Overreactions: All-Time Blunder Compounds Notre Dame Mistakes in Latest Heartbreaker

A program-defining win for Marcus Freeman was there for the taking on Saturday night against Ohio State. Still, the Irish fell just short in a game that Notre Dame fans will remember far more for the Irish mistakes that cost them the chance for glory rather than the thrilling contest that resulted. Instead of celebrating a big-time win, the Irish now must pick up the pieces from one of the biggest “what could have been” games in program history.

Ten Men on the field is an all-time blunder

Notre Dame had just ten men on the field for the final two plays of the game, and it is simply inexcusable. When pressed, Freeman’s answer on Saturday night wasn’t much better. He tried blaming it on not being able to take a penalty there, but they had ten men for two plays. The first was AFTER a timeout. And Ohio State substituted before the game’s final play, so Notre Dame would have been allowed to do the same, and there was no risk of penalty—just a bad, bad look from Freeman and this staff all around.

It should have never come down to the final two plays after all the missed opportunities – the biggest being the dropped interception by DJ Brown a few plays earlier that would have ended the game. Still, that simply can’t happen. It’s not just a sign of inexperience from Freeman, it’s a sign of fundamental issues with the entire game-day coaching operation. Someone in the booth needed to see that and make sure the Irish were correct for the final play. It didn’t happen.

We knew there would be growing pains with a first-time head coach, but this mistake can only happen once and never again. It’s unacceptable by ANY MEANS, but it would be unforgivable if it ever happened again. There were several questionable coaching decisions over the final four minutes, but this was one of the biggest blunders any Notre Dame head coach has ever made in a big game in the program’s history.

Many other coaching mistakes were made

Unfortunately, Marcus Freeman and his staff were almost oh-fer in every critical decision they made. They went for it on 4th and 1 instead of kicking a field goal and got stuff. Another 4th and 1, where they rushed to the line, was blown up. When Freeman did call for a field goal on a 4th he could have gone for, Spencer Shrader missed it. Almost every single critical moment like that went against Notre Dame Saturday night. Not all were bad decisions at the moment, but the outcomes will define the staff.

Aside from those decisions, the game’s final four minutes featured some of the worst coaching we’ve seen from Notre Dame in years. Instead of feeding the ball to their 230 lbs bell cow running back Audric Estime, who was finally starting to get going, they got cute with the play calling. A potential clock-draining drive was blown up after a promising start, all while Ohio State got to keep one of their timeouts – a timeout that saved them the game when they used it instead of a 10-second run-off in the final 15 seconds.

The Notre Dame staff wasn’t perfect in the first 56 minutes, but they had Notre Dame in position to win during that time. Their performance over the final four minutes, however, is the kind of coaching that costs games, and in this case, it did just that.

The ghost of Pete Bercich still haunts Notre Dame

In the 1993 upset loss to Boston College, Notre Dame linebacker Pete Bercich let a game-sealing interception through his hands on the final BC drive. Thirty-five years later, DJ Brown did the same. Brown had a relatively easy interception go off both hands in the last minute that would have ended the game. Brown dropped another interception in the endzone earlier in the game as well.

Brown isn’t the reason Notre Dame lost the game. The list of mistakes from the staff and players is lengthy, but that play will stick out for years to come and be brought up at tailgates for the next 35 years as fans trade horror stories.

Heartbreak has come to define this program when it comes to games like this. Fans have come to expect it. For as electric as it was in the stadium, there was definitely a nervousness in my section as Ohio State got the ball. We had all seen this story before, and sure enough, it played out before our eyes once again. This is a program right now that just can’t get over that final hump even when it’s right there for taking, it bounces away just like the dropped interception.

Why did Notre Dame go after Sam Hartman if they weren’t going to use him in a big moment?

Sam Hartman was fine on Saturday night, but for all intents and purposes, was outplayed by a kid making his first career road start because the staff didn’t unleash him. Hartman threw the ball fewer against Ohio State last night than Tyler Buchner did against the Buckeyes last year—that’ lunacy.

Notre Dame’s offensive game plan felt very conservative and very much “play to keep it close” instead of being aggressive. Freeman explained the play calls on Notre Dame’s final drive by saying he wants to always be aggressive. The Irish were anything but aggressive for most of the game.

Chris Tyree got just 18 snaps. Audric Estime played just 25 of 65 snaps. All Tyree has done this year is make plays when given the ball. He had one touch last night.

The season isn’t over, but…

The margin for error right now is razor-thin. I am of the belief that even if Notre Dame wins out, they’d have an uphill battle for a CFP bid with a loss. Obviously, a lot can happen between now and then, but the playoffs should be a total afterthought for all involved. With a very tough road game at Duke this weekend and another top-5 opponent coming into two in two weeks in USC, Freeman, and Notre Dame need to ensure this doesn’t get off the rails.

Teams can usually respond to losses like this in one of two ways – a strong bounce back where they take out their frustrations on the next opponent OR another let down because they let the loss linger. This will be one of the most critical weeks in the early Marcus Freeman era. He has to get this team back on track and focused, or this season could get away from them quickly.

Lost in the blunders was a hell of a game plan from Al Golden

Notre Dame fans won’t be lining up to give Al Golden any props today after the ten men fiasco and all the bad plays given up on that final drive. Still, in back-to-back seasons, Golden has had an Ohio State offense that puts up points in bunches, largely bottled up. If someone told you at noon on Saturday that Ohio State would only score 17 points, you’d have taken it 10 out of 10 times and thought that Notre Dame would win.

Marvin Harrison Jr. caught 3 passes for just 32 yards as Notre Dame bottled him up for the second year in a row. Yes, there were some big breakdowns at terrible times, but at the end of the day, Notre Dame should win every game the defense holds a high-powered offense to 17 points.

The atmosphere was electric, and the takeover didn’t happen

For all the worries about an Ohio State takeover, Buckeye fans didn’t even show out in as many numbers as Cincinnati fans did two years ago. This was nothing in even the same realm as Georgia ‘17 or Nebraska ‘00. Notre Dame’s measures to limit the takeover were largely effective, and Notre Dame fans did their part in showing up in green en-mass.

After apprehension from some over the first few years, the “green out” appears to have really taken hold with fans finally. The head coach embracing it and the football department’s marketing efforts have also helped a lot.

A win was the only thing missing from a true Notre Dame moment last night. Well, that and one extra defensive end on the final two plays of the drive.

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  1. I was a senior in 88 and saw a team with a chip on its shoulder. I saw a coaching staff get real sharp knowing they had something. When I say anti-Catholic, I’m talking about the opponents, their fans and many of the pundits from places like ESPN, and now possibly NBC.
    ESPN had a woman reporter say F$$& Catholics and F&$$ Notre Dave.
    I say I’d like to see the Irish bury every opponent. And I’d like to take Ryan Day and punch his face in as well as most Buckeye fans.

    What hurts is that this team has no talent gaps when you consider depth and ability to coach around individual matchups. The coaching staff was not ready for this game and wasn’t sure what they have.
    The O-line had taken control so pound it. That’s not conservative. It’s possible Estime breaks a long one.
    Don’t play soft coverage when your D-Backs have played even with their best. AND if 8 are back there play man to man with the extras watching to clogging space.
    And 10 men in a game of this magnitude? Geez

    I believe in Freeman. But it’s time to learn quickly and now. Don’t waste the great team that this one is. And in a year where everyone is getting pissed from getting dissed, let’s see some anger among the Irish.

    1. After being a student at ND and back to campus numerous times every year since the 70’s one thing that stands out is that the ND team NEEDS the hype and fans to get up for the big games….why?….if you love to play football you should be self motivated to paly in an empty stadium and want to win and also without money being involved at all……which of the staff at ND now would live like Frank Leahy at the stadium in a little room totally dedicated to winning…and not making millions of dollars to do it.

  2. Sad repeat of past “almost wins.” MF and staff are overpaid. Golden’s 3 man rush and MF allowing for 10 men on the field alone are inexcusable.

    Of course, JS hiring a defensive coordinator w/ zero HC experience at ND was the ultmate foolishness given the history of Charlie Weiiss, Bob Davie, Jerry Faust.

    1. a 3-man rush is not terrible strategy on its face….
      It’s the 8 men in coverage not fulfilling their duties that makes the strategy shit.

  3. No possible excuses or sugar coating for it…..
    Freeman and his defensive staff fucked the fuck out of that.
    To call it amateurish would be an insult to amateur football coaches everywhere.
    As long as he is a caoch, at any level, he’ll never live that one……no, those two!….down.

    1. I don’t think it was the defense. The dumbest play call occurred after the very good run by Estime to get us to the 35 yard line out of a hole with only about 4 minutes left. I don’t know why Estime wasn’t in there after and we tried a kind of trick play or a play where someone went the wrong way and it put us in 2nd and fifteen instead of maybe 2nd a 6 by pounding it with Estime. The screen pass called after that was a great call and it was set up beautifully but the pass didn’t get over the lineman’s reach or it would have been a big gainer. We gave them this game when Estime wasn’t in to help drain the clock. And of course we dropped an easy interception by someone who always seems to drop the ball.

      1. We had the heads-and -shoulders better QB……and didn’t use that adavntage any differently than ‘throw-it-in-the-dirt’ Buchner was used against CJ Stroud last year.

  4. Marcus Freeman is an embarrassment to Notre Dame and to ND Football. Freeman should admit his failed attempt to lead and should turn in his resignation. He has failed as a leader, as a coach, and refuses to hold himself accountable. Leave the Team Freeman, you are not the best Coach for the University of Notre Dame Footbal

  5. A valiant effort from the players; their great plays outnumbered their miscues.
    And nobody’s perfect; not even Brian kelly, Keith.
    This week will be the biggest test for NDs coordinators since they’ve been named. What have they learned, reacting to this devastating loss by recognizing it’s very much on them?
    Feel the pain; then refocus, and move on. The sooner the better!
    Duke hosts college game day this week in Durham.
    How much defeat hangover will affect ND while Duke prepares for its biggest game since . . .?
    Will it motivate or distract? The true test for this team and their coaches is Duke, not $C in three weeks. And then @ Louisville in two weeks, so that the game with one of the transfer portal darlings in three weeks matters. This four game gauntlet everybody saw coming has begun, and ended badly in game one of it. I recall Drue Tranquil’s post game comments after another tough loss to Georgia a few years back. “I feel sorry for the rest of our opponents.”
    It’s up to the players, but especially the coaches, to echo that mindset.
    Go Irish!

    1. LSU barely beat Arkansas only because the “mighty” Razorbacks imploded in the 4th quarter.
      8 or 10 self-inflicted penalties in about 10 minutes. Gong show.

      And then, they willingly wasted the last 1:45 of the game playing defense inside their 10, instead of giving LSU the quick TD to get the ball back with time left to score and go to OT.

      Kelly’s team didn’t win. He just came up against a team that really, really wanted to lose so much more. Where ND could find and schedule such opponents, I’d love to know.

      1. Notre Dame’s team didn’t win either. In 3 of 4 quarters our offense stunk up the field.

        BGC 77 82

  6. I felt Lou Holtz shouldn’t have said what he did. Anybody would react the way Day did. The thing that bothers me about last night is I feel the talent gap was very close. In other years in these big games the talent gap was huge. I think, Freeman, Parker and Golden’scoaching prevented Notredame from winning. I don’t want to rehash the specifics but not forcing Ohio State to use their time outs and rushing 3 on a 3rd and 19 when the 2 plays before you sent the house and the quarterback threw widly once and grounded the ball on second down was poor coaching.

  7. Frank, everything in your analysis is spot on, so nothing to add. The circumstances were just damning as to how ND lost a game by giving it away, essentially.

  8. Anti- Catholic!?? We lost because Sam Hartman, previously a Heisman candidate, only threw downfield more than 20 yards once in 60 minutes of football. If we are going to be shoveling that much crap around the old ball yard, why not start an Ian Book type…can’t throw deep, but is the most accurate short and midrange passer we’ve ever had, and the kind of runner that would have picked up at least three of the six crucial 3rd or 4rth down plays Sam was 0 for SIX on. And OSU would NEVER have seen that ball again at the end of Q4 if an IAN Book type guy were in there.

    What good does it do us to have this great, superskilled, super experienced transfer QB
    if we are going to force him to play Book’s game (inferiorly) rather than his own?

    BGC 77 82

    1. I knew early on you were an odd duck.
      Later, I came to realize you were an asshole.
      Today, I can confidently call you an idiot.

      1. Mea culpa….I started to scan your post instead of reading it, and thought it to be a critique of Hartman. I apologize for my remarks, made while infuriated.

      2. Hartman 17 for 25 (68%), 175 yds, 1 TD
        McCord 21 for 37 (56%) , 240 yds

        Hartman had to watch form the bench as a rookie QB won the game with his arm in a hostile road environment, to become an instant Buckeye legend.

        Speakijng of apologies…..Freeman better be apologizing on his hands and knees to Sam for wasting his talent, ruining his shot at a Heisman, and costing him a few million on draft night.

    2. You hit the nail on the head. Book’s running would have made the difference in this game. He was every bit as good on short to mid throws as Hartman and twice the runner. It does bother me that as good as pass protection was for Hartman he couldnt seem to find a receiver, a problem Ian had as well.

  9. Don’t like going for it on 4th and 1 as opposed to kicking a FG early in 1st Qtr regardless of what the analytics say. Works most of the time against NDs first four opponents but against the stout D of OSU take the points. Also Hartman has to sell out and get that first down. Big mistake.

    Biggest glaring weakness IMO was Notre Dame’s inability all night long to pressure the QB. McCord rarely hit the turf.

    6th year safety DJ Brown had a Golden Dome opportunity to become a legend last nite. You have to make that interception.

    1. My own opinion of Freeman made a sharp move last night.
      I was worried that I had not yet had a “hey, that guy can really coach!” moment from him.
      But now I have certainly had a “hey, that guy might really be in over his head” one.
      And it was a doozy.

  10. These are the games that Holtz and those who cam before used to win. Notre Dame was always prepared. This one hurts even more because we have the staff we need right now.

    And I’m sick of the world hating Notre Dame. It is born of Catholic hate. Why don’t we get a chip on our shoulder. If Ryan Day can make some stupid statement that the world is against the state of Ohio, (like anyone cares about corn), why can’t Marcus make a statement that the world is against Catholics? We have facts and history on our side to bac that up in America.

    Let’s get a chip and lets get smarter. Dedication please.

    1. In defense of Ryan Day’s momentary freak out….
      He had been given a very damning tOSU obituary– at ND stadium — on national TV — by an original disciple of Woody Hayes.
      And managed to pull off a miraculous, rising-from-the-dead, zero seconds on the clock win.
      In the very shadow of Touchdown Jesus.

      1. Edit:
        — by an orignal disciple of Woody Hatyes, being feted for his own coaching legacy and team’s national championship that very day.

    2. Including how marvelous Donald Trump is.

      BGC 77 82 Actually, what the world hates is LOSERS. Not Catholics.

      BGC 77 82

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