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October 28, 2023

Marcus Freeman

South Bend, Indiana, USA

Press Conference

Notre Dame 58, Pitt 7

MARCUS FREEMAN: Man, I was really pleased with the way our guys responded in the second half. We challenged them. We were up with 17 nothing going into halftime and I didn't feel like we performed, yeah, offensively to a standard we wanted, but as a team. This is a team game.

I challenged every person in the locker room that we got to come out with a sense of urgency and on fire to perform the way we should. I was pleased the way the entire team came out the second half and really finished drives offensively, defensively, and even special teams.

We really did a great job competing. It's tough. What you learn in this game, that team beat Louisville, a team we lost to, so it's hard to win.

You have to enjoy these hard-fought victories. No matter what the score is, enjoy it for a day or so, and then we got to obviously get back to work and get ready for the next opponent.

So with that, open up for questions.

Q. Without over simplifying it, how much did you guys need a game like this where Steve basically gets the whole fourth quarter, 12 guys to catch a pass, five different guys get positive touches?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, this is what you want, right? You want a dominant performance that our team really displayed I think.

You know, but I think more than anything, we needed the -- defensively we've been playing well the past few games and continuing to play well. Almost finished the game with a shut out, so great to get those takeaways offensively.

And more than anything we needed this. We need the confidence. We were doing a good job in the first half of driving the ball down the field, but we just weren't finishing. First pick on Sam to throw to Rico. The next pick a it tipped. Then there is a turnover on downs.

You know, should we have punted? Went for it? I communicated pretty early, hey, let's go for it on fourth down, and we didn't finish it. So just we needed that finish the second half, and really establishing some drives and put the ball in the end zone. That was big for our offense and program.

Q. You talked about it before, and obviously played the game at a very high level. For Chris Tyree, a guy who spent his whole career just kind of getting the ball handed to him, the development that he's had as a wide receiver, what have you seen that has gone through that all the way and how he's continued to embrace that path?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Just work man. Hard work is rewarded, and you don't know when that reward is gonna come. That's what I love when you see a young man like Chris Tyree that works tirelessly. Everybody, myself included, was challenged after he dropped the ball versus Louisville. He continues to work. The last two weeks he's had opportunities to make big plays down the field and he did it.

So that's what I love about that kid. He's unselfish and works tirelessly at his craft. The rewards are seen on Saturdays.

Q. You've talked a lot about trying to get your team to play to its potential this year. Last two games, how close are you to that, specifically defensively?

MARCUS FREEMAN: We're getting really close. You know, and the hard part about it is are you ever going to be perfect? No. But that's what we're chasing. We're chasing perfection.

It's a bunch of coaches and players that aren't the satisfied that constantly are striving to improve. That's the sprint. That's the sense of urgency we have to improve. It's not to just win. It's not to, you know, all of a sudden get this outcome. It's really to improve, and we're getting closer and closer every week to reaching that full potential.

Q. When you think about momentum swings and how the game ebbs and flows, when you can put the ball in the end zone on defense or special teams, let alone both, what does that do for your chances?

MARCUS FREEMAN: It's huge. To be able to score ten points in the first half o offense and defense and then do som -- I'm sorry, special teams and defense -- and then do some really special things, some things in the second half with the punt, muffed punt they were they were able to score a touchdown on, those things are huge in terms of momentum, in terms of winning a football game.

If you score three touchdowns on non-offensive plays, there is a pretty -- I'm sure the stats would tell you it's probably close to 100%, 99% you're going to win that game. That was huge for our team to do today.

Q. I'm sure you would love to play every game at home, but after the last two weeks, especially like unpacking Louisville, are you eager to take the team on the road again to test it in a different way than it has been the last couple games?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, more than anything, yes to go on the road, you know, but to face another challenging opponent. That's why you love this game, is because -- yes, is it going on the road. That's a part of competition. But you get 12 of these guaranteed. Next week is 10 of 12. I know we're going to have 13 with a bowl game this year.

But if you're not a fierce competitor and that doesn't excite you, man, this isn't going to be the right sport for you. We're excited to get another opportunity to play this game versus a really good opponent, and it's on the road in a hostile environment. Our guys will be ready to roll.

Q. You mentioned the offense in the first half. Just in totality today after a week off, some soul searching there for Gerad, like what did you like about today that made you feel like maybe it's getting back into gear?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, I didn't look at the stats, but the biggest thing, so 535 yards on offense, but the ability -- what I remember is the shots. We said we wanted to throw some balls down the field and make plays. We saw that.

One of the first ones was picked off, and I remember telling Coach Parker and telling the offense, no matter what the result is on the last play, we're going to continue to be aggressive and take shots down the field.

That's what I loved to see out there. They continued to be aggressive and started making those plays down the field.

Q. When did Benjamin Morris injury his quad? How close was he to playing today? And did Cam Hart suffer an injury during the game?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, Ben strained his quad during the week. He was getting closer and closer to playing and we were going to try and warm him up and see if he could go, and he just wasn't in a position to go. We didn't really know until we had to test him out in warmups.

But it was early in the week.

And then Cam, yeah, I don't know if it was a shoulder or arm, but he came out at some point during the game, too.

Q. Obviously the interceptions and Pitt's passing numbers speak for themselves, but how did you feel like Jaden and Christian played in their place?

MARCUS FREEMAN: They did a great job. It was one of the first things we did was give those two credit for stepping up in big roles. Neither of them knew they were going to start or play. They probably thought they were going to play, but in the role they played previously. For those guys to find out in warmup, hey, you're starting, at some point, Christian Gray, you're going in with Jalen Mickey. It's a credit to those guys being ready, also to Coach Mickins for having those guys ready.

Q. I would think some of what's happened with Xavier is the result of your pressure up front. What do you see in him that's he's doing that he's ascending his game?

MARCUS FREEMAN: The biggest thing is the ability to make the play when you're in position. See a lot of guys on our team and other teams that are in position to make a play but they don't make the play. Xavier is -- one, you have to be in position to make the play, but, two, you got to make the play. That's what he's doing.

As you said, it's a result of a lot of different things. The pressure our guys are getting up front. The different looks Coach Golden is doing defensively to try to confuse the offense. I think that's an outcome of a lot of the different things.

But again, you have to make the play when you're in the position, and he's done that.

Q. And then I don't know -- I didn't see Evans sneak back in. What's his status?

MARCUS FREEMAN: I don't know exactly what it is yet. He was limping off the field. I don't know if it was ankle or knee or leg. I don't know. I'll get with Rob Hunt here after this and see the extent of that.

Q. The special teams has really stepped up in the second half of the season and made some plays. Why do you feel like those units are clicking in the second half of the season?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, the biggest thing is the sense of ownership, I love going into the kickoff and kickoff return huddles, because you can feel it from the players. Let's win the interval. Let's go. Let's do our job. Don't let this guy make the play.

When our players start to own it, it's not just another play. Oh, man, we got to do kickoff return or kickoff. Like there is an excitement and ownership of it. That's a credit to Coach Biagi that he's getting the buy in that he's hasn't wanted from the minute he got here.

I love what the special teams unit is doing. Again, my mind goes to the one kick out of bounds that we can't have, but I'm really pleased.

There was some good returns. Faison had a good punt return; Tyree had a touchdown. They muffed the punt for a touchdown. Jadarian Price had another great return out to the plus 35. Like those things are crucial for our team to have success.

Q. I know it ends up being meaningless in a blowout, but what was the process before the half letting the clock run down before the third down play?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, we wanted say, okay, hey, we're going to get this thing to third down and we're going to obviously throw the ball. We don't want to give them any time, right? So what we try to do is make sure there was as little amount of time on the clock. I knew I wasn't going to go for it on fourth, right?

I wanted to take points going into the half, and so if we didn't get on third down I knew I was going to kick it, so leave as little time as you can on the clock.

Q. Coach, 11 catches for over 220 yards. For the wide receivers, I know Thomas coming back helps that group. It was the other guys mostly producing today. What did you see from having all those players thrust into the fire having to play for Greathouse and Thomas that they've evolved to this point?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, again, there is a lot of people to give credit to. Start with Coach Stuckey and the job he's done with that room. When you get an opportunity to make a play and then you go do it, like that's what to me that is a reflection of.

You get a lot of guys that get an opportunity to make a play and they go and make a play. That's the competitive spirit we talk about, right? You're going to compete as hard as you can in practice, but at the end of the day when it matters the most in the game, you make the play.

Tobias had a huge play today. Good to see Tobias really get it going today and some of those other guys.

Again, it's a reflection of coaching and being able to make the play when your number is called.

Q. No penalties in the fourth quarter, but the 75 yard mark, you guys got to that by midway through the third. Maybe the concern or frustration or some of those -- how do you process that, the continued penalty issue?

MARCUS FREEMAN: I don't like any penalties, so we got to see why those penalties occurred. Again, are they aggressive penalties? Undisciplined penalties? Again, we're chasing perfection, so when you chase perfection, a penalty is not perfect so we got to get it corrected.

That's all I can say about it.

Q. And then Jaden Mickey's year in general, how has he handled it? And his day, the microcosm, could have been beaten over the top, and he comes back later on and makes an all-time play for his memory bank.

MARCUS FREEMAN: He's a great example of one play, one life. So if you look at the first -- what game is this? Nine. You look at the first eight games, and he didn't know how much he's going to play. He's rotating in there. Take advantage of that play. Today he's in a starting role. Take advantage of those opportunities, which he did.

And so I'm really pleased with how he performed, how he practicing, how unselfish he is. I love Jaden Mickey, man, he's a great player and doing great things for us.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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