It has been a rough start on the field for this Notre Dame football team, so let us talk about new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
So, how do we feel about the Notre Dame football defense’s transition from Clark Lea to Marcus Freeman? Yeah, probably not great. There has been inconsistency across the board, and the big plays are starting to feel like killers.
There has also been a major push for turnovers and forcing the issue on defense. In other words, there has been a ton of chaos.
Chaos is a major trend in college football, especially on defense. You may not be able to consistently stop a high-powered college offense, but you can force them into chaotic situations. You can steal a possession by forcing a turnover. You can sack a quarterback and get them out of rhythm.
Do those things, and you can stop the best offenses. Sit back and try to absorb them, and the dam will burst. Now, this does come at the expense of being out of position at times and letting up explosive plays, but it’s a modern approach.
Notre Dame football under Marcus Freeman
For Marcus Freeman, he likes to put athletes in man coverage on the edge, and try to force opposing quarterbacks into bad decisions. This means being aggressive and hitting them. It means that if you don’t get to the quarterback, you need your defensive backs to hold up in coverage.
It means that there are big plays to be had, but that’s kind of by design. This is the aggressiveness that Notre Dame football signed up for when they brought in Freeman.
This move was a conscious decision. Clark Lea was a brilliant bend but don’t break defensive coordinator, but what happened against elite teams? The defense broke. The defense had no answer, and Notre Dame football still managed to get blown out.
Marcus Freeman, on the other hand, designs his defense to be able to steal possessions and momentum, though there is a clear cost to this approach that has been seen early in his first year at Notre Dame.
Remembering that this is Marcus Freeman’s first season is also important. The Irish have a defense that is built to fit Lea’s system, not Freeman’s. This means the defensive line isn’t as lean or fast as he’d like, and the corners aren’t good enough in press man.
That isn’t to say that the talent is poor, just that they are still learning a new system that many of them aren’t the prototypical type of player to fit into.
Now, Freeman does need to make adjustments. I’m not advocating he be left off the hook entirely for the defense’s early-season performance. Rather, he does need to keep his mentality while scheming into the current players’ strengths. He also does need to adjust better on the fly.
Sticking with three-down linemen against Florida State’s rushing game is a prime example of that. He just can’t change his stripes.
If you’re Brian Kelly, you hired Marcus Freeman for a reason. You do need to trust that his aggressiveness is the right move in the long term. You can also go back and see just how dominant a defense he was able to build at Cincinnati.
Then, remember that everyone in the country wanted to hire Freeman, and he ended up choosing Notre Dame football over more money at LSU. Marcus Freeman wants to be at Notre Dame, and his defense is proven historically. There is a transition that he’s going through right now, but it’s nothing to lose sleep over.
At least, not yet.