April 17, 2024

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman took ownership of having only 10 defenders on the field for the final two plays of Saturday’s loss to Ohio State, and he told ESPN on Monday that changes are being made to help prevent that from happening again.

Moving forward, Freeman told ESPN, the Irish will have a signal that will draw a penalty to stop the game and provide an opportunity to get an 11th defender on the field.

“You win or you learn,” Freeman said. “Hopefully it never happens again, but do we have a signal to tell somebody, when it’s loud and crazy, jump offsides and touch somebody?”

They will now.

Notre Dame used its final timeout with only 7 seconds remaining in Saturday’s game. On the penultimate play, Freeman said nobody noticed there were only 10 defenders for Kyle McCord‘s incomplete pass on second-and-goal from the 1. By the time the staff noticed it right before Ohio State’s final, game-winning play, it was too late.

Trailing 14-10, Ohio State’s Chip Trayanum ran up the middle and scored with 1 second remaining. The touchdown was reviewed by officials, which gave viewers the opportunity to spot the gaffe.

“We tell our players, every play you can’t be distracted by the things that don’t matter,” Freeman said. “You have to do your job. The same thing applies to coaches. We can’t get caught watching the game and not do our job.

“I know people are like, take the penalty,” he said. “By the time we realized — it got communicated — you couldn’t get a guy from the coaching box to touch somebody on offense. To stop the play, you have to touch somebody on offense. We would’ve gotten a penalty and they would have scored, so it really didn’t matter because we figured it out too late. What we learned from that situation is that, (1), don’t ever be in the situation where you’ve got 10 guys on the field, but (2), if something happens, we have to have a signal to tell somebody to jump offsides and touch somebody.”

A penalty would have moved the ball up 6 inches, but the Irish would have had their full defense on the field for the final play. If a player jumps offsides but doesn’t touch anyone on offense, Freeman said, the officials wouldn’t stop the play.

Freeman said he came back to his office after the game like he always does and watched game film until about 3 a.m. He called his staff in at 11 a.m. for what he called the “angry, emotional meeting” and told them to get it all out before reconvening at 3 p.m.

After watching film, Freeman said the biggest thing he noticed against the Buckeyes was “a lack of execution when it mattered the most.”

“Great teams execute when it matters the most, and we didn’t do that Saturday; Ohio State did,” Freeman said. “Credit to them and their coaching staff. Fourth-and-1 — twice. We don’t execute. We miss a field goal. Defensively, the last drive, third-and-7 … the last two plays you have 10 guys on the field. … That’s a lack of execution when it matters the most.

“It hurts. I forgot the pain of losing. It’s a physical pain that takes time to get through. You get through it. Time heals everything. Monday, we’re ready to go.”

Freeman met with players Monday for the first time since the loss. He said his message to the team would be about taking ownership and playing to their own potential. The Irish next travel to Duke (7:30 p.m. ET/ABC) for what will be their second straight game with ESPN’s “College GameDay” in town.

“There’s this imaginary ceiling I keep talking about,” Freeman said. “It’s called our full potential. It’s higher this year than it was last year. We have to own this thing and work at it and go get better because of it.

“We really can become a better football team because of a loss. If we do that, watch out.”

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