Marcus Freeman expects his team to play to win on Saturday.
To start his first full season as Notre Dame’s head coach last year, Freeman suffered a 21-10 loss to Ohio State at Ohio Stadium. Freeman felt he was too conservative in that game last year as the Fighting Irish were still trying to find their identity, but as he now prepares to face Ohio State again in Notre Dame’s fifth game of the 2023 season, Freeman says he’ll take a more aggressive approach into this year’s matchup.
“Part of the mindset going into that game was trying to control the ball as long as we could, limit their offensive possessions,” Freeman said at his Monday press conference. “It's still got to be complementary football as we go into this Saturday, but I don’t want to play not to lose. I don’t want to play that way. I want our guys to be aggressive and our guys to be attacking.
“We will play complementary football, but our objective isn‘t just to hold the ball and huddle every single play, kind of what my mindset probably was last year.”
Freeman discussed a variety of topics relative to the rematch with his alma mater on Monday, offering plenty of praise for the Buckeyes including for Ryan Day, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and JT Tuimoloau. He also talked about his expectations for Notre Dame’s home crowd and his message for former Ohio State defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste, who is now a starting defensive end for the Fighting Irish.
A quick roundup of what Freeman had to say in his first media availability of the week:
- “Obviously we have a great opponent coming in. We’re excited about the chance to go against a top-tier opponent, for sure. We’re excited about just the atmosphere that’s gonna be here with College GameDay and the Pat McAfee Show and NBC ... we expect to see a lot of green in that stadium, and we think it’s a great opportunity to play a great opponent on Saturday night in Notre Dame Stadium.”
- On Ryan Day: “He's done an unbelievable job of leading that program ... he has just done a tremendous job of really leading that program, so we know it’s going to be a really good opponent with a great coaching staff, and we‘re looking forward to that.”
- Freeman said “it’s a lot different than what it was last year being the first game of the season” with Notre Dame already having four games under its belt entering the Ohio State game this year.
- On Sam Hartman playing in the biggest game of his career: “I think in his mind, he has played in games like this. He’s played in some big games at Wake Forest, and this moment won’t be too big for him. This is year six for him.” He thinks Hartman’s experience is an advantage for Notre Dame going into this game.
- On Ohio State’s offense: “You’ve seen their offense kind of evolve over the first three games. It’s explosive, you see a lot of tempo. I think I’ve seen more tempo recently ... It all starts with the run game. They want to run the ball. Very similar mindset to what I have: The ability to run the ball will create openings in the pass game.”
- Freeman says Notre Dame is planning for Kyle McCord to play all the snaps for Ohio State, but says Notre Dame will have a plan for Devin Brown as well. He doesn’t think Ohio State’s offense changes much based on which quarterback is in the game.
- On JT Tuimoloau: “44’s an impressive football player. He’s big, he’s powerful, he’s explosive ... They’ve got a lot of (defensive linemen) who are really disruptive. So we have to be good up front.”
- On Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka: “They’re good players, man. You just gotta turn on the film. Harrison’s body type, skill set, he can go up and get the ball and he’s a great route runner ... Egbuka is the same way. He’s a playmaker.” Freeman complimented Brian Hartline for developing first-rounders year in and year out.
- “I don’t want to play not to lose. I want our guys to be aggressive, I want our guys to be attacking.” Freeman said that’s a change in mindset from what he had going into last year’s game, when the Fighting Irish held the ball more to run down the clock.
- “We want to see a lot of green in here.” Notre Dame will be wearing green jerseys, and Freeman is encouraging all Notre Dame fans to wear green.
- “I’ve got a lot of confidence in our wide receivers ... I’m excited for those guys to have the opportunity to go out there Saturday and compete against some really good DBs.”
- On what he’ll tell Javontae Jean-Baptiste, who transferred from Ohio State to Notre Dame this offseason: “My message to him will be the same thing really to everybody else: Don’t worry about Saturday, worry about today. And when we get to Saturday, worry about doing your job every single play ... If you want to have a great outcome, that’s what it’s going to take.”
- A trio of starters who missed Notre Dame’s most recent game against Central Michigan with injuries – tight end Mitchell Evans, linebacker JD Bertrand and safety DJ Brown – will all be back for Saturday’s game, Freeman said.
Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman also met with the media at Monday’s press conference and shared his thoughts on playing Ohio State for the first time after transferring to Notre Dame from Wake Forest this offseason.
- Hartman described the game as a “clash of football greats.” Said growing up, he thought about how cool it would be to play in a game like this. “I think it’s just big for the university, big for our team and this season ... We‘re going to try to keep our blinders on as much as we can.”
- Hartman said he thinks Ohio State’s defensive success starts with linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers, “two really stout players who have played a lot of football.” Hartman said Ohio State does “a lot of different things up front, very multiple.”
- He said Saturday’s game is “all going to be about execution ... We’re just trying to reach our full potential.”
- “You know going into this game that it's gonna be battle for all four quarters. They are gonna bring it. They have a lot of experience. It's an exciting challenge and not something we are gonna take lightly.”