Ohio State defensive lineman Mike Hall against Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame Won’t Be Playing ‘Not To Lose’ This Time Around

When Notre Dame and Ohio State opened the 2022 season against each other, both teams were feeling each other out like they were blindly digging around the junk drawer during a power outage in the middle of the night looking for a lighter.

At least Ohio State brought in an experienced head coach and a veteran offense into that game. For Notre Dame, this was Marcus Freeman’s very first game as the head coach of the Irish, and he was headed back to Ohio Stadium where he was a starting linebacker years earlier.

Everybody knew the Buckeyes had the talent advantage, so Freeman and his staff had to develop a plan to negate that advantage. Defensive coordinator Al Golden came up with a scheme for the defense, while the plan for the Notre Dame offense was to control the clock and keep the ball out of the Buckeyes’ hands.

For the most part it worked, but Notre Dame still lost 21-10.

“I thought coach Golden and the defensive staff had a great game plan last year and really did a good job of executing it for the first game of the year, trying to figure out who we were defensively,” Freeman said on Monday. “And part of the mindset going into that game was trying to control the ball as long as we could, right? Limit their offensive possessions.”

But this year is a much different situation for both programs. This is the fourth game of the season for Notre Dame, so they have a pretty good idea of what they can and can’t do, and their identity is becoming a clearer picture by the day. Veteran quarterback Sam Hartman is part of that identity on offense, having come over from Wake Forest where he started 45 games.

Hartman is currently third in the nation in pass efficiency (217.81) and has thrown 13 touchdowns with zero interceptions.

Defensively, Freeman knows his team much better than he did a year ago. All of this additional knowledge and confidence will play a part in Saturday’s game.

“Again, it’s still got to be complementary football as we go into this Saturday, but I don’t want to play not to lose,” he said. “I don’t want to play that way. I want our guys to be aggressive and our guys to be attacking. And so 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.”

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A year ago, the Irish were still not quite sure what their quarterback situation looked like, or who their go-to tailback would be. They also weren’t entirely sure what to expect from an Ohio State defense that had hired Jim Knowles in the offseason to be the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator.

Now, not only do Freeman and his staff have a full year of information about the Ohio State defense, they’ve got three games of additional data from this season. They have a much better idea of what to expect, which should allow them to rely on more than just caution to protect them.

“I think going into last season, you had questions on really what was our identity?” Freeman said. “This was game one, right? What was our identity on offense? Similar to this year, game one, you don’t know until you face an opponent. But we know what we can do offensively after four games. We’re not going to go rapid speed now. I don’t want to go up-tempo and go as fast as we can. It’s complementary football.”

Notre Dame’s coaching staff has also gotten a good look at the Buckeye offense, which now features new starting quarterback Kyle McCord, but many of the same pieces of last year’s offense return.

A year ago, the Irish defense held OSU receivers Marvin Harrison, Jr. and Emeka Egbuka to 14 catches for 146 yards and just one score. That may look like a lot, but Freeman would once again take 10 yards per catch from the Buckeyes’ talented duo. Notre Dame will try to keep the Ohio State offense in front of them. If they do that, then the Irish offense will have more freedom to play aggressively.

Should they choose to.

“What we want to do is make sure that we limit the big plays, right?” he said. “We want them to have to truly drive down the field and we limit those big plays. And offensively we want to have success, and we’re not going to go throw deep balls every play. It’s complementary football. And we still want to win time of possession and those type of things that really factor into your success. But the mindset is different because you know more about your team this year than you did last year for game one.”

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