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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Gator Bowl: Everything Freeman said as Irish seek win to end season

With the Irish set to face the South Carolina Gamecocks tomorrow afternoon in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, head coach Marcus Freeman discussed his team’s experience so far in Jacksonville

“We are so excited to be here in Jacksonville, Florida. This has been a first-class bowl game all week, and our guys have been able to do some great things in the city of Jacksonville. We have had some really good preparation, and it’s been going really well. We are excited to play a really talented opponent tomorrow here at this stadium. This has been a great experience for our guys.”

Building momentum for 2023?

When asked about the importance of this game heading into next year, Freeman emphasized that winning the Gator Bowl is of the utmost importance.

“Most importantly it’s winning,” Freeman said. “As I told our players yesterday in our team meeting, our focus is right now. Our focus is finishing the season off the season right now in the right way. If you continue to focus on the future and think about the future, you lose this opportunity we have right in front of us. The future will be taken care of if we finish the season off the right way.”

Different mindset, one year later

Last season, Freeman was announced as the head coach just weeks before the team’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Freeman discussed how the preparation for the Gator Bowl has looked different this season.

“My emotions were all over the place [last year]. I remember having the press conference with [Oklahoma State head coach] Mike Gundy, and it was all surreal and I was kind of just figuring it out one day at a time,” Freeman said. “This year, I think we are still figuring some things out, and I don’t think the day will come when you say that you’ve got it all figured out. That’s the reality of this profession.”

Freeman stated that for this year’s Gator Bowl, his team has a more defined plan and practice schedule.

“You have a plan for how you want to succeed, but those plans have to continuously enhance and change depending on the situation you’re in,” Freeman said. “A year later we have a practice structure. We have a plan that we looked at for this year compared to what we did last year.”

Preparing for South Carolina

Freeman is excited to play a talented South Carolina team and use this bowl game as another learning experience for bowl games in future years.

“We get the chance to go out and play a really talented football team and reflect on our performance,” Freeman said. “We will be able to look back and ask where we can enhance our preparation and make sure that the next bowl opportunity we have we are in a better situation.”

After starting the season 6-4, the Gamecocks have put together their two best performances of the year over their last two games, upsetting Tennessee and Clemson. Freeman has made sure his team is prepared to face a South Carolina team that is currently playing its best football of the season.

“Their last two games they have shown they can beat any team in the country. That’s our preparation and that’s our challenge. That’s the team we are going to face, and we will see what happens tomorrow, but that’s what our preparation has been,” Freeman said.

Freeman discussed some of the difficulties of having a month to prepare for an opponent.

“When you have almost a month to prepare for an opponent, sometimes that’s too much time. The beauty of playing a team in seven days is that you can only watch so much film,” Freeman said. “Sometimes you can watch too much film and assume that you are getting an idea of what the other team is going to do, but you don’t really know.”

Freeman understands that with opt-outs, the South Carolina team on the field on Friday will look a lot different than the South Carolina team from the rest of the season.

“We spent a lot of time going over the fact that our offense has to go against their defense, which isn’t South Carolina’s defense, and our defense has to go against their offense, which isn’t South Carolina’s offense. That forces you to be able to execute off of your fundamentals, basic schemes, and basic concepts, and not just always attack an opponent’s tendencies,” Freeman said.

Freeman expects to see some different play calls and tendencies from South Carolina because of the players they will be missing. 

“With opt-outs, you don’t know what you are going to see. We don’t know what we are going to see tomorrow. We will have an idea of the basic concepts that they do on offense, defense, and special teams, but we obviously have to prepare for some different wrinkles and things we haven’t seen,” Freeman said.

On Buchner’s readiness, passing game

When asked about sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner’s preparedness for the bowl game, Freeman said that Buchner is ready to go.

“I think he’s ready to roll. You are talking about a guy that hasn’t played football from week 2 to week 12. He had some time where he wasn’t on the practice field, but after 14 practices, I think he’s ready to roll. And he’s been magnificent in practice. He’s done a great job of leading the offense,” Freeman said.

With junior tight end Michael Mayer not playing in the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft, Freeman has seen a group of wide receivers emerge during practice.

“At some points when in doubt you throw that ball to [Michael Mayer], and now he’s not out there. It’s been excellent to see what [wide receiver coach Chansi] Stuckey has done with that wide receiver room and seeing those guys elevate and take advantage of those opportunities,” Freeman said.

Importance of bowl game prep for development

During the bowl game preparation, Freeman has seen a lot of competitive situations among players that didn’t see the playing field as much during the regular season.

“We have had a lot of competitive situations. That’s been the focus for me in this bowl prep,” Freeman said. “With opt-outs and guys not playing, you don’t know what you are going to see. This game is going to be about our preparation and what we can do. We have been able to see our top defensive backs on our wide receivers in competitive situations. We are doing a really good job and I am excited to see them play tomorrow.”

Freeman stressed the importance of the bowl preparation process in developing inexperienced players.

“Bowl preparation is so important. You get a chance to prepare for a great opponent, but also early in the bowl practice you really get a chance to develop guys who didn’t get the chance to see a lot of action throughout the season,” Freeman said.

Evaluating transfer portal options

The transfer portal is becoming a huge part of college football, and Freeman discussed how there is really no timeline associated with the portal.

“There is no timeline and the important thing is finding the right fit,” Freeman said. “We are constantly looking and evaluating at all positions until we find the right guy.”

Freeman emphasized that any additions from the transfer portal have to fit well in the program and not just improve the roster. 

“It has to be the right fit. They have to not just enhance our roster athletically, but they have to fit into the Notre Dame locker room,” Freeman said. That’s something that we will continue to access. Recruiting is an everyday thing.”

On Shane Beamer

Freeman discussed the incredible job that South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer has done in just his second year as head coach.

“He’s done an excellent job recruiting, developing and improving. That’s the challenge to continue to enhance and develop your roster. His team throughout the season has gotten better and better. At one point, you could have seen the South Carolina season go one way or the other, and they got better. That’s a reflection of the way he’s led,” Freeman said.

On the 2022 Irish legacy

Freeman hopes this year’s football team can be an example to future groups.

“I want this group to be an example for our future groups. We have talked about it all season in that this road where we want to go isn’t always as we see it on the front end. I want this group to be the one that sets the example for why you continue to trust your coaches and continue to work no matter what the outcome is each week,” Freeman said.

Freeman believes that a victory in the Gator Bowl would help propel his football program forward for future seasons.

“To finish this thing off the right way with a victory in the Gator Bowl would be tremendous,” Freeman said. “It would not only be a congratulations to this senior group of players that have been so resilient, but I think it’s going to be an example of what we can continue to do to propel this program.” 

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu