The weekly press conference for Marcus Freeman began with a critique of the key issues that led to Saturday night’s loss at Louisville.
“We know what happened but why did it happen? The biggest thing is that you can’t turn the ball over five times and expect to win a game versus a good opponent. The second thing is we have to continue to find ways to establish the run and we’ve got to be more successful in those third-and-short situations.”
“Defensively, the biggest issue was the missed tackles on the second and third level that led to big plays. It didn’t happen often but the times that it did happen, they led to touchdowns.”
The first media question for Freeman dealt with the third-and-short issues and whether Sam Hartman has the authority to audible if necessary.
“We give him freedom in certain aspects to change the call but sometimes there’s no option to change the call. If we want to run the ball, we gotta run the ball.”
Freeman noted that the team’s play-calling is not the main problem, but instead pointed to improper execution as the key flaw.
“Everything we do as an offensive staff is a collaborative effort, so I have no issues with the play-calling. I have issues with the execution and that’s what we have to attack.”
A response to a question about offensive line rotation and the unit’s performance preceded a Freeman saying that Blake Fisher was replaced by Tosh Baker on Saturday was due to a Fisher hand injury.
“The performance of the offensive line was decent. We gotta get better and that’s the reality of it. We had a plan going into that game to roll guys into (the game) see if we could elevate the play as a whole.”
Freeman dismissed that the team’s struggles of late were the result of being mentally tired after seven consecutive weeks of play without a bye.
“I don’t use that as a reason for a lack of performance. Now, every week, you evaluate how you prepare and that’s something that we’ll continually do. What do we feel is best to get our guys prepared for this game.”
“What I don’t want to do is use being tired as an excuse. I don’t want our players to use it as an excuse. We’re not tired. You played Saturday night, you had all day to rest.”
The emergence of walk-on wide receiver Jordan Faison on Saturday night, when he caught two passes and scored the first Irish touchdown, was referenced. Freeman indicated that Faison moved up the depth chart because of injuries and that his lacrosse scholarship has been changed to a football one.
“He’s been a talented individual since the moment he stepped on this campus in Fall camp. He has shown that he has a lot of ability.”
Freeman was asked about the play on both sides of the line and their respective performances on Saturday night.
“Are we dominating the line of scrimmage? No. We didn’t do that offensively. I thought defensively, we did a really good job. You always say, ‘If we didn’t give up the two explosive runs for touchdowns but “if” is a good and bad word at times.”
Freeman spoke about Southern Cal as a team and the headaches involved in preparing for them.
“It’s a truly challenging team to prepare for. We know offensively, they are probably the best or one of the best in the country and the most challenging you’ll have to prepare for … their defense is talented. All you have to do is watch the film and see how they play.”
The limited production from Audric Estime, outside of his game-winning run against Duke, over the past two games was explained by Freeman.
“If we’re gonna call a play, there’s a reason we call it and we feel it can have success. We have to execute it. We have to execute it. A lot of offenses are predictable but you can’t stop them.”
Freeman then gave injury updates, saying that Thomas Harper and Gabe Rubio will be back this week, as will Fisher. Jaden Greathouse’s status for the game is dependent upon his ability to practice this week.
Avoiding mistakes over the remainder of this season is something that Freeman believes requires simplification.
“We have to simplify so that our guys don’t have mistakes. To make sure, when we have mistakes, you’ve got to look at yourself as a coach and say, ‘Why are our guys having mistakes?’ If we have to simplify, that’s the biggest thing.”
Freeman closed by noting that linebacker Jaylen Sneed could be an important tool against Southern Cal. However, he indicated that he’ll be used in passing situations and not against the run.