No. 5 Irish enjoy spirited workouts under new coach Freeman

Dec 21, 2021, 2:52 AM | Updated: 4:53 pm

Notre Dame head football coach Marcus Freeman holds a helmet while posing for a portrait with Unive...

Notre Dame head football coach Marcus Freeman holds a helmet while posing for a portrait with University president John I. Jenkins and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick during a news conference Monday, Dec. 6, 2021 at the Irish Athletic Center in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame formally introduced Freeman as its new football coach, a meteoric rise for the defensive coordinator. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP)

(Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Under new head football coach Marcus Freeman, No. 5 Notre Dame’s practices for its PlayStation Fiesta Bowl appearance have been a gasser.

Freeman, who moved up from defensive coordinator Dec. 3 after Brian Kelly left for Louisiana State, has put the Fighting Irish (11-1) through seven practices preparing for their matchup with No. 9 Oklahoma State (11-2) on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. He likes those practices to be competitive from the opening whistle.

Freeman has his offensive and defensive units going against each other – for instance, receivers against defensive backs – with the losing unit having to run field-width sprints, also known as gassers.

“I call it our ‘Opener,'” Freeman said. “It’s a competitive situation. Offense vs. Defense. They don’t know what it’s going to be. I want to put the ball down and see our guys compete. It’s nothing more than continuing to develop that competitive spirit.”

Naturally, there’s a lot of cheering for your guys and good-natured taunting of the opposition as graduate defensive end and captain Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa admitted during a media availability after the team’s second practice.

“Offense is currently 0-2,” Tagovailoa-Amosa chuckled while looking at senior center and captain Jarrett Patterson.

The defense, apparently, has been doing just fine in the five “Openers” since – the Irish are keeping those results to themselves – but players on both sides of the line of scrimmage see the benefits as they prepare for the Cowboys without a pair of All-Americans. Running back Kyren Williams and free safety Kyle Hamilton have opted out of the game to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft.

“It’s a fun little way to build that competitive spirit,” said junior linebacker JD Bertrand who led the Irish in tackles with 92, including five for lost yardage. “Practices have been great, too. We’ve had a lot of 1s vs. 1s, 1s vs. 2s, trying to get better by going against our own best players.”

The Irish, who concluded the season on a seven-game winning streak following their 24-13 home loss on Oct. 2 to No. 4 Cincinnati (13-0), know they will have to be on top of their game against coach Mike Gundy’s Cowboys, who are coming off a 21-16 loss to No. 7 Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. Defensively, Oklahoma State ranks third in total defense (278.4 yards per game), eighth in scoring defense (16.8 points per game) and leads the nation in sacks (55) and tackles for loss (113).

“The intensity has changed … we practice at a high tempo,” said freshman running back Logan Diggs, who came on late to average 4.3 yards a rush and total four touchdowns. Diggs, sophomore Chris Tyree and freshman Audric Estime will be asked to replace Williams, who rushed for 1,002 yards and 14 touchdowns, had 42 receptions for 359 yards and three scores, and averaged 10.8 yards per punt return.

“We have a great running back room and I feel more than confident they’ll do a great job,” senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy said. “(Practice) has been more competitive. He (Freeman) always mentions enhancing, and there’s a direct correlation with that in our practices. It isn’t just an on/off switch from practice to games. It really feels like we’re playing ball every day.”

The defense is still getting used to not having Freeman overseeing things as much – senior defensive analyst Nick Lezynski is working with the linebackers in Freeman’s place and working with special teams now that coordinator Brian Polian has joined Kelly in Baton Rouge.

“He’s involved,” said cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens, who served under Freeman at Cincinnati before joining Kelly’s staff for the 2020 season. “We just all got to pitch in a little bit more now that he’s got a little bit more on his plate.”

Offensive coordinator Tom Rees understands. “He’s probably 60-40, still slanted towards the defense,” Rees said. “I think he’s done a pretty good job staying neutral through some of the competitive periods. He’s been very supportive on both sides of the ball and handled his new duties very well.”


More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

7 months ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

7 months ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

7 months ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

7 months ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

7 months ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

7 months ago

No. 5 Irish enjoy spirited workouts under new coach Freeman