Marcus Freeman began his final regular season press conference with praise for the Irish’s performance in the Red Zone and young receiving corps’ effort against Wake Forest on Saturday, The players of the game were announced as Sam Hartman on offense, J.D. Bertrand on defense and Jevonte Jean-Baptiste on special teams for his block of the a Wake field goal attempt.
Freeman was asked how the team could play better on the road.
“From the first play of the game, have the mentality to (say that), ‘We’re gonna win the interval on this play. We can’t ooze into any game.”
One way Freeman indicated to change things up was in adjusting the structure of this week’s practices.
“Have some more competitive periods early in practice so that it’s just like a game.”
Increased usage of play-action passes was something Freeman noted
“That is definitely part of our offense that we have to continue to get better at. When you have success running the ball, play-action is a complement to that.”
Freeman was asked about the growth of the team, which has compiled a 14-4 record since last year’s Stanford loss.
“I’m growing as a leader. Our program is continuing to enhance. We have to continue to get better. There’s parts of our program that we have to continue to get better.”
The challenge of preparing for Stanford this week was discussed by Freeman.
“You can never prepare for everything. You have to have answers for everything but you can’t over-prepare for them or you’re going to paralyze your players.”
Communication problems late in the first half of Saturday’s game were attributed to wristband issues by Freeman, who indicated that the issue has come up a number of times this season.
“That’s the point of not wanting to signal everything and be able to change up how you communicate from the sidelines that you might read the wrong wristband number.”
Freeman spoke about the school’s new television contract extension with NBC and what it means to the program.
“It adds to the value of what Notre Dame provides and that’s ability to go sell that in recruiting. You’re the only college football program with this exclusive network.”
Last year’s loss and how the coaches will seek to use it as a motivational tool was explained by Freeman.
“The schematic aspect to it won’t matter but the motivation to understand how important this game is will matter. So I want to make sure they understand it, especially for those guys who weren’t here.”
Ashton Craig’s performance at center in place of the injured Zeke Correll drew praise from Freeman.
“We have a lot of confidence in Ashton. I’ve seen it in practice, I’ve seen it just from talking with Coach (Joe) Rudolph and I’m really proud of the way he performed in his opportunity he had here on Saturday.”
Freeman also praised Rudolph’s coaching ability, which included integrating two new starters in last Saturday’s game.
“Coach Rudolph is an excellent teacher and I’ve seen that even as a player. As a defensive player at Ohio State, the ability to see somebody teach is something that was implanted in my brain as I went into last year looking for an offensive line coach.”
New Notre Dame athletic director Pete Bevacqua also drew plaudits from Freeman.
“Pete’s been excellent with his transition with Jack (Swarbrick) and I think he’s like me last year, just trying to figure it out … but he has been a great supporter, teammate, sounding board at times.”
A change at head coach for Stanford has meant a different look for the Cardinal, which Freeman talked about.
“Very different. It’s a different team. Unique offense. The one thing I’ll say about Stanford is they play extremely hard on all three phases.”
Notre Dame’s uneven performance in West Coast games resulted in a question to Freeman about this week’s travel plans.
“Usually we leave on Thursdays. We’re gonna leave on Friday and the reason being, just from my feedback and dialogue that’s best for the performance to just keep it as normal as we have in the past.”
Stanford’s pending shift to the ACC and its possible effect on the rivalry between the school and Notre Dame was something that Freeman hoped wouldn’t be seriously affected.
“I think it’s a great rivalry that we’re gonna try to continue to have as long as we can. Again, as you guys know, those decisions are made by people above me.”
The slim difference between an undefeated season and the 8-3 record held by Notre Dame was discussed by Freeman.
“Those great programs find a way to win those games and that’s what we’re all striving to be. We’re striving to be that team that’s on the mountaintop.”.