Marcus Freeman better be careful. The Notre Dame head coach brought a defensive acumen and youthful exuberance to a vintage program that’s fallen behind the times. Unfortunately, that experience cost the Fighting Irish in the waning moment of their 17-14 loss to Ohio State.
Lining up on the 1-yard-line with one fewer defensive lineman ultimately allowed the Buckeyes to scoot in for the game-winning touchdown. Too many men on the field is a common mistake discombobulated teams make amid the fast-paced substitutions that happen at pit crew speeds from time to time. Better safe than sorry. However, undercounting is an egregious error that can’t be explained. Yet, Freeman tried and actually made it worse.
When Freeman was asked in his postgame presser why he didn’t take a penalty to get the extra defensive lineman on the field, Freeman explained that they were out of timeouts, and didn’t couldn’t afford to take the penalty. That reasoning would fly if Notre Dame were at the 10 or 20-yard line. However, from the 1, the most yardage that could be tacked on was half the distance to the goal. Even in the moment, Freeman didn’t seem to understand he was implying that having one fewer defensive lineman on the final play from scrimmage wasn’t worth half a yard.
The abysmal attention to detail was bad enough, but Freeman’s answer magnified his poor game management. The margin between a college football playoff berth and a bowl game can often be inches. The great coaches are experts in situational football. Notre Dame’s talent disparity diminishes its margin for error. Freeman’s brain cramps didn’t end there.
The final play against Ohio State was also the second time Freeman made that mistake this season. Against Tennessee State, Notre Dame lined up with 10 players and surrendered a deep ball touchdown on the play. Freeman also waited until after Notre suffered their first loss to inform ESPN that he planned to implement a signal that would draw a penalty to stop the game, but that should have been done after the Tennessee State brain lapse.
All this isn’t to imply that Freeman is mentally undercooked, but these lapses in the most basic aspect of football alignment reflect poorly on him so far. College football’s most distinguished coaches are more than just recruiters, they’re savvy schemers and over-prepared. In one of the early crucible games of his young coaching career, Freeman was neither.
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