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September 23, 2023

Marcus Freeman

South Bend, Indiana, USA

Press Conference

Notre Dame - 14, Ohio State - 17

MARCUS FREEMAN: You know, obviously, as I just told the team, it's disappointing. Had a lot of opportunities to win that game and then we didn't. Credit to them for continuing to battle back and be resilient when we went up. And, you know, we got to finish that game. And tough loss.

But as I told the group of guys, man, we got a good football team. And at times, we showed it today versus a really good football team. And so, you know, to be on the losing side, it hurts, it stings. But we got to own it and we got to learn from it and we got to get back to work on -- as coaches tomorrow and as a team on Monday and use the pain of a loss to really help us find a way to get better.

You know, as I told them: We're always chasing, reaching our full potential every Saturday. And there was -- at times today, we didn't do that and we got to figure out why and make sure that we attack it and don't let it happen.

And so, you know, it's disappointing. It is, it is, it is. And we are disappointed. But we got to move forward. We have to move forward. Because we got to get ready for a good Duke team next week. With that, I'll open it up with questions.

Q. Marcus, on that third and 19 play where they get down to the one-yard line, what was the plan there? What went wrong that allowed them to get the first down?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, we wanted to play coverage. You know, and we thought we were going to be able to kind of give them a different look and play some quarters and he threw a good ball, man. He threw a really good ball. That last series we were trying to kind of mix it up a little bit with a young quarterback and not just play man every play. And he ended up putting it in a tight window and he made a play.

Q. Was there an emphasis to try to tackle them short of the first down so they can't run another play or was that -- I don't know if there was --

MARCUS FREEMAN: No. The emphasis was not to let them catch the ball and get a first down.

Q. Marcus, you just said a moment ago you got to use the pain of this loss to try and learn and benefit from it. But you're also very much about one play, one life, live in the moment. So how do you balance that? How do you not let that pain linger?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, I mean, it's natural. It's a natural feeling that you're going to have. We're all disappointed. You know, at some point, you got to get ready to move on to the next game. Obviously, it's not going to be tonight. You know, you want to go and watch it and learn from it.

And we have to use -- we use every game to make us better. But specifically this one, right? How do you find a way to make your team better through a difficult loss? And we'll do that. We'll do that. I know our coaches and our players will.

Q. And then your last true offensive possession after the fourth down stop, I guess around the 11-yard line, what went into the conversations there to talk about whether to run or pass? And then how you can use time-out --

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, I'm always in communication with -- I didn't -- there wasn't a way to just run the ball and the game would be over, right? And so, what I didn't want to do is concede to say, Okay, let's just run the ball three times, make them use two of their time-outs, right? And then all of sudden we're just punting the ball and just giving them a chance to come down the field with the same amount of time they had.

And so, as I told them, I said, Hey, let's be smart. Let's play to win this. Let's play to win this game. And so, that's what we did. And a second down screen is almost as good as a run. But, obviously, it was tipped. And the kid made a great play and the clock stopped and we ran it on third and made them use a time-out.

Again, I told those guys right before the game and I told those guys during the game, I don't want to play to lose. I want to be aggressive and attack and that's what we did.

Q. Marcus, the film shows that on that last play there were only 10 people on the field. Just curious what happened.

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, we were trying to get a fourth D-line man on the field and I told him just stay off because we can't afford a penalty. I didn't have any time-outs, right? So we couldn't afford a penalty there. You know -- yeah, it's on us. We got to be better.

Q. Before that, when the game comes down to that last play like that, what's the message to the team in the huddle just before they get on the --

MARCUS FREEMAN: Fricking win the interval. That's all I said. That's what I said. It was, really, two plays. We called a time-out on third down, right? And so, there's two plays, really, to be prepared for in that situation.

And so, you know, went and threw an incomplete pass, had three seconds left. And we couldn't get a time-out. We were out of time-outs. You can't relay -- the crowd's loud, you can't relay a message. And so, you know, I told them we're probably going to run the same call twice and that's what we ended up doing.

Q. Marcus, the first fourth down stop where Sam ended up scrambling, what was that call supposed to be?


Q. What did they show and also the thought of going for it there, close to kicking?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, I mean, any time we're across the 50, I mean, it's -- I'm probably going to go for it on fourth and one. And, you know, that's -- you play the percentage. You're either going to be all in and do it or not. And, obviously, when you don't get it, it's terrible.

But the percentages show you, man, fourth and one, you have to -- across the 50, you have to go for it because of the percentages of getting that. The call was getting big personnel in and, really, trying to get them to think we're going to run and take a shot and be aggressive. And it was a play action pass and they covered it well. Sam knows he's got to make that first down. We knew, Hey, if they cover the pass, Sam would be able to scramble and we just came up a little bit short there.

Q. I guess, when you were in the locker room talking to them, how much of a sense of just a missed opportunity does tonight feel with all these small moments that add up to a three-point loss?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, I don't want to take anything from Ohio State and their victory, but we did not play as well as we could have. And that's the disappointing thing, you know? And so, that's not taking anything away from Ohio State, that's just evaluating us. And we didn't play the entire game, right, just the way we would have liked to.

There was drives, there were spurts that we were just really moving the ball and defensively really shutting down. And then you give up a big play or -- you know, man, there's just a couple plays you wish you could redo. But you can't. So you got to learn from it. You got to pick your head up and learn from it and we got to move forward.

Q. Hey, Coach, I know that you want an offensive line/defensive line driven program. You said that from the start. How do you feel like that fared tonight?

MARCUS FREEMAN: I thought it was up and down. I think there was times we were controlling the line of scrimmage offensively and big plays were happening. But the times that we weren't, they were getting tackles for loss. And you could just watch it on the video board and say, Okay, that guy beat one of our players and it was a tackle for loss.

But when we were really controlling the line of scrimmage defensively, we were able to move the ball rushing, especially late in the game. Defensively, I got to go look and see. I think we did a good job stopping the run. I don't know how many rushing yards -- they had the long run. I know that.

You know, TreVeyon Henderson had that long run. But other than that, I thought we did a really good job stopping the run. We just didn't get enough pressure. I just felt we weren't getting pressure. I wanted to hit him more until probably the last series.

I think we got a little bit more pressure the second-to-last series, but we got to find ways, as y'all brought up many times, of getting pressure on the quarterback.

Q. Coach, you said you guys didn't want to rush anyone else on the field and risk getting a penalty. What's the disadvantage in that situation with where the ball was at, being at the one-yard line?


Q. Is there advantage maybe just to take the penalty so you can't have 11 men on the field?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, you could have. You could have. But to me it was, like, Hey, don't give them another opportunity to get settled and to try to make a different call, right? Hey, guys, like, stay off the field. Let's not give them a freebie from the half-yard line and let's try to stop them.

And I thought maybe they would do the same thing they did the snap before and then they ended up running the ball. So I got to watch the play and see where the ball hit. But, yeah, that's why that I made that decision.

Q. Coach, does part of what makes this hurt so badly the knowledge that -- or do you feel like you outplayed them for the majority of the game?

MARCUS FREEMAN: No. It hurts because we didn't play at our best. That's -- I keep saying it. It's not about them as much as it is about us and playing at our full potential and that's what we're chasing and that's why I'm disappointed. Because if we would have a couple more plays, the result would have been different. But we didn't. And so, it's not that we gave the game away, it's just that we didn't reach our full potential. You know, and that's the disappointing part.

Q. I wanted to ask about Mitchell Evans. You didn't have him last week and you had him this week. Obviously, he made a pretty big difference for you guys.

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, he's a difference maker. It's great to have him back. He made some big plays today, big catches, and did a good job in the run game.

Q. Marcus, obviously, you feel for everybody. But just Sam, in particular, has had a lot of these losses at his previous stop. Another devastating loss and for him to be here and have it that way, just the camera kept finding him. And what was your exchange with him afterwards?

MARCUS FREEMAN: I don't know what he had at his previous stop, right? What does today have to do with where he was at? It's disappointing because he's the quarterback of our team and we didn't win today. We didn't reach our potential. We didn't win. So that has nothing to do with where he was previously, you know?

And so, I feel bad for every one of our kids. Every one of them put their heart into this thing. So I don't feel worse for Sam than I would for everyone. Every one of our kids prepared their tails off. Everyone out there gave it everything they had. So I feel bad for everybody. It has nothing to do with last year and where Sam was at and those type of games he might have had.

Q. You said that the analytics and everything pointed to going for it early rather than getting on the board first, but that was something, I think, you wrestled with on the offseason as you did your self-assessments. Do you question yourself at all at that point or is that just something you'll do in the future if presented the same opportunity?

MARCUS FREEMAN: I'll probably do the same thing. We got to find a better way to execute. That's what we have to do, is we have to find a better way to execute.

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