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November 18, 2023

Marcus Freeman

South Bend, Indiana, USA

Press Conference

Notre Dame 45, Wake Forest 7

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, you know, really proud of or seniors and the way they went out there and performed for 60 minutes. It's a special group, man, that led us in the past 14 days since the last time we played. They led us to practice the way we had to prepare to give us a chance to be successful out there today.

So it's a special group that obviously played their last game in Notre Dame Stadium. You think about the 500th game in Notre Dame Stadium, it's something special. It's something special. This place is special. The history, the people, the ones that have come before us that give us this opportunity to be here.

Our fans were incredible. Think about last game of the year, I mean, sold out crowd. You could feel the fans, the atmosphere. So just a reminder of how awesome and grateful we are for this opportunity to be a of this inform place, this football program, with obviously Jack and Father John. It meant a lot to me personally to be able to get this win for their last game in Notre Dame Stadium.

We're all motivated by different things, but that was a huge part of my motivation. Really happy we were able to do that.

With that, open up for questions.

Q. Just sticking to the theme of this being special and a special place, talley it up, you guys outscored opponents here 262 to 71 at Notre Dame Stadium. Outside of what happened against Ohio State. Rebounding from what happened last year against Marshall, Stanford, how are you guys able to be so good at this venue?

MARCUS FREEMAN: We talk about it often, how special it is to play in Notre Dame Stadium, the history, the tradition. We take pride in our performance in Notre Dame Stadium.

That doesn't excuse us for obviously the performances that we have to have on the road. There is a sense of pride when you come out of the locker room and you touch that "Play Like a Champion" sign that you carry when you take this field.

Q. Sam was shaky early. Understandable, considering who he was going against. He really got it going; made some really nice throws. What did you see out of his performance, and to send him out of this place this way, what did that mean to you?

MARCUS FREEMAN: You know, he's a poster child for consistency. You know, we tried to create some early success, some early easy throws. One was dropped or maybe thrown a little bit high. He was able to just really get to the sideline, focus on what he had to do, hey, what did you see, and really went out there and performed really well.

It can't be easy. I've done it as a coach. I remember couple years ago we played Cincinnati, right, and there is normal distractions that the human element presents when you play a team, an opponent where you know every person on that side like Sam does.

It's different. He was with those guys for five years, with that coaching staff. So for him to be able to put that distraction away and perform the way he did is a testament to who he is and the confidence and consistency that he provides.

Q. Marcus, offense scored on four consecutive possessions and seized control of the game and finished with like 450 yards, just the one late turnover. How much of that is what you expected to see from this group all along, and how much was it needed?

MARCUS FREEMAN: It definitely was needed. I think you know the confidence, when you don't have the performance that you aspire to have, it messes with your confidence, right?

You can be as courageous as you want, but still have a lack of confidence inside because of the performance. And so it was much needed. It's a testament to how they prepared, the adjustments they made, the execution of the game plan.

So I'm really happy for Coach Parker and that whole offensive staff and that offensive side of the ball. Really pleased with the performance tonight.

Q. You got back to your really aggressive use of timeouts late in the first half. Got a blocked field goal and then got a field goal out of it. How important was that to maybe recapture that and send that message to your team again?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, I think there has been -- the majority of times I'm in that situation, again, I have the utmost confidence in our offense and Sam to march us down the field and try to create something positively.

I know there has been a game or two that maybe something hasn't gone our way and I kind of let the clock run out. I know at Clemson after they got that first down when we were on defense, I let him just run out the clock.

I have a lot of confidence in our offensive staff and our offensive game plan, and that was a reflection of why I called those timeouts today.

Q. The wide receivers had a big game. How important was that to have those guys come through? And not just Chris Tyree.

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, I think I saw Rico over 100 yards, which is the first time for maybe any of our wideouts this year. It's just a testimony to just continue to battle, continue to prepare, continue to work.

Because you don't know when the opportunities present themselves. That a conversation, a message I had to the team this week. In terms of individuals, you don't know when your opportunity is coming. It could be in the game. Could be if you're redshirting. It can be any different -- it can be a coach.

You just have to continue to make the choice to work, to do the thing everybody wants. Everybody wants to catch 100 yards and have 100 yards receiving. Who is willing to put the work in so when the opportunity presents itself like today, you do it?

I saw Tobias had a big catch. I was walking to the training room and he was in there studying film and studying extra by himself and I remember saying, that's an example of what I am talking about. Continue to put that work in, and at some point It's going to be rewarded.

I said something to him after he scored that TD catch that that's a reflection of your preparation.

So they have to believe that. I don't really believe in luck, you know. I am a faithful person but I believe in cause and effect. So you have to continue to put the work in. At some point, if you do it the right way and you're consistent in how you put the work in, you will have the effect you want and the production and performance you want.

Q. What was the importance of keeping Audric Estime in to get him over 100 yards at the end of the game?

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, I'm never a huge fan of that, because there is just -- you know me, I'm thinking, this game is over. It's only fair to the kid. But we talked about it and we wanted to get him over 100 yards. I think he ended up with 115. That was important to us for possibly his last game in Notre Dame Stadium, to get him over 100 yards.

So it was good for him to do that.

Q. Coach, it's been a long road back for Eli Raridon. I know you mentioned earlier in the season some mental hurdles. Did you see something during the bye week where you thought today was coming?

MARCUS FREEMAN: It wasn't one thing. Accumulation of weeks and practices. When he finally was cleared to play from where he was to now, it's just a process of him gaining that confidence.

He's not at his full potential yet. He'll continue to gain that confidence. I think today was a great reflection of how far he's come since he was cleared medically. For him to have some of those catches and get hit low, it gives him confidence that, hey, I'm going to be just fine?

Q. Sam Hartman certainly had times in his life and career where he has had to battle back from adversity. His last game statistically he had to battle back. What did you see from him leading up to the game and how closely do his teammates watch that?

MARCUS FREEMAN: I mean, when you're the quarterback you're the leader just because of the position you're in. Everybody is going to watch the way you prepare. The one thing I've said with Sam Hartman, I said earlier, he is the model of consistency. His approach doesn't dictate -- isn't dictated on previous game or who we're playing. His approach is his approach. The way he prepares is the way he prepares.

I even challenge him to in some way find a way to do it even better. He wants a better result. We all want better results. How do we do continue to do what we do but do it better. His teammates see the way he works. His teammates see the work he puts in. He has a lot of respect from everybody in this program.

Q. Coach, six home games this year, I think your defense allowed eight touchdowns total. Just out of the moment here, but if you reflect on that, how impressive is that? Aside from the pride you spoke about earlier, how much of an identity of this program has that become?

MARCUS FREEMAN: You know, honestly, defense of the football has a special place in my heart just because how I've grown up in the game. I was talking to Coach Golden after the game and we're upset about 7 points. Really upset about 7 points.

They did some good things in the first half that really we hadn't seen on film. The adjustments that we could make, that Coach Golden can make. It's credit to Coach Golden and his staff. Man, they have answers. They're able to get the adjustments to the players and they can go out there and execute.

I've always had a mindset if they don't score they don't win. We have to evaluate ourselves. Every individual. That's a reflection of our entire team. It's easy to point the finger at somebody else. All that does is make you feel better about yourself. That doesn't help our team get better.

I know tomorrow we'll be in there and critique every single play. I'm sure defensively there will be a lot to improve, but I like to be upset about 7 points.

Q. The decision to make the onside kick in the third quarter, was that just the look or something you've been wanting to try for a while?

MARCUS FREEMAN: We had seen it on film. We had practiced it for a couple weeks and seen it on film. The first two kickoffs we were like, it's there. It's not the right time. I said, if we score again, let's do it.

At some point if you're going to do it you got to call it. If you believe you can execute it, you have to call it, right? There is no point of practicing something and getting a look that you are looking for and not calling it. So I told them, let's do it.

It was a great job by Coach Biagi of preparing for that moment and executing when it mattered.

Q. Kind of building on the receiver point, with Flores, Faison, Greathouse, they've all had flashes this year, but have never all been on at the same time. Were they just ready for it? I was interested the job that Stuckey and Parker have done to keep them going. You guys have needed this.

MARCUS FREEMAN: Yeah, Pete, I wish there was one thing that happened, you know. Similar to the question earlier, it is a constant chase of improvement. If you do that and you get these opportunities that we had today, you got to be ready to take advantage of them.

But you don't know, we didn't know last week we were -- we had a couple three-and-outs, we weren't rolling. We didn't have those opportunities. That doesn't dictate how you prepare. To me it's a reflection of Coach Stuckey, Coach Parker in the development and ability to get frustrated guys, right, and they're frustrated like all of us were, when you don't get the results you want.

Frustration can't determine how you prepare. To see Rico and those guys out there that were ready for the moment, although I'm going to have to talk to Rico about the ball he put on ground, proud of them and the way they prepare. Now how do you handle some success?

Rico had 100 yards. How do prepare, handle that. Do you continue to do the things that have to do to get better. When you get to the next opportunity in seven days, do you take advantage of it.

Q. On the flip side, pass defense, not just at home but away, seven touchdown passes all year. What have been the biggest ingredients for that being on all year?

MARCUS FREEMAN: The ability to play pass defense is the confidence you have in your front seven or six to stop the run. There is always that one defender. If you're going to commit them to the run game where you are going to expose some thing in the pass game. If you put him in the pass game, then you have to believe you can stop the run with six guys up front with your D-line.

If you can't stop the run playing pass defense, then you're not going to be able to play a lot of pass defense. That's a credit to Coach Golden and different schemes we use in our pass defense. We can't play coverage. We can't play coverage if we don't believe we can stop the run.

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