB aside.

  4. No excuses for this loss. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s bad on so many levels. I’m not ready to jump on any fire Freeman bandwagons. It’s possible he may turn things around. I hope so. There were high hopes for this year but I think ND will get a sort of pass this year since this is his first year as HC.

    I just don’t understand it. How can they have such a good win against NC, and a decent win against BYU (a ranked team), then they lay this stink bomb with a team that both NC and BYU could probably beat pretty easily?

    And I too am growing concerned with Freeman’s sideline demeanor. It’s one thing to be calm and not go all ballistic like our previous coach. But he has the look of someone who is over his head. He needs to get it together and soon. Losses like this won’t help recruiting. He’ll get some leeway, again, since it’s his first year. He was a popular hire and it seems people want to believe he will succeed. That’ll help a little bit. But they have to show some improvement in the coming weeks.

    I hope he has it in him to do it. I think there is potential in Freeman. But he’s got work to do.

    Go Irish!

  5. Enough! I’ve watched (and faithfully followed) ND for generations, as have many of you. I believe that the PRIMARY (not excluding the many more issues) shortfall is lack of any semblance of coaching motivation. These are young men, boys to some. Yes, they are self-motivated or they wouldn’t be here. And they are additionally motivated by the team-leaders on their team to some flash-pan degree. But that’s where it ends, and that isn’t enough! There is no all-encompassing fire on that team. Tommy Reese is a dead fish (other than that brief spark of emotion at the Cal game). Remember when he QB’d the Irish. Throw a touchdown… passive reaction. Throw a pick… passive reaction. Drove me crazy then, drives me crazy now. And coach Freeman may be the nicest guy in the world (apparently most of the team think that he is), but he seems to be in the same mold as Reese. Why don’t we all play football and still be friends. Can’t work that way. Express your expectations, and demand results.

  6. Losing to Marshall and Stanford is bound to have a negative effect on recruiting. Easily ND will see decomitts to the likes of Michigan, OSU and others who see ND recruits as easy prey. Transfer portal may also be a problem with some of our good young players now.
    Need for Immediate action: Locate a new proficient OC and pay him. Find a quality QB in the transfer portal. This will help solidify recruiting. This needs to be done mid-season, not post-season.
    Otherwise, a lot of the hard work MF has done recruiting the 4 stars may get wasted. It’s time to start thinking about 2023 now. I really like MF and I hope he can get it turned around very soon.

  7. Rees Buchner, Pyne and lack of elite receivers. The defense is giving up 21 points a game while facing 48 points a game Ohio State, 42 points a game North Carolina, 35 points a game BYU. Are there problems with the defense yes but Notredame is 5 and 0 with a 30 points a game offense. Ohio State, Tennessee, Michigan, Alabama and many other schools would have put up over 30 points in the first half against Marshall, Cal Stanford.

  8. I wonder why Merriweather, who caught the touchdown pass, didn’t get another serious look or 2? Seems odd to have a talent like him and not use it.

  9. Well, I’m sure Ron sees a good time on the Sloop John B. before and after the game. I’d much prefer it to a Bowl in Detroit or New York that requires us to run from one artificial environment to another all week long! Maybe if we get such a bid we could just do a Jimbo and not show up at all. Who needs that practice time anyway?

    BGC 77 82

  10. 48 hours sure can change things…48 hours ago you were writing threads about how much of a crybaby David Shaw is..( which I do agree)…now you bash freeman…

    Freeman has no QB ..or team speed..he doesn’t have the athletes..

    This game was like watching a high school JV game..compared to the Tennessee-Alabama game..

    Notre dame is at best 6-6…

    Take off the tinted glasses domers

  11. One last point about Freeman’s sideline demeanor…
    It’s not something that a person can just easily “change”.
    Real FIRE is genuine. Automatic. Sincere. Instinctual. Has the power to really motivate people.
    Contrived fire is transparent. Offputting. And sooner or later, wears very thin.

    If this is just who Marcus Freeman is…and it sure looks llike it is….then he just might not have the fire to become a great head coach.
    And that revelation — as quck as it will have come —- is very much too late.

  12. Recruiting great classes means nothing if you can’t coach develop and utilize the talent. Gerry Faust 5 straight number 1 classes and barely a 500 record. Lou Holtz comes in and takes Notredame to a major bowl in his second year wins the natty year 3 and comes within an eyelash of back to back natty 23 game winning streak. Freeman needs to get rid of Tommy and get a quarterback. Can’t win with Pyne and Buchner.

    1. It’s time to face reality on this myth, too…..ND’s recruit rankings are gamed just as much as its pre-season team ranking.

      ND simply does not get classes that are anywhere NEAR the talent that at least 4 or 5 specific SEC schools consistently bring in.
      So this habit of ranking ND’s as a top 5 class in the entire NATION ?!?
      Ummmmm, no.
      If they were, true ND freshmen would be playing, like they do in the SEC…..where NFL draft opens up startng spots every year.

      1. That is true. However Lou Holtz proved in his day Notredames recruiting classes were legitimate top 1,2 or 3 classes Faust brought in . Third ye a r 12-0 national Champs. Year 4 12-1 finished number 2 to Miami. Lou also had a great record during that stretch beating many ranked teams unlike the fraud Kelly.

      2. Yup, Lou’s classes WERE truly terrific. Top-notch talent.
        And the ND adminstration gave him a lot of grief over it, put an end to it, and made it impossible for him to stay. Becasue unlike Kelly, he gave a shit beyond the money.

        And here we are.

    2. For the love of God Pete, there’s a helluva lot more wrong with this team than Buchner and Pyne.

      BGC 77 82

  13. Before anyone blames Estime’s fumble that cost us 4th quarter points, that play was coming back because ND was flagged for holding, so points on that drive weren’t a given.
    What is a given: ND is a tough place for a new head coach to “learn on the job” with the recent double-digit wins now expected after these last few years. Freeman is the convenient scapegoat. I do agree that Stanford played for 60 minutes and made more big plays on both sides of the ball when needed. Does the inability to score thirty plus points (only once this year so far) not better explain why ND has three wins, while other more successful modern teams score 30+ routinely? ND so far has only defeated a horrendous D’ team from NC, also BYU, who just got blown out at home and earlier by Oregon, and Cal who just lost to 0-5 Colorado. Too big a deal was made by ND defeating these over-hyped mediocre teams. No disrespect to Pyne or the ND receivers (excluding Mayer) intended, it is what was left, but how many teams ND already played or future opponents have weaker passing attacks than ND? And making plays downfield by elite receivers from QBs is where football in the 21st century has evolved. Three yards and a cloud of dust passed away with Sts. Vincent of Lombardi. Welcome to the 21st century.

  14. Yelling for Freeman’s scalp after a 3-3 start are the idiots. Rockne won only three of his first six games. Holtz started 4-6. Kelly started 5-5. That’s our top three winningest coaches. You give a coach time to recruit his own players so he’s not playing someone else’s recruits, which rookie coaches always must do. Btw, guess who got off to good starts at ND? Ty Willingham won his first eight, and Charlie Weis started 4-1 with the loss in overtime — and both eventually got fired, with good reason.

  15. Our Athletic Director can prove his mettle here and save the season by doing what he does best: Twist arms, make deals and promises, and get the NCAA to OK us for the Jamaica Bowl, which is the only truly desirable 4rth tier bowl – great weather, great rentals, and above all, REAL cigars, and great mixed drinks (Gregoor recommends “Missionary’s Downfall”). Of course, we’ll have to scrape together 3 more wins. (If it’s too late to rewrite the rules for one little bowl, let’s make one up – a sort of Potato Bowl in the Carribean, right?) I’m sure Jack can find a way to make lots of money for ND on a Carribean Bowl. And the Alumni will get to drink and smoke everything the Puritans and cowards in Washington DC prohibit. Win, win, right?

    BGC 77 82

      1. Well, I’m sure Ron sees a good time on the Sloop John B before and after the game. I’d much prefer it to a Bowl in Detroit or New York that requires us to run from one artificial environment to another all week long! Maybe if we get such a bid we could just do a Jimbo and not show up at all. Who needs that practice time anyway?

        BGC 77 82

  16. Someone should tell Freeman that during the game, he can talk to his assistants through the microphone on his headset. And that he can also offer advice and feedback to his players on the sideline.

    Whenever the TV camera pans to him, he’s just standing there brooding…that photo is 100% accurate.
    Dude, you’re head coach, not a mannequin.

    And IMO, if you don’t show some serious progress on learning to do that job on gamedays, you won’t be head coach for long.

    1. I agree, also needs to get a transfer quarterback.. Pyne and Buchner are not the answer. Tommy needs to go. Get a proven big time oc and pay him like Ohio State paid 2 million to fix their defense. Some may say bringing in a transfer will hurt your recruiting. Didn’t seem to hurt Ohio State or Oklahoma.

    2. Agreed. Marcus Freeman’s sideline demeanor has been my #1 criticism. It’s fine to be upset. But he has a “whoa is me” pitiful look that projects someone with no answers to whatever is occurring on the field. Has no one told him this or is he that incapable of changing it?

      The passing game was horrible. A lot of it had to do with poor QB play but the receivers seemed like they dropped a lot of catchable balls.

      I understand the belief that the defense wasn’t the reason they lost, but I’m getting tired of them not being clutch. ND finally gets a lead and then they immediately give up a FG yielding drive.
      And where the heck are the turnovers? I’ve never seen a defense with such little “nose for the ball”. Off the top of my head, I counted 4 fumbles, all recovered by Stanford. Granted, some of them were while ND was on offense, but still…

      Last night was a terrible loss. Stanford didn’t play that well — ND played that bad. This can’t bode well with the recruits.

      1. It gives me no joy to say this….none.

        But the last ND head coach who stood competely silent on the sideline, looking like he was going to be ‘found out’ at any minute ?
        Tyrone Willingham.

      2. However, RB recruit Love from St. Louis, rated the top 5 recruit among all H.S. RB recruits, recruited by AL., Geo. Mich. tOSU, $C and about 50 other schools, attended both the Marshall game and Saturday’s game vs. Stanford, committed to ND this weekend. Now the measure will be if they can hold onto him, Peyton Bowen, and other top 100 recruits in the classes of ’23 and ’24. I’m hoping an upgrade of new more elite recruiting talent (probably the primary reason Freeman was hired after a lazy disinterested Bayou Brian jumped ship), and the willingness to use them (see: Tobias Merriweather) will result in ND approaching elite status down the road that they no way now (nor for many years in the past) have been able to compete with.

      3. M t AA: When ND gets a commitment from a genuinely top-rated talent. the record of such a player actually ending up at ND has been pretty bad.

        Why does a kid commit to ND? There’s lots of reasons, some of them honest and genuine.

        But for too many savvy kids, they see a brand that can be abused with impunity for 15 minutes of fame.
        Great national recognition, lights a fire under every other team to sit up and start calling, and whjen the time comes to break it off, entails the lowest amount of vitriol and negative consequences of ANY big name program….”Canada polite”.

      4. david — you can’t be responding to me because there’s nothing in my post that points to what you’re referencing.

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