Notre Dame (2-2) earned its second straight victory, and second win of the Marcus Freeman era, when it defeated North Carolina last night by a 45-32 score. Following the victory Freeman discussed all aspects of the win.
“I’m really happy with where this team is progressing,” Freeman said after the win over the Tar Heels. “That’s what I just told them in the locker room. Sometimes we let the outcome kind of mask some things, right? (We) continue to look at is this a football team that’s getting better? And it is. We’re playing better, we’re practicing better, and that’s the challenge (to) continue to get better. “
Freeman shared his thoughts on several other topics as well.
Offensive Play Calling
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees drew the ire of Irish fans for lackluster game plans and play calling in the losses to OSU and Marshall, but both his play sheet and personnel packages have looked different the last two weeks.
Rees relied heavily on 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) in the first two games, but he has gone to more 11 (one back, one tight end) and 21 (two backs, one tight end) the last two weeks. We even saw some effective use of 22 (two backs, two tight ends) in the win over the Tar Heels.
The result on Saturday was the best offensive performance of the season. Notre Dame was averaging just 300.3 yards of offense and 3.3 yards per rushing attempt entering the game, but finished with 576 total yards, 287 rushing yards and 5.6 yards per carry in the win in Chapel Hill.
"I try to tell the team all the time, when things go bad it’s bad play calling (and) when things go well it’s great play calling, right,” Freeman said when asked about Rees’s play calling. "That’s the reality of things. I believe in the game Tommy Rees has called, from Ohio State to Marshall and Cal and now we were able to execute better. That’s, to me, the sign of a leader is, are we preparing the right way?
“That’s the challenge, and that’s, to me, what our coordinators are continuing to do,” Freeman continued. “We’re preparing better and we’re looking at how to prepare better and that's a challenge. So, the result of that preparation is what you saw today. We had some guys open. We were able to call some plays, offenses and defenses, that had success.”
On The Notre Dame Running Backs
Notre Dame’s running backs were key to Saturday’s offensive performance. Chris Tyree (104), Audric Estime (134) and Logan Diggs (115) all totaled over 100 yards from scrimmage. All of Estime’s yards came on the ground, making him the first Irish back to top 100 rushing yards since Kyren Williams had 199 against UNC last October.
Tyree topped 100 total yards for the second straight game, while Diggs did it for the first time in his career. Diggs and Estime also combined for three touchdowns.
“The ability to use those three in different ways. Listen, we lost Kevin (Bauman) this week and we knew we were going to have to be kind of strategic in terms of what kind of personnel we were going to use,” Freeman said of the trio. “To have a guy like Chris Tyree that you can use in the backfield, use in the slot (and) do some different things with, it really opens up things for our offense.
“They were just going on a roll,” Freeman said of the trio. “Credit to Coach (Deland) McCullough, who’s done a great job with that group. The unselfishness of that group, it was really good to see today.”
Freeman also announced after the game that Bauman will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL that he suffered at practice during the week.
Offensive Line Keeps Rolling
The running backs can’t do their thing without the offensive line. The unit was plagued by communication issues and false starts early on, but it has slowly eliminated those problems while starting to impose its will on opponents.
Against North Carolina we got a glimpse of what this unit was supposed to be this season.
“It’s what you hope Notre Dame football is going to be about,” Freeman said of the physical Irish offensive line. “That you’re going to have an O-line that can run the ball. And even if a team knows we’re going to run the ball, be able to get, I’m not saying get 10 yards, those were added bonuses today, those big plays, but to be able to run the ball at will for four or five yards, that’s something that you have to be able to do, especially with our current roster.
“They did a really good job,” he continued. “And that’s a group in particular, as you see, from game one to game four has really, really gotten better.
Drew Pyne Shines
After a first half against Cal in his first career start that he would rather forget, Drew Pyne has turned in three halves of football with very good decision making and steadily improving play.
Pyne was 24 of 34 for a new career high 289 yards against North Carolina. He threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions. He has five touchdown passes with no interceptions in his two starts. Freeman explains the difference since that sluggish first half last week.
"Just execution,” Freeman noted. "You saw last week in the first half, Drew makes the right decisions. It’s never a decision making issue, it’s the execution. And early in the game last week, he wasn’t executing in the way he would want or we would want. But today, he continued to make good decisions, but he executed (by) putting the ball were it needed to be and some guys made some plays. So, he’s going to always be prepared, he’s going to always know what to do with the ball. The continuous challenge for him is to execute the right way.”
On JD Bertrand's Targeting Penalty
J.D. Bertrand missed the first half of the game, because he was flagged for targeting late in the fourth quarter of last week’s win over Cal. He made his presence known immediately on his first play of the second half, when he blitzed UNC quarterback Drake Maye.
Bertrand stripped the ball from Maye, and Justin Ademilola recovered in Tar Heel territory. The play set up an Estime touchdown to put the Irish up 38-14.
That’s all great.
What’s not great is, Bertrand was flagged for targeting later in the game and again ejected, meaning he will have to miss the first half of Notre Dame’s next game vs BYU on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas.
A new NCAA rule allows teams to appeal targeting calls in the second half if they choose, but Freeman didn’t sound like that’s a route he plans to pursue.
“It’s targeting and you can argue all you want, but as I told J.D. on the field, it’s our job to learn from that situation,” Freeman explained. “It’s an entire game he’s missed, now. He’s going to miss the first half of this game, he’s going to miss the first half of next game.
“So, we have to learn from it,” he continued. “We have to change or you’re going to continue to get the targeting penalties, no matter if we agree or disagree. So, we have to understand that that’s the way the refs called it, so we have to practice different ways of tackling. We’ve got to make sure you’re not leading with your head. One is safety, but two, you need to be on the field. So, we have to look at that and study and say, how do we practice, for him in particular, a better way to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
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