Freeman reflects on what went well, what didn’t in win over UNLV

(WNDU)
Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 12:20 AM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Notre Dame is back to enjoying a winning record after Saturday’s 44-21 victory over UNLV at Notre Dame Stadium.

It’s just the second win for the Fighting Irish (4-3) at their home stadium this season, and it included a feat the team hadn’t achieved all season – a first quarter touchdown.

On the first drive of the game, running back Audric Estime ran it in from 12 yards out to put the Irish up 7-0, but they didn’t stop there! The Irish went on to lead 23-7 at the end of the first quarter. They stretched their lead to 30-7 by halftime.

Head Coach Marcus Freeman said during a press conference Monday that scoring early and often was a focal point at practice leading up to the game.

“It’s obviously a better feeling being up here after a win and going back and evaluating the game,” Freeman said. “I was really pleased with a big picture of the game. There’s so many plays in the games that we have to be better at, and we have to be more consistent in what we’re doing. But the big point of emphasis this week was starting with a sense of urgency, and I think we did that.”

While Notre Dame’s offense was rolling, what many fans would consider to be a disaster nearly happened in the second quarter.

Quarterback Drew Pyne used his legs to pick up a first down. He scrambled for 21 yards before getting speared at the goal line. Pyne had to be taken off the field to be checked for a concussion, which meant freshman Steve Angeli had to come into the game.

That led to a Mitchell Evans direct snap touchdown that put the Irish up 30-7. Pyne did come back to play the rest of the game, but Freeman touched on a scenario where Angeli could’ve had to play the rest of the game.

“Listen, he doesn’t have an option. We don’t have an option,” Freeman said. “If something happens to Drew Pyne, Steve’s going into the game, and we have the upmost confidence in him. One thing I spent a lot of time with Coach (Tommy) Rees is our package that we have for Steve Angeli, We’re not going to ask him to do everything we ask Drew Pyne to do. We had the upmost confidence in him. I think he had confidence in himself.

“I was kind of joking with him yesterday, ‘You sure you’re ready to go?’ and he said ‘C’mon coach, I was in for one play, and we scored a touchdown. We’re good to go,’ and so the second response was ‘Coach, it wasn’t too hard to hand the ball off. Next time let me throw it a little bit.’ And so he’s a confident kid, and that’s important. You have to have confidence as you take the field, but he didn’t blink an eye. And if something happens that he’s got to get in the game, he’s got to be ready to roll.”

Overall, it was certainly a good win for the Irish, and one they desperately needed, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows…

Estime, who says he had never fumbled the ball in his life entering the North Carolina game, suddenly has three fumbles in his last four games.

Saturday’s fumble wasn’t as costly has his fourth quarter fumble against Stanford, but it’s still a turnover that Freeman says needs to get fixed.

“We can’t put the ball on the ground either, and that’s the reality of it,” Freeman said. “Nobody has lost faith in Audric Estime, but he understands that when you have the ball, your job is to hand it to the official. We cannot put the ball on the ground, and that’s something that he understands and obviously he didn’t intend for that to happen. But we got to make sure it doesn’t happen, and that’s through practice and making sure we build confidence in the game, too.”

Estime had just three carries against UNLV, which was the least of the three Irish running backs. Instead, one of them carried the offense by carrying the ball 28 times on Saturday.

Even though he didn’t find the endzone, Logan Diggs rushed for 130 yards. Diggs saw increased snaps after Estime’s fumble. Chris Tyree ran the ball 10 times, but only had 43 yards, so Diggs seemed to be the back that was working.

During one fourth quarter drive, Diggs rushed it on six straight plays, setting up a Pyne touchdown pass to Braden Lenzy.

“We obviously take pride in using three running backs and sharing the bulk of those carries,” Freeman said. “But, you know, we were at practice the other day and Logan was the first guy, we were running our warm-ups, saying ‘I’m hurting guys, but we’ve got to put the work in.’ I remember I looked over before we broke down and I said, ‘Logan what’d you just say?’ ‘Coach we got to put the work in.’ And that’s the maturity of that room, of that young man, and we’ve got to be a team that continues to use multiple running backs. We’re not going to be a one running back team. You can’t, not in this league. The teams we play, the physicality, the amount of times we rush the ball.”

As per tradition after a win, Freeman told us his players of the game. Diggs won on the offensive side of the ball and defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey won both defensive and special teams after finishing the game with three sacks and two blocked punts.

Notre Dame has a tough test this upcoming Saturday, as the Fighting Irish hit the road to face No. 16 Syracuse (6-1). Kickoff is slated for 12 p.m. on ABC.