Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman started off his weekly conference by acknowledging the commitment of quarterback Duece Knight, who will be a part of the 2025 recruiting class. Shifting back to the present, Freeman described Saturday’s victory as a learning experience that balanced solid pass defense and a strong finish with issues like penalties and missed tackles.
Freeman then noted the players of the game, with Audric Estime winning on offense, Jack Kiser being tabbed on defense, and Devyn Ford for special teams work.
“We’re excited to go against a top-tier opponent for sure and we’re excited about just the atmosphere.”
The Irish wardrobe for Saturday night’s game against Ohio State, coupled with the buzz of a Top 10 battle also showed Freeman’s excitement.
“We get to finally wear the green uniforms, so they talked me into wearing a green jacket today and so I said I’ll wear it. So we expect to see a lot of green in that stadium.”
Asked about the differences between this year’s game and last season’s opener against the Buckeyes, Freeman spoke about feeling more comfortable and the emergence of this year’s team identity
“You have a year under your belt, it’s not the first game of the year. You’ve been able to develop an identity as a program with these first four games and so it’s a lot different than what it was last year.”
Freeman then was questioned about possible fixes for the tackling issues and the recent spate of penalties.
“The three missed tackles on the one drive that leads to a touchdown is what you can’t have…You have to continue to show them (players) how to improve at that and really work at that in practice without going live. As far as the penalties, again, as I said after the game, is it a selfish penalty or is it a fundamental penalty?”
Expressing confidence in Sam Hartman’s ability to deal with the intense atmosphere, Freeman pointed to his earlier efforts at Wake Forest.
“I think in his mind, he (Hartman) has played in games like this. He’s played in some big games at Wake Forest, and this moment won’t be too big for Sam.”
Freeman expressed no concern about who Ohio State might have behind center, saying he expects Kyle McCord to take most, if not all, of the snaps.
“They have playmakers. They’ve got a stable of running backs that can truly do things in the run game. As far as the quarterback, we plan on seeing McCord … You have to have a plan. You have to have a plan for anybody you might see.”
Noting the need to keep Ohio State’s talented defensive line in check, Freeman specifically pointed to defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau as a cause for concern.
“They got guys, and it’s deep, and they rotate a lot of guys in there. So 44 (Tuimoloau) is an impressive player. He’s big, he’s powerful, explosive.”
Freeman then offered updates about J.D. Bertrand and D.J. Brown, saying that both will be back in action on Saturday, with Mitchell Evans also expected back. Gabe Rubio resumes practice on Tuesday and should be available, while Eli Raridon is not quite ready to return.
Attempting to quell any concerns about the team’s sack total, Freeman pointed to his focus on another pertinent statistic.
“Everyone keeps talking about sacks, sacks, sacks. I told Coach (Al) Golden, ‘We’re number one in the country in pass efficiency defense, and so that’s the stat I’m worried about. I’m not worried about sacks.'”
In another effort to contrast last year’s matchup with Ohio State with this year, Freeman envisioned a much different approach.
“Part of the mindset going into that game was trying to control the ball as long as we could and limit their offensive possessions … I don’t want to play not to lose. I don’t want to play that way. I want our guys to be aggressive, I want our guys to be attacking.”
Returning to the atmosphere expected on Saturday, Freeman implored Irish fans to show up in force and offer a true home-field advantage.
“We want to see a lot of green in there. The cool thing about Saturday is we’ve got green jerseys. I’m not sure if they’re calling it a Green-Out, but we want to see a lot of green and I think our players notice it and appreciate that.”
Defensive lineman Javontae Jean-Baptiste’s enthusiasm about playing against his former school was addressed by Freeman.
“I can’t jump into his brain and know what’s going on. My message to him will be the same thing as to everyone else is, ‘Don’t worry about Saturday, worry about today. When we get to Saturday, worry about doing your job and winning the interval every single play.'”