(Photo: Robin Alam)
Losing at Clemson and looking at the body of work that the Irish have produced through 10 games has raised some serious concerns. So serious that during the upcoming bye, Marcus Freeman needs to do little soul searching.
Here are a few suggestions.
Gerad Parker– What is Notre Dame’s offensive identity? Audric Estime, a good kicking game, a walk-on freshman with potential and a bunch of question marks?
Lets admit it, this offense is a mess.
Last January, Tommy Rees left for his idea of greener SEC pastures and Freeman went shopping for an offensive coordinator. When first choice Andy Ludwig got cold feet and decided to stay at Utah, he turned to his own staff and gave the job to tight ends coach, Gerad Parker.
Parker brought a grand total of about half a season’s experience calling plays. That said, early indications were good. Through 4 games, the Irish were averaging 46 points per game, the offensive attack was balanced, Sam Hartman was a Heisman Trophy candidate and Parker looked like the next big thing.
Remember those days? They feel like they happened about a hundred years ago.
After those halcyon days, Ohio State happened and the offensive production plummeted. And it never did recover. Defenses, it would seem, have caught up with Parker. ND scored 14 points against the Buckeyes, 21 against Duke and 20 against Louisville. The 48 scored against USC and 56 against Pitt are big numbers, but they include five special teams/ defensive TDs.
Sam Hartman hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in two games, but he has thrown 4 interceptions in those contests. Against Clemson things hit rock bottom. After the Irish pulled to within a score with 21 minutes remaining in the game, ND’s defense did their job pitching a shutout, but the offense managed just 60 total yards on their next 6 drives.
Gerad Parker looks to be an experiment that has failed. Marcus Freeman needs to be thinking about how to fix his offense for the last three games and he needs to be thinking about looking for a new offensive coordinator.
Chansi Stuckey – The ND wide receiver position has turned into a disaster. Freshman Rico Flores and Jaden Greathouse looked good early in the season. They haven’t looked much better since. Sure there have been nagging injuries but how do you explain Tobias Merriweather? He is loaded with talent, and now in his second season he continues to underwhelm. His efforts on the field are inconsistent and at times reflect indifference.
Chris Tyree has become a reliable target out of the slot, but hasn’t been a volume guy.
Right now walk-on Jordan Faison has the look of a guy who can provide a spark. He gets open, has tremendous speed, demonstrates “wiggle”after the catch and so far is catching his targets. On Notre Dame’s last offensive play Saturday, with the game still 100% winnable, the Irish faced a 4th and 10 from their own 42. Faison was on the bench.
Someone’s got some ‘splaining to do.
By all accounts Stuckey has been a terrific recruiter, but he came to ND with exactly one year of experience as a wide receivers coach and three total years in coaching. With a dynamic run game, experienced quarterback, and excellent offensive line, all Stuckey needed to get out of his wide receiver room was some basic competence. That hasn’t happened.
Marcus Freeman, while you are thinking about hiring a new offensive coordinator, you might consider allowing the new guy to bring in his own receivers coach.
Al Golden- There is a problem on the horizon and it is Al Golden. ND’s defense has been outstanding. Top 11 nationally in 7 key statistical categories, they remain on track to put up the best total defense numbers in South Bend since 1996. After a slow start against Clemson, the defense settled in and held Clemson to under 300 yards and set up one of ND’s two TDs with Xavier Watts’ interception return to the 2 yard line. That’s good.
But that’s bad.
Golden has done such a good job with the Irish defense that he is the staff member most likely to move up to a head coaching job or he could head back to the NFL.
I’ve been told by those who should know that Golden has adapted well to the recruiting grind that Marcus Freeman demands and Golden therefore may be willing to stay in the college game. Hopefully that is correct, but Marcus Freeman needs to be thinking about what he can do to keep Golden in the fold.
Quarterback- Is it time to start developing the position with an eye towards next season? Sam Hartman has been really good at times, but not so great of late. Saturday he played arguably his worse game of the season. The Sam Hartman era has three, maybe two games left. That is a guarantee.
Steve Angeli has looked pretty good in limited play. On the year he is 16-21, good for 236 yards and 3 TDs, impressive numbers but they were amassed in mop up duty. If ND doesn’t find out just how good Angeli is by cutting him loose for some meaningful snaps, there is a strong likelihood that we will never know about Angeli, until he plays for someone else.
When planning out his quarterback room, Freeman has to consider his current roster that includes Angeli, but also promising freshman Kenny Minchey. Then he has to weigh the potential of future talent coming in including high 4 star prospect CJ Carr. After that Freeman will have to decide if Notre Dame is going to bring in their third transfer in four years at the position.
If ND goes the transfer route, it is likely to hasten the exit of Angeli and possibly Minchey, that is the reality of the QB position these days everywhere. Because, quarterbacks either play or after one year they transfer.
Marcus Freeman has a lot to think about regarding the quarterback position.
Rollercoasters and Road Issues- A couple of weeks ago Fighting Irish Preview documented ND’s boom or bust cycle under Freeman. (You can read it here Boom or Bust: It’s the Freeman Way ) Executive summary: ND just can’t sustain success, because for every two or three good performances like winning the first four this year, going toe to toe with Ohio State and the last two blowouts of USC and Pitt, the Irish lay an egg. Think Marshall and Stanford in 2022 and now Louisville and Clemson in 2023. The Irish play well, and then inexplicably come out against opponents they can beat, flat. Freeman seemingly has not mastered the coaching skill of properly setting his team’s emotional thermostat.
With road losses at Louisville and Clemson and a poor performance at Duke, In 2023 issues with playing well on the road have also cropped up.
During the bye week Freeman needs to think about how he can get more consistent performances out of his team, and to play better on the road. In the past he has sought the counsel of his own old head coach, Jim Tressel for assistance with such things. Well, Marcus Freeman, it might be a good time for a call to Tressel or maybe Lou Holtz, or heck, call your Mom and Dad!
Trust me anyone of them will be happy to offer advice, probably really good advice.
The lofty hopes that the 2023 season started with are now gone. Maybe the Irish can win out and beat Brian Kelly in a bowl game, that sure would be fun, but not fun enough to salve what could have been in 2023.
One thing is certain though, during the bye week, Marcus Freeman has some thinking to do.