Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

Ten quotes that defined the Notre Dame season

“I think we learned that we have a good football team, but we have to learn how to finish.” - Marcus Freeman

Freeman said this after Notre Dame’s season-opening 21-10 loss to No. 2 Ohio State. At the time, it felt like the general consensus surrounding the Irish. Notre Dame fell a couple of spots in the polls after the defeat, but after leading the Buckeyes late into the third quarter, the competitive loss felt every bit like two elite teams battling it out. Defensively, the Irish wavered late but otherwise held down one of the best offenses in the country. However, Freeman did fall to 0-2 as a head coach, marking the second game that he lost after holding a halftime lead. 

“You really can’t just sulk in these losses. I mean, we’re 0-2, yes, and it’s horrible, it’s horrible, but we’re just going to prepare for the next team.” - Michael Mayer

The junior tight end and captain of the Fighting Irish stood in front of media after the most shocking loss of his collegiate career and the past few seasons of Notre Dame football. The Irish had just lost to Marshall, 26-21, falling to 0-2 in the process. With national championship hopes dashed, Notre Dame needed to find something else to play for. “It’s horrible” summed up the feelings of the fanbase. With an elite recruiting class waiting in the wings and a promising head coach that was struggling on the field, the Irish program's health felt like it depended on turning the season around. 

“My mindset has never changed since the moment I got here … I will always be prepared and as ready as possible for any point that I need to help the team.” - Drew Pyne

At the tail end of that Marshall loss, sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner went down with an injury that kept him out the rest of the season. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne entered and couldn’t lead the comeback, but from there on out, he was the starting quarterback. While the numbers weren’t gaudy, Pyne gritted his way through the season, winning eight of ten games as the starting quarterback for the Irish. Now in the transfer portal, Pyne lived up to what he said prior to the Week 3 clash with Cal. He stayed ready and largely kept his team in a position to win games, turning an 0-2 Notre Dame squad into a team that was playing for a New Year’s Six bowl in the season finale. 

“There was a conversation between me and God …There was some, ‘Lord, what is going on?’” - Marcus Freeman

Freeman’s first win was not a smooth ride. The Irish beat Cal, 24-17, but on the last drive of the game, the Irish forced multiple turnovers that were ultimately overturned. A fumble return for a touchdown was brought back due to the quarterback being down, giving Cal a final chance. Their Hail Mary for the win bounced around before being batted down in the end zone. After the crazy finish, a relieved Freeman recounted his ‘conversation’ with God as he attempted to secure his first win as a head coach. Despite the chaotic finish, the Freeman Era had officially gotten off the starting blocks with its first win. 

“You’re a fool if you can’t find a way to get the ball in his hands” - Marcus Freeman

This quote came after the North Carolina game, from Freeman about Mayer. It really could have come after any contest, but Mayer posted one of his several elite performances against the Tar Heels. He caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, leading the Irish offense to 45 points after they had combined for just 55 in the first three weeks. The Irish’s success in the passing game became nearly synonymous with Mayer’s performance. He ended the season as the all-time leader in career receptions, yards and touchdowns by an Irish tight end. 

“We know it was a tough week for all of us. Anybody that’s a part of this Notre Dame family or Notre Dame Nation and this football team, it was a tough week” - Marcus Freeman

After a three-game surge that had the Irish creeping back toward the Top 25, Notre Dame came crashing down to earth in a 16-14 loss to Stanford. After seemingly pushing the right buttons and getting the program back on track, Freeman was faced with a whole bunch of questions. The Irish came out with more urgency the following week, finally performing well as a big favorite. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but the result was never in doubt. Notre Dame trounced UNLV, 44-21. Freeman was very honest after the game in reflecting on the mood of the team that week. He noted the importance of displaying some of that urgency in this game. While the actual result wasn’t particularly noteworthy, it did keep the season from going completely off the rails. 

“You look at every game that we have won, I think we rushed the ball 40 plus times. That’s been our backbone. We knew this defensive line was special, but we couldn’t shy away from our strength.” - Marcus Freeman

These next two quotes are both about the identity that Notre Dame began to form under Freeman. Also, it reflected something of a refreshing change with the Irish in big games. They had an identity and they stuck to it with success in a big moment. It would have been easy to assume they couldn’t run on No. 4 Clemson’s highly-ranked rush defense. But Notre Dame pounded the rock anyways and shoved their identity down the Tigers’ throats. In previous iterations of Irish football in big games, it felt like they were incapable — or unwilling —to do this. Under Freeman, they weren’t afraid to match strength against strength and came out on top. 

“Call duo until you can’t speak.”  - Tommy Rees

The Notre Dame offense frequently utilizes a run scheme called ‘duo’. Playing off the previous quote, it was the perfect example of Notre Dame leaning into their strengths and dominating a quality opponent. Notre Dame was pretty much the only team to out-physical Clemson and a lethal and well-coached run game and offensive line helped the cause. So, as Rees prepared to leave his box to come celebrate with the team, he told tight ends coach Gerad Parker “if I don’t make it down in time, call duo until you can’t speak.” Hard to argue the logic after his two running backs, sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, ran for 218 yards in the game. 

“We did not have the urgency or execution in the second [half]” - Marcus Freeman

After a dominant first half against Navy, the Irish slipped back into their second-half form from earlier in the season. The Irish nearly coughed up a 35-13 halftime advantage, giving up 19 unanswered points. It felt like a trend all season for Notre Dame. Against Ohio State, they gave up a 10-7 advantage at the break. A seemingly comfortable BYU win turned stressful due to a stagnant offense. Up 24-7 in the third quarter against Syracuse, the Irish stalled and gave up ten unanswered points, needing to intercept the Orange on a potential game-tying drive before pulling away. Ultimately, Freeman’s team felt a little lackadaisical when it came to intensity in the second half and the Navy game encapsulated that struggle. 

“What these seniors did for this program will be the reason why we do win a national championship in the near future” - Marcus Freeman

Year One of the Freeman Era may not have gone exactly according to plan, but after an 8-4 season, the Irish's goals remain the same. This Freeman quote came after the Irish improved to 8-3 on Senior Day against Boston College. When he was hired, Freeman talked about an ‘unwavering standard’ and that standard remains in place. It was a bumpy road in year one, but Freeman made sure to honor the seniors that turned the season around and remind everyone that the hunt for a national championship in the coming years is still very much alive in South Bend.

Contact Aidan Thomas at