After starting off his weekly press conference by acknowledging the anniversary of September 11, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman transitioned into his thoughts on Saturday’s win over North Carolina State. He offered praise not only for the performance but the efforts of the support staff as well, given the unusual circumstances.
Shutting down the raucous Wolfpack crowd was worthy of note by Freeman.
“I’m really proud of the way our team handled a tough environment versus a really good football team,” Freeman said.
Freeman then followed that up by hailing the fourth-quarter effort that helped put the victory away for the Irish.
“We really did a good job in that fourth quarter of saying this is going to be who we are,” Freeman said. “We’re not going to look at the circumstances and what the score is but really stay in the moment.”
The ability to shake off Saturday’s slow start by exploiting matchups were seen as a positive by Freeman
“Offensively, we started out slow,” Freeman said. “Two three-and-outs. We can’t do that, we know that. But I really like the way we use multiple different personnel and formations and different schemes with those personnel to create some mismatches that we were able to have some really positive plays throughout the entirety of the game.”
That led into comments about the Irish’s success thus far with its two-minute drill.
“The two-minute drive before half was, again, really good,” Freeman said. “That’s three games in a row I’ve been aggressive when the other team has had the ball in calling timeouts. I believe if we have a chance to get the ball in our offense’s hands with no matter how much time. Probably, if it’s more than 30 seconds, I’m going to call time out so we can the ball in our offense’s hands and let them get a chance to run a two-minute operation.”
Freeman was happy with the lack of false start miscues, given the crowd situation.
“One pre-snap penalty,” Freeman said. “Obviously, we want zero, but that’s still a great job in that environment where the first time we’re using a clap cadence. To only have one presnap penalty was huge.”
Spencer Shrader’s booming school record 54-yard field goal and his near-miss of a 56-yard attempt were also hailed by Freeman.
“It was really good to see,” Freeman said. “man, he’s got a huge leg.”
Freeman announced that Saturday’s Players of the Game were TE Holden Staes, DB D. J. Brown and Shrader before then speaking carefully about Saturday’s heavy underdog opponent, Central Michigan.
“We will have a challenge and we look forward to this challenge,” Freeman said.
After noting that the pass protection struggles on Saturday were not entirely the fault of the line, Freeman praised the turnovers the Notre defense forced.
“It’s huge, it’s huge,” Freeman said. “To give our offense the ball in plus territory and end up getting 14 points off of those three interceptions … it’s a huge momentum morale base.”
Freeman explained one of the reasons for the early success with respect to the Irish’s resiliency:
“I think you always try to put your players in difficult situations and see how they respond,” Freeman said. “It can be a situation where they know what’s coming or they don’t know that it’s coming.”
Spreading the passing game around to different receivers led Freeman to compare it to 2022 and the seeming focus on Michael Mayer.
“I think the ability for us to go through a progression,” Freeman said. “It really puts the defense at a disadvantage because you can’t just double-cover one guy.”
Regarding the early offensive woes for Notre Dame on Saturday, Freeman acknowledged that North Carolina State came roaring out of the gate.
“The first two series, I never want to say somebody plays harder than us because we pride ourselves on that,” Freeman said. “But they came out the gate blazing.”
Freeman offered injury updates
Freeman stated that MLB J. D. Bertrand is in concussion protocol, with Saturday’s status uncertain. RB Devyn Ford is expected to play as he exits from that same protocol, while DL Gabe Rubio and TE Eli Raridon remain out.
In Raridon’s case, Freeman noted how the tight end’s second ACL injury requires addressing the mental and physical aspects of his situation.
“We’re working with him to physically make sure that he (Raridon) is feeling like he’s 100 percent and then mentally, feeling like you won’t go out and re-injure yourself,” Freeman said.
Freeman was unconcerned about the lack of sacks, given the pressure the defense has delivered and explained how he addresses that in talks with that unit.
“The sacks will come,” Freeman said. “Just continue to buy in what we’re doing defensively, because the results, big picture, have been exactly what we want.”