Jekyll and Hyde Notre Dame Leaves Coaches Flustered, Fans Upset

The view from the stands showed a flat, unenthusiastic Irish for much of Saturday’s loss to woeful Stanford – slow to the ball on defense, uninspired on offense.

Notre Dame players were visibly fired up on the sidelines after taking the lead in the fourth quarter and after several fourth-quarter defensive stops. However, those sparks of energy were few and far between for a listless Irish team that lost to previously 1-4 Stanford.

This is how bad it was: Stanford had lost 11 straight games to FBS opponents. Their only win was against Patriot League Colgate. The Irish scored four more points than Colgate did against the Cardinal. Even after giving up only 14 points to the Irish, the Stanford defense ranks 97th in the country in team defense, giving up 6.29 yards per play and almost 410 yards per game.

Notre Dame averaged 5.1 yards per play, gained 311 total yards, and was shut out in the first half.

Irish fans are frustrated. Irish head coach Marcus Freeman and the rest of the staff are grasping for answers. Freeman was visibly upset in the post-game press conference – distressed, frustrated, at a loss for an explanation for how his Irish performed.

This article will take a close look at the current state of the Irish program, how Freeman’s first seven games compare to other coaches that have gone on to have success after difficult first seasons, and what characteristics of this team and coaching staff are cause for alarm and which are cause for a more positive outlook.

The Irish, under Freeman, have been a Jekyll and Hyde team – showing flashes of offensive brilliance against top 10 defense Oklahoma State in last year’s Fiesta Bowl and then getting shut out for the second half, showing the team can compete with #2 Ohio State in this season’s first game – on the road no less – yet coming out flat and uninspired in the first home game and losing to now 3-3 Marshall. Then, the Irish won three straight, including a solid win against 6-1 North Carolina and a win against previously ranked BYU, only to lose as an almost 17-point home favorite to Stanford.

So far, under Freeman, the Irish have played up to the level of their competition and down to the level of their competition. They get up for big games and fall completely flat in games they should win going away.

In Freeman’s post-game press conference, he looked exasperated and continued to point to a lack of execution. He responded “I don’t know” on several occasions when asked why the team played so poorly and snapped back quickly when asked if his team underestimated a rival.

There are bigger-picture narratives at play in a head coach’s first season. Here are a few.

Cause for Alarm

The offense is putrid. Putting up over 40 points against North Carolina was expected, solid, and needed, given the poor ranking of North Carolina’s defense. However, when the Irish offense looked explosive at times against BYU, fans were optimistic that the offense had turned a corner and that coordinator Tommy Rees might have found a groove. However, all of that optimism went quickly out the window with Saturday’s performance against a defense previously ranked 110 or worse in several categories.

The Irish were 3-12 on third-down conversions. Quarterback Drew Pyne was 13-27, far from his over 70% completion rate on the season, and had a QBR of a measly 30.7. In addition, the Irish turned the ball over twice in crucial situations, didn’t finish drives, had critical penalties including one that negated a first-half Michael Mayer touchdown.

Even the first play of the game was a false start by All-American Jarrett Patterson.

Six games into a season, at home, the mistakes, lack of execution, and poor playcalling is simply unacceptable for Irish fans and should be unacceptable to the staff and the team. Unfortunately, the slow starts and bipolar nature of the Irish offense is tough to analyze.

The defense fails to get stops when it needs them most. After the Irish took the lead against Marshall, the defense gave up a long touchdown drive. After the Irish took a 14-13 lead in the fourth quarter against Stanford, the defense immediately gave up a field goal drive.

Turnovers add to the misery. The Irish were -2 in turnover margin and failed to grab at least four fumbles that Stanford put on the turf.

The Irish moved the ball into position to take the lead after Stanford’s go-ahead field goal, but running back Audric Estime fumbled.

The Irish had one more chance, moved the ball to around their own 37-yard line but stalled with three failed pass attempts in a row.

There was no urgency all evening for the Irish offense. They repeatedly let the play clock run under five before snapping the ball, even after successful plays, and lethargically and lackadaisically approached the fourth quarter two-minute drill when trying to mount a game-winning drive.

Are the Irish playing tight? Are they flat? Are they unemotional? Is their coach too stoic?

Marshall and Stanford are 0-7 against FBS teams other than Notre Dame.

The tough questions will be asked in this crucial week before one last home game before a top-15 road showdown with Syracuse.

The Positives

The positives, still, are plenty. Coach Freeman was upset, distraught even, after the game. You’d rather see a coach that is upset, and that cares than one who is unemotional. He was honest and raw. He knows he needs more from this team, from its leaders, and from its young players – in terms of execution and in terms of physical and emotional play.

Most recruits, including new recruit Jeremiyah Love, cite Freeman’s “energy,” “passion,” and “emotion” when discussing why they commit to Freeman’s Irish. Why isn’t that energy showing up in games when the Irish are favored? Where is that passion?

Though the outlook is cloudy, there were positives from Saturday. Freshman Tobias Merriweather caught his first pass – a 41-yard touchdown where he blew by his defender and made a nice grab. He should have had an earlier touchdown if Pyne had hit him in the other end zone – he beat that defender too.

The trio of sophomores Estime and running back Logan Diggs and Merriweather had 20 touches for 170 yards of offense at 8.5 yards per touch. The rest of the team had 41 touches for 131 yards of offense at 3.2 yards per touch.

Freshman linebacker Prince Kollie played more than ever and blocked a punt.

The running game picked up in the second half, and the Irish finished with over 150 yards on the ground – a rushing identity Rees and Freeman continually push for the team’s identity.

The big picture is that the Irish have a first-year head coach who is 3-3 and is favored against UNLV this weekend to get to 4-3. Former coach Lou Holtz was 5-6 in his first year. Nick Saban was 7-6 in 2007, his first year, at Alabama, and lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Dabo Sweeney went 9-5 in his first year but 6-7 in his second year. Kirby Smart went 8-5 in his first year, with losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. His first-year Georgia team beat 5-6 FCS school Nicholls State 24-22. Josh Heupel of Tennessee, currently #3 and coming off an upset of Alabama, went 7-6 last year in his first year.

If Freeman can keep this team together and continue to play the younger players, gain valuable experience for them, piece together some wins, and compete in the biggest games – though every game admittedly is big – at #14 Syracuse, #4 Clemson at home, and at #12 USC, Freeman will gain the respect and even more support of the fanbase. He will likely continue pulling in top recruits and keep the next two years’ top recruiting classes together.

This is year 1. The man has been recruiting to ND for barely over one year. He’s six games into his first full season. There’s plenty left to play for, and the Irish are a few plays away from being 5-1 and in the top 10, even though they played poorly for the Marshall and Stanford losses. They are also 3-3 with two bad losses.

The offense must improve and be consistent, the defense and special teams must play complementary football, and the coaches must bring more fire and emotion into this team.

Freeman was emotional in Saturday’s press conference. If he and the team learn to channel that into angry play on the field, perhaps they’ll play up to their own expectations rather than up or down to another team’s.

The Irish’s Jekyll and Hyde act must turn around into a consistent force – more like the brotherhood the team says it is than an unconnected unit of two or three groups of 11.

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21 Comments

  1. OK this may not be a fair comparison – but look at what Brian Daboll has done with the NY Giants. They had been totally putrid for a number of years. Maybe Freeman should give him a call and get some pointers. I didn’t have a problem with losing the first 2 games he coached. Ohio State was a longshot at this point. However the team has really been inconsistent since that time. In fact, the team has not been dominant since the Lou Holtz era. So why did we lose that swagger?

  2. Not the guy. Sorry. No passion on sideline, took a cue from BK and let’s his assistants run the show. Pathetic at his news conference after game. Not the guy.

    1. Said Freeman was overmatched against Oklahoma State when he left Coan in the game when Coan clearly was not cutting it.Rees and Freeman need to go

      1. He was in the job 3 weeks….and you wanted him to start burning the place down. In a meaningless bowl game. That ND only got to because of Coan.

        That’s the second time you’ve posted that worthless tripe, after I previosuly explained why it’s idiotic. Which makes you not just an idiot, but a stupid, stubborn idiot.

    2. For David,Whether you are 3 weeks or 3 years in a position of leadership,you have to shake up the offense if it is stagnant and Coan was stagnant.A change of pace was clearly needed and Freeman had an opportunity to establish himself on the field.Are you content with the HC allowing the OC to run a high school offense?3 yard dink passes to Mayer?Running plays into a stacked D line?Disparaging me won’t improve the team’s chances,just shows you are frustrated too and choose to get angry at me.Not effective and we will see if Freeman continues with Pyne or has the leadership skills to insert Angelli,because Pyne is a disaster and just locks on Mayer to bail out the offense,Fact.

      1. You are a laughable fool, whio has obviously never been in any job of even marginally signicant responsibility.

        Go away. Or at least shut up with your juvenile, simpleton opinons.
        (Apologies to both actual juveniles and medically diagnosed simpletons).

      2. Except you can only try to distract from Freeman and his failure by calling people fools.But in your desperation you try to attack people talking about responsibility.Wow little Emo boy ran out of Doritos.Fact is Freeman is a failure and you are an enabler of failure.

      3. When you show up to meetings hours late….or butt into conversations not knowing what has been said…best keep your ignorant mouth shut for awhile….
        Otherwsie, you can really make an ass of yourself.

  3. Freeman definitely has some work to do. There are some reasons to be concerned. But that being said it is his first year as a head coach. And I don’t see anyone giving serious consideration to looking for a new HC at this early juncture. Freeman will get his chance to turn things around, as it should be. Charlie Weis had a great first year at ND, and we all saw how that ultimately ended up. So a great first year don’t mean squat, and a bad first year may very well mean the same thing.
    I’m not ready to pull the plug on anybody yet. Tommy Rees was a tough QB who never quit. He definitely has a lot of work to do but I wouldn’t count him out yet. Al Golden isn’t terrible obviously on defense, but the defense could be better. However, he is generally considered a good defensive coach and he had some good years at Temple of all places. So his experience can be a help to Freeman. And there are some changes in the defense from last year so some of that may take time to settle in.
    I remain hopeful. I do like Freeman and I think it would be great if he were able to bring the Irish back to elite status. He’s a guy I want to succeed.

  4. Well that press conference was…unique.
    At least Freeman is candid and honest.
    But I’d feel better if he’d just lie.

    1. After a beer and some contemplation…my post was very unfair and glib.
      Of all people, I was one who said here that Freeman has a lot to learn to become a head coach.
      He’s only had a few games. Whatever the early results, it’s still far too early to decide his ultimate fate.

      A bowl game is still possble…just not probable.
      But that’s the hand we were dealt.

      1. Yes, it is I believe too early to fully judge him. Imo a lot of his future will be the decisions he makes with the quarterback room and the offensive coordinator. You are not going to compete for national championships in this day and age of college football averaging 23 points a game.

      2. Pete
        . . .and 15 points scored a game with the three losses (10, 21, 14), while giving up (21,, 2O -offense gave up 6 with that pick six, and 16), averaging giving up less than 20 points in NDs three losses. The D’ hasn’t forced enough turnovers, nor always made big stops, but if a team can’t score more than 20, they’ll probably lose a lot of games.

      3. You were not dealt anything.There is no we.Being delusional and imagining you are on the team speaks to the limits of your life.Bowl game sure and maybe you will actually get a job,both fantasies

      4. New coach same high school offense and a coach who ticks a few diversity bingo boxes to appease snowflakes like David.Stanford coach took Freeman to the woodshed and Freeman just stood there stunned.

      5. I guess coach converting to Catholicism will give him leadership skills or the ability to see that Rees is just a company flunky

    2. Well I would not, David. I am a physical scientist, a theologian, and a Natural Philosopher. I have no time for lies, and purged mine as a teenager.
      Besides, lies tend to confuse certain of the mentally ill.
      Keep backing this program;
      It could still succeed, where we had written Faust off in his first spring practice. But some changes need to be made, though no where near what BK had to make.
      Injuries are mounting…maybe conditioning fell off. Dan Devine, Joe Yonto, and George Kelly may have had to deal with that after the injury littered 1979 season, which included a home loss to Clemson in a 7-4 season…Devine’s worst (but not without some notable wins. The problem was fixed by the 9-2-1 1980 team. I was teaching Blair Kiel’s first cousin HS freshman religion.

      BGC 77 82

      1. Well that was al on walk to get nowhere. You seem to live in Disney times.

        Way too early….give him a proper chance to react.
        Fact is, he’s going to get one anyway.
        There are moves to make before anyone would fire the head coach.
        And every one of them is still there.

      2. Well that was a helluva walk to get nowhere. You seem to live in Disney times.

        Way too early….give him a proper chance to react.
        Fact is, he’s going to get one anyway.
        There are moves to make before anyone would fire the head coach.
        And every one of them is still there.

    3. You would feel better if you had the ability to develop critical thinking skills,but you are just another victim of your own ignorance

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