Freeman gets first victory as head coach; offense starts to click in win over Cal
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - After two tough losses to start the season, and another loss in his head coaching debut in last season’s Fiesta Bowl, Marcus Freeman finally got to celebrate his first victory as head coach of Notre Dame this past Saturday after the Fighting Irish defeated the Cal Golden Bears 24-17.
Freeman looked the most relaxed he has all season at the podium Monday afternoon.
“Obviously, my first time being up here after a win, and so it’s a little bit different feeling,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to continue to focus on execution. We’ve got to continue to practice better, continue to clean up the mistakes, but build off the momentum after one game. We have to build off of this.”
Freeman acknowledged that many of his firsts so far have been mostly negative, so it’s nice to get a good first checked off the list.
“I think I’ve knocked out all the firsts, right?” Freeman said. “First bowl game, but first loss at a bowl game, first loss on the road, first loss at home, so knocked out all those firsts in a negative aspect. Got the first win. And so, let’s talk about an opponent. Let’s talk about preparing for a game and what it takes to have success.”
Even though the Irish are locked in on their next opponent, North Carolina, this upcoming Saturday, Freeman did touch on what went right for the Irish against Cal.
Notre Dame’s offense overcame a slow start, but the Irish found the end zone three times and scored 24 total points. The offense also sustained enough drives to keep the defense fresh enough for an end-of-the-game stop on a Hail Mary.
Running back Logan Diggs missed the game due to an illness, which meant more touches for Chris Tyree, who finished with 64 yards on 17 carries on the ground. Through the air, Tyree had five catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. Audric Estime added 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Quarterback Drew Pyne went 17-for-23 on pass attempts for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
“We just could not get it going early in the game, and to really look at how it got flipped in the second half and we were able to establish a run game, but what does that do?” Freeman said. “As I said before, it opens up areas in the pass game, and that’s what it did. You continue to run the ball with efficiency, and now the pass game opened up and Drew I think finished 13-of-14 after starting 4-of-9, and so that’s what you want to see. But I think it was just the ability to establish that run game and commit to it.”
However, as Freeman mentioned in terms of cleaning up mistakes, the 24-17 win over Cal was almost closer than it needed to be after Cal had one chance at a Hail Mary.
It seems sacrilegious that a Hail Mary would work against Notre Dame, but it was awfully close. Typically, you’re taught to bat the ball down, but that didn’t happen. Cal receiver Jeremiah Hunter nearly pulled it in, but the ball landed on the grass.
“It was a major talking point, and I was ready at the end of the game to stop and say ‘Hey, let’s come here and regroup and let’s talk about how we’re supposed to play that,’” Freeman said. “And that’s just the coaching side of me. But everybody’s looking for the ball. The ball is thrown, and you see probably five or six defensive guys looking for the ball. Everybody’s trying to jump up and catch it and bat it. It was close. To teach from that moment, after a victory, is something that I would much rather do that if they would have caught that Hail Mary. So, we’ve got to clean that up as coaches, and our players will then have to go execute it.”
Going back to the bright side of Notre Dame’s victory, Freeman also got to implement a routine after wins for his team for the first time by naming players of the game. He said Estime was the offensive player of the game, defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey was the defensive player of the game, and safety Houston Griffith took the honor for special teams.
Notre Dame hits the road again this upcoming Saturday to take on the undefeated Tar Heels. Kickoff at Kenan Memorial Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m.
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