(Not So) Immediate Overreactions: Marcus Freeman Delivers Notre Dame The Kind of Win They’ve Been Lacking

Notre Dame beat a top-5 team by 21 points for the first time in 27 years in 35-14 thrashing of Clemson.

Notre Dame handed Clemson a good old-fashioned butt-whooping on Saturday night, the likes of which neither program has seen in some time. The Tigers are not used to getting blown out, and the Irish have not been the kind of program that blows out top-5 opponents in some time. That happened in Notre Dame’s 35-14 beat down of #4 Clemson.

Marcus Freeman is starting to come into his own

Earlier this year, I wrote on the pod a few times that Freeman didn’t look comfortable at the start of the season. He looked very much like a first-time head coach trying to act the way he thought a head coach should act instead of just being himself. Well, the last few weeks, he’s been himself, from chewing off officials on the road at Syracuse to celebrating with fans on the field last night.

We knew there would be growing pains with Freeman as a head coach because he had never done it before. But seeing him make strides and start to come into his own this quickly after some pretty low points less than a month ago is remarkable progression.

A better win than any Brian Kelly had at Notre Dame

Brian Kelly did not have a better win as the head coach at the University of Notre Dame than the one Marcus Freeman delivered last night. It took Kelly 11 years to beat a top-5 opponent at Notre Dame. Freeman pulled it off in game 9 of his first season as a head coach. The 21-point victory was the largest for Notre Dame over a top-5 opponent since 1995, when the Irish shellacked Keyshawn Johnson and USC 38-10.

The closest win for Kelly to last night’s win over Clemson was 2012 Oklahoma when the Irish went on the road and knocked off #8 Oklahoma, but the difference that night was the game was very close until the 4th quarter when the Irish pulled away. Notre Dame flat-out dominated the #4 team in the country from start to finish last night. That hasn’t happened at Notre Dame in some time.

Last night was just the fourth time in program history that an unranked Notre Dame team beat a top-5 opponent and just the 13th time in program history that the Irish beat a top-5 team by 21 or more. The other coaches to pull off the same feat? Frank Leahy, Terry Brennan, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lout Holtz. That’s some damn fine company for Freeman.

Benjamin Morrison is a DUDE

Some fans wondered why Notre Dame kept with Benjamin Morrison after the freshman hit rough patches. However, last night showed the world exactly why the staff moved him into the starting lineup and kept him out there despite some growing pains. Morrison’s two interceptions were the difference in the game.

His first INT set up the offense with a short field, leading to the Irish opening up a 21-0 lead. His second halted the only good Clemson drive (one aided by terrible officiating) and extended the lead to 28-0 when he returned it for a touchdown.

Clemson tried to pick on the true freshman all night long, and he made them pay. Clemson has some dudes at receiver, and none of them could get the beat on Morrison all night. And remember, he’s just a freshman. He’s going to get even better.

Give Brian Mason a massive raise

At this point, I don’t know what else to say about Brian Mason. The man has completely turned around Notre Dame’s special teams after years of mediocrity under the coaching of Brian Polian. The Irish have now blocked SIX punts on the season, including a massive one last night that Prince Kollie returned for a touchdown to give the Irish an early lead and set the crowd roaring.

I am having a hard time thinking of any assistant coach that has come in and immediately made as big of an impact as Mason. It’s akin to the offensive revival that Charlie Weis delivered in 2005 after years of offensive futility under Tyrone Willingham. Mason isn’t the head coach like Weis, but if his unit continues to play like this, it might only be a matter of time before a head coaching job somewhere comes his way.

Running it down their throat

Clemson knew Notre Dame would run the ball most of the time and everyone – myself very much included – assumed that the vaunted Clemson defensive line would be up to the task and the Irish would struggle to run the ball. Instead, all Notre Dame did was run for 263 yards on 47 attempts while passing the ball just 17 times. The Irish averaged 5.6 yards per rush with two backs each eclipsing 100 yards – Logan Diggs with 114 and Audric Estime with 104.

Clemson knew Notre Dame would run it, but they still couldn’t stop it. We have not seen that kind of butt-kicking performance from a Notre Dame offense in a long time. When Notre Dame had one of the best rushing attacks in the country in 2017, defenses started forcing Notre Dame to pass by stacking the box. Clemson tried that, and Notre Dame still had success running the ball.

Notre Dame’s passing game is what it is this year so for the offense to do what it did last night without much of a threat of passing is remarkable.

Finally, a redzone stop

For the first time this season, Notre Dame got a stop in the redzone. Opposing offenses were perfect in the redzone against Notre Dame while scoring touchdowns more than 80% of the time they got inside the 20. Benjamin Morrison’s pick-6 that gave Notre Dame a 28-0 lead finally stopped a streak Notre Dame desperately wanted to end.

Clemson scored touchdowns on their two other trips into the redzone, so there is still room for improvement, but getting one stop was a relief.

Al Golden had a hell of a game plan

Clemson is not very good offensively, but Al Golden’s game plan had the Tigers looking lost all night. Notre Dame held Clemson scoreless through three quarters and only gave up one touchdown before the final two minutes of the game when the Irish had a 35-7 lead and were content to let the clock tick.

Clemson has not been good on offense this year, but Golden did what good defensive coordinators do to bad offensive teams – he took away what they were good at and shut them down. Golden was also aggressive, and it paid off big time with turnovers and regular pressure on both Clemson quarterbacks. Notre Dame had four sacks on the night, and both Irish turnovers led to Notre Dame touchdowns – one directly.

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  1. In terms of personality and potential, Freeman could be the next Parseghian. Ara was the second most loved coach at Notre Dame due to his love and commitment to the Notre Dame family.
    Lou maybe next.
    Marcus could pick up a few NCs and his love and commitment brings back the days of Rockne thru Holtz

      1. As a longggggg time ND fan I actually agree with him. Freeman seems like the second coming of Ara. I hold no animosity towards Kelly as he was a program builder and restored competency and winning after more than a decade of mediocrity and excuses. It was just obvious that Kelly never really ‘loved’ ND as Ara and Holtz did. What was more obvious is that Kelly just couldn’t elicit the type of emotional response we saw on Saturday. ND always seemed to have their worst performances in their biggest games. Freeman is the right guy for the moment. I love the staff he has put together end to end with Golden and Mason being great hires. Between his leadership, charisma and recruiting chops I think the future looks very bright.

    1. 1) Estime pounds it, and he got the holes he needed.
      2) Estime pounding, Diggs quickness , Estime pounding… Goddamn nightmare.

    2. To think Estime was committed to the hated MSU. I have been excited to see him ever since he switched commitments to come here. Shipley is actually a pretty big step down from the backs Clemson usually has. I doubt he will even get drafted and if he does likely a third down type guy. Estime will be good enough to leave after his JR year and will be somebodies feature back on Sundays. He is an absolute monster, great footwork for a big man and runs angry.

  2. Among the many highlights:
    Patterson and the OL dominance
    The DL pressures, the LBs ( withJ.D, Bertrand’s game leading 12 tackles leading the way) taking away Clemson’s run game, and the DBs ball skills and sure tackling
    Benjamin Morrison comes of age on national prime time TV
    Audric Estime’s run for first down on third and thirteen with about 5 minutes left, complemented all night by Diggs and Tyree (who finally was used in space a couple of times as a receiver).
    Pyne finally running a RPO for a 1st down, followed by a TD.
    Worst calls :
    Consistently inconsistent PIs called vs. ND (4 in one drive, two of which were clearly dismissed by the ref analyst in the booth) but Morrison INT w/ Justin Ademilola’s pressure made the question moot. Incompetent refs, again, or were they just trying to keep Clemson in the game?
    Best call:
    After two timeouts by Dabo with the game out of reach, the record-setting TD pass to Mayer.
    Hey, Dabo, wanna lengthen this ass whooping? Have at it. But I hear he leaves the “cleanest visiting locker room”, so there’s that!
    Maybe the best all-around game vs. top 5 rated team in thirty years while hosting twenty or so recruits.

    1. THe best moment of the broadcast….which was actually pretty good…..happened after two consecutive pass intereference calls on ND. Unexpectedly, the NBC announcer asked their rules expert to chime in, and he dismissed both calls as completely baseless horseshit.

      A close second place was when the same dude pointed out the non-call that Freeman was really hot about…..a late shot to Pyne’s head that wasn’t called at all……was a missed, dogballs obvious 15-yarder for roughing the passer.

  3. Really a great win for the Irish. Something we have not seen in a long time. Offense, defense AND special teams all did a great job. It was nice to finally see it all come together. It’s great to see Freeman starting to grow more comfortable too. I can’t help but like the guy and hope he succeeds at ND. Of course a large part of that is being an Irish fan too.

    Hopefully the Irish can keep it going for the rest of the year and win out. While a NC and a NY Day 6 bowl are not in the cards for ND this year, winning out can set them up for a nice run next year. There’s still much to play for and I’m glad the Irish are keeping that in mind and playing hard.

    Go Irish!

    1. I like uout thimking Damian re: winning out this tear. It wouldcreally help on the recruitment trail. Alabama, Tennesse, and Clemson are in tough to make the playoffs. Perhaps young players might start looking eleswhere? Maybe ND? Perhaps I am a bit naive?

      Oh well, Go Irish!!!

    2. If they win out they may still get to a NYD6 bowl. Its not off the table. The big ten is blah after MU and tOSU, the SEC is cannibalizing itself, the PAC will fall back to earth and after we took apart the ACC and if we trounce USC at 9-3 we will be a pretty attractive option. If not a NYD6 then maybe a lesser Jan 1 game but I am certainly putting the cart before the horse. I am old enough to remember that Navy and BC have both dashed our hopes before when we were riding high so fingers crossed we make it to CA on a win streak and handle our old foe USC.

  4. ‘Twas a thing of beauty. Give Freeman credit for not being outmaneuvered by Dabo Swinney—as he was versus Oklahoma State and Ohio State—via halftime adjustments.

    1. THere wewre so many areas where game balls were earned…O-line, D-line, RBs….
      But if there’s just one to give, I agree that Morrison earned it.
      Truly, he was just flying out there. Single-handedly destroyed several Clemson drives. Finishing tackles like he meant it.

      And a talented freshman even seeing the field ?! Is this Upside Down Land ?!

  5. The thing Brian Kelly can say is that he has left every program he’s coached at better off than when he got there

    If Freeman can do the same thing, he’ll win a National Championship

    1. The program was in better shape after his 3rd year….when he first tried abandoning it “greener” pastures.

      But he hung around for another decade, building up a bloated resume of forgettable wins, embarrassing losses, and a healthy bank account.

      He does leave behind “Kelly Cucks”, his fan club of oblivious dolts.

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