Notre Dame football started the season off poorly but has since righted the ship; what grade does coach Marcus Freeman earn in his first as head coach?
Of course, this grade won’t consider the bowl game, but those are tough to judge anyways, given most teams are missing numerous core players. The Notre Dame football program had a solid season and finished at 8-4. They lost a couple of games that many pegged at the beginning of the season as losses to Ohio State and USC. The other two losses were terrible, simply put. Losing to Marshall and Stanford while they were in a very down year are two things that cannot happen.
The positive takeaway from those losses is that the Irish could’ve won all of them. While they would’ve needed a more complete appearance against Ohio State, Notre Dame gave away the game to USC, quite literally, with unforced turnovers and horrific tackling.
Multiple factors go into this grade, and none may be more crucial than massively improved offensive line play as the season went on. Against Ohio State, the line allowed numerous pressures to go with 3 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. The running backs, some of the best in the nation, averaged 2.5 yards per carry in their first game. Against Marshall, the backs averaged 3.5 yards per carry, and the offensive line gave up 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. The quarterbacks struggled mightily throughout the season, too. As the season progressed, coach Freeman and Hiestand worked hard to make sure this group was more cohesive and got better, which they did, big time.
Considering they lost their starting quarterback the second game into the season, it’s not surprising that the position occasionally struggled during the year. Buchner and Pyne had some great moments, but for the most part, Buchner still has a lot to prove. Before leaving the Marshall game with an injury, he was 18-32 with 2 interceptions. Pyne came in and could have performed better, as he was immediately picked off.
Again, we give credit where credit is due, and Pyne played his butt off for the entire season. He performed well for the most part, but some games were absolute clunkers, most notably against Stanford. He went 13 of 27 passing for 151 yards and was zeroing in on one receiver all game, Michael Mayer. I can’t wait to see what Buchner can do with the offensive line performing as they did after his injury.
Freeman wasn’t perfect. He still has some situational stuff to figure out and has to have his team a bit more prepared for games. But, as far as coaching, there was a lot to love from coach Freeman. He always went to battle for his players and honestly seemed to have nothing but their best interest at heart. Situationally, he would attack at the end of the half and not let up, something of a killer instinct that’s been missing for Notre Dame football in years past.
In the end, all things considered, I’m giving coach Freeman a solid B- overall. Things could’ve been wildly different with a more secure quarterback situation. Until coach Freeman shows me otherwise, he did a heck of a job coaching Notre Dame in what I’d classify as a reloading year.