In Marcus Freeman’s weekly press conference, he cited the players of the game against Pitt with Chris Tyree winning both for offense and special teams, while Xavier Watts won again for defense. He then noted that Mitchell Evans’ season has ended because of his ACL injury, while cornerbacks Cam Hart and Benjamin Morrison should be back against Clemson.
Despite Evans’ injury, Freeman remains confident about the tight ends, beginning with Eli Raridon:
“He’ll be asked to do more, along with Holden Staes and Cooper Flanagan and those guys. You don’t make up for the production that Mitch gave our offense with one guy. I think every guy in that tight ends room will be asked to do more.”
Freeman then lauded the work of cornerback coach/defensive pass game coordinator Mike Mickens:
“I absolutely think that Mike Mickens is ready to be a defensive coordinator. That’s why we gave him the passing coordinator title during the offseason, He is a tremendous football coach, schematically and in the fundamentals of playing the cornerback position.”
The test of playing Clemson was then explained by Freeman:
“It starts with our preparation. That’s my challenge to them on a Monday is that we have to believe it’s the way we prepare that gives us the opportunity to have the outcome we had on Saturday.”
Freeman offered the requisite praise for Clemson and later cited a key aspect of the Tigers’ offensive success:
“I think it’s their ability to run the ball and that’s what you’ve seen them put a bigger emphasis on. They have threats downfield but what they continuously are trying to do is find ways to run the football with two backs, one back. I don’t know exactly what we’ll get, depending on what happens with number one (Will Shipley) being able to play or not.”
Flanagan’s increased usage was explained by Freeman:
“One was the ability to grasp what we’re asking him to do on offense. Two, he presents a skill set that’s a little bit different in terms of the power that he’s able to block with. He blocks with a physicality that not everybody in that room has.”
Chris Tyree‘s growth as a player this season was reason enough for Freeman to hope that the wideout returns in 2024.
“Chris Tyree is a great example of the bumpy road to better…he just continues to work at it and now you’re making plays on special teams. A guy who can move positions, have setbacks and get better because of it and I think he’s still getting better.”
The offensive approach of the Irish and how Freeman interacts with offensive coordinator Gerad Parker in preparation for a game was explained.
“It’s a mentality of, hey, I want to be aggressive, I want to take shots down the field…to me, the preparation is put in through the gameplan and through their preparation of that mentality for taking shots.”
The reasoning for Notre Dame using a fast-paced tempo late in the first half was explained by Freeman.
“I want to be able to have tempo as a tool. I don’t want to major in tempo. But I do think, from a defensive mindset, if I know the offense has the ability to go tempo, that presents challenges.”
Freeman noted that fixing mistakes after playing on the road offers an evolving set of challenges.
“The one thing you learn from a road this season was at Duke, with the many pre-snap penalties we had. That was something we had to address and how we want to use cadence when you have crowd noise. Louisville, five turnovers for different reasons, the short-yardage situations that we didn’t have success on. Those are, to me the situations where you say, ‘How do we make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Sam Hartman’s early problems were dismissed by Freeman, who cited that such aberrations don’t require much focus.
“He is so consistent in his approach, series by series, so you don’t need to say much to him.”
Adapting some of Clemson’s winning culture was something that Freeman
“You’re a fool if you don’t try to emulate some of that and try to say, ‘What is Clemson doing really well that could help this football program continue to advance?'”
The success of the running game on Saturday.
“It was a unique game where we would call one play and it would gain 12 (yards) and call the same play and the execution wasn’t what you wanted and it would go for three or four
Despite playing Clemson last year, Freeman noted that the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator, Garrett Riley, requires a different approach.
“He has his own wrinkles in terms of what they’re doing offensively and so that presents its own challenges for our defense.”