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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Fiesta Bowl Week

Just because it’s mostly a dead week doesn’t mean we aren’t meeting to talk about THE FIESTA BOWL BAYBEEEE

Wow I can’t wait to see what happens next in Only Murders in the Building, I’m tearing through this show...

*coughs a loud, dry cough that even alarmed himself a bit, jolting his gaze away from the TV and down to his phone*

Oh SHIT, I have that Project W.I.N. call in just a minute! Ugggggh I really don’t feel like doing this, both mentally and physically.

*drags his achy body over to his desk, tossing a quarter-zip on in the process to make him appear presentable from the waist-up*

Okay, deep breath, you can get through this and then get right back to resting. Let’s go.

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Good morning everyone! How’re y’all doing, how was your holiday?

Yeah? Aww that’s great, I’m glad you were able to see family and relax a bit.

Me? Yeah, mine has been as low-key as you can get, unfortunately — I have COVID, so I’ve been isolating in my apartment since last week. Yeaaah I would say I don’t feel awful at this point, just like I have a cold or the flu, but last week it hit me pretty hard — I did a lot of sleeping.

Yep, I was able to do a Zoom with my family and open presents and whatnot (on their side), so that was fun at least. But yeah, I am ready for later this week when my 10 days of isolation will be up and I won’t be contagious anymore. I miss being able to leave my building!

Anyway, it looks like we’ve got just about everyone here. I know Frank is on PTO this week, as is Jacky, and I believe Tim will be late or not make it, so we can go ahead and get started. I’ll go ahead and share this week’s deck...

*hums awkwardly to self*

Can you all see my screen?

Awesome, well let’s dive back into it. It’s the same agenda as always, but since it’s been about a month since we met, here’s a quick reminder of what we’ll cover on this call...

And even with the weeks of not meeting, I can’t imagine we need to go over these slides again. But they’re in there if you want to reference them later!

Okay perfect, so let’s dive right into what would normally be our Last Week’s Results slide, but instead it’s going to be a Last Month’s Results with plenty to discuss since the last time we spoke!

We’re going to start with the negatives this time, because I just want to get them out of the way before focusing on all positive vibes for this weekend. So, let’s quickly run through the bad things that have happened in the past month, which feels like it’s been a whole year on its own:

1. Brian Kelly, whom you might have heard of, deserted his team two days after the Stanford game and took the LSU head coaching job because he wanted to work on his accent for some upcoming roles he’s auditioning for.

2. 4-star DB commit Devin Moore decommitted and eventually signed with Florida, who hired LSU’s heralded secondary coach

3. Unlike our beloved Baylor Bears, the Georgia, Iowa, and Houston squads all failed to be good partners to the Irish on Championship Weekend, losing their respective conference championships and ensuring the Irish could finish no higher than 5th in the final CFP rankings prior to bowl season

4. Four-star WR commit CJ Williams decommitted a couple days before Early Signing Day, and then 3-star WR commit Amorion Walker flipped to and signed with Michigan on Early Signing Day. The Irish signed one person at a position that DESPERATELY needs scholarship bodies for next year and beyond

5. Kyle Hamilton and Bellyman officially opt out of the Fiesta Bowl.**

**NOTE: this is only a negative in terms of losing their talent/leadership from the team for the Oklahoma State match-up. I 100% support their decision to protect their careers/future earnings, and considering their teammates and coaches support them, you all should too. They owe the fans nothing more than what they’ve already given, and if the only people they do owe something to (teammates and coaches) are behind them, that’s that, folks. Shut up and get excited for the future stars at those positions to assert themselves starting this Saturday.

Okay, with all that behind us, let’s dive into the positives, because there were a few of those as well and we should be FEELIN’ those vibes heading into this Fiesta Bowl, in my humble opinion.


2. TOMMY REES RETAINED AS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR (along with Matt Balis as Head of Strength and Conditioning, Mike Elston as DL Coach, Lance Taylor as RB Coach, John McNulty as TE Coach, Mike Mickens as CB Coach, Chris O’Leary as Safeties Coach, and probably a few others I’m forgetting). Moral of the story: Kelly tried to take a bunch of people with him and only got Brian Polian and the assistant strength coach to follow him.

3. Notre Dame finished the pre-bowl season as #5 in the country with an 11-1 record and earned a Fiesta Bowl bid to play the Oklahoma State Cowboys

4. 4-star OL Billy Schrauth committed to the Irish over his home state Badgers, citing how he didn’t like BK and the Freeman hire helped push him to commit

5. ND signed the vast majority of their originally-committed 2022 recruiting class (minus Moore, Williams, and Walker), which could very well end up a top-10 class and includes arguably the best offensive line and linebacker hauls of any school in the country. Oh, and the Fighting Irish Media signing day videos were freaking awesome.

Here’s an example, but they can all be found at this link, or on the @NDFootball YouTube, Twitter, and Instragram pages.

6. 2023 4-star CB Justyn Rhett committed to the Irish, continuing to add to what is beginning to look like an absolutely ELITE class for ND

7. We get to watch this team play one more time — as Marcus Freeman’s first game as head coach — with a chance to break the NY6 bowl losing streak!!!!!

Simply put, for how disastrous all those negatives could have been, the Irish fan base has perhaps never been as positive, optimistic, and energized as they are right now thanks to the Freeman hire, recruiting momentum, and the opportunity in front of the team to get a monkey off their back with NY6 bowls prior to truly beginning the #FreemanEra (FREE MANERA) in Columbus in the fall of 2022.

Alright, let’s now take a quick look at the scorecard from the past month.

We’ve gone over most of this already — big congrats are in order for Jack, Marcus, Tommy, Kyle, Bellyman, Jim, and Fighting Irish Media for completing some major action items during a very stressful holiday season.

On the red circle side, our good ole pal Brian did not manage to stick with his team through at least the final CFP rankings before bowl season, and Del fell way behind in his action item to adequately stock the wide receiver shelves for the next few seasons. Luckily, both of those guys won’t be around too much longer and those filling their roles will be able to fight some fires and hopefully get things back on track.

Georgia also failed to win as a favorite and get the Irish into their 3rd CFP in 4 years, so that was disappointing to say the least. Also also, Pat Rick gets a red circle for managing to contract COVID just before Christmas, throwing a major wrench into all his holiday plans and making his family Christmas a Zoom one (woof).

Okay, with all that covered, let’s move to our favorite slide of every meeting, Team Members of the Week — well, in this case, of the Month!

Because it’s been a pretty inactive time for the team, I mostly just wanted to use this platform to celebrate all the team members who earned major honors and awards for their full season performances!

So, here’s a major shout-out to Kyle, Michael, Bellyman, Babyface Joe, Isaiah, Jarrett, Cain, Jack, and Drew — you all did some fantastic things this year, and we are so proud of you for what you’ve accomplished. You deserve these kudos, and look for a special treat in your inboxes after this call!!!

Oh, and just as an extra special recognition...

GIVE IT UP FOR MARCUS FREEMAN, WHO EARNED ONE OF THE TOUGHEST POSITIONS TO EARN THIS PAST MONTH!!! We all know he’s gonna do great things, and it will all start with the Chipotle gift card sitting in his email now. Congrats to Marcus on the very well-earned promotion!

Okay, now let’s turn the page and focus on this week’s competition: the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

I’ll let you read all this on your own time, but just want to point out a couple things:

  1. ND and Oklahoma State have never played, which I think is pretty cool — it’s pretty hard to find P5 opponents the Irish haven’t EVER matched up with, ya know?
  2. Shout out to the Tulsa Businessmen, undefeated against the Cowboys all-time. Same with Oklahoma City High School and the Oklahoma City Military. Three impressive programs with lots of tradition right there.
  3. Oklahoma State’s list of notable alumni is absolutely fantastic, including such legends as Gary Busey, Houston Nutt, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, blues artist Watermelon Slim, the “father of Washington wine,” and a prime minister of South Korea. Impressive crew, without a doubt.
Photo of Watermelon SLIM Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Okay, now let’s dive into the details and see what we should know about this particular 11-2 Oklahoma State team, ranked 9th in the country and sporting some ELITE players/position groups.

The biggest thing to know about Oklahoma State — and that you probably already know — is that the Cowboys have transformed under head coach Mike Gundy in 2021, going from their typical run-and-gun all-offense, no-defense style to a squad that this season had one of the best and most experienced defenses in the country, while sporting a very mediocre offensive attack.

Defensively, the Cowboys are ranked 5th in SP+, and for good reason. They’re top 10-15 in just about every key defensive metric this season under Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles, ranking 7th in scoring (16.8 ppg allowed), 4th in yards per play allowed (4.41), 3rd in total defense (278.4 ypg), 5th in rushing defense (91 ypg) and yards per carry allowed (2.74 YPC), 7th in rushing touchdowns allowed, 12th in passing defense (187 ypg), 14th in yards per attempt allowed (6.3), 15th in passer rating allowed, and tied for 10th in passing touchdowns surrendered.

On top of just being stingy, the Cowboys have a handful of guys who really know how to wreak havoc in the backfield. Oklahoma State ranks 1st in the country in total sacks (54) and sacks per game (4.15), as well as in tackles for loss (113) and tackles for loss per game (8.69). Only the Pittsburgh Panthers have more TFL and Sack yardage.

Those numbers are driven by 4 key names to know. LB Malcolm Rodriguez is 20th in the country in tackles per game (9.23) and 29th in total TFL, while also tied for 9th in the country in forced fumbles with 4 on the season. He combines with three Cowboys who rank in the top 100 in the country in sacks — DE Collin Oliver (10.5), DE Brock Martin (7), and LB Devin Harper (6) — to lead a menacing, aggressive front seven that’s helped drive the above sack and TFL numbers while also helping Oklahoma State rank 29th in the country in forced fumbles, 14th in fumbles recovered, 2nd in 3rd down conversion rate, and 5th in 4th down conversion rate.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

On the back-end of the defense, the Cowboys are very good but definitely a bit less opportunistic and a bit more vulnerable, ranking 87th in total interceptions and ranking tied for 70th and 79th, respectively, in passing plays allowed of 40+ and 50+ yards. The secondary is led by guys like CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse, who’s tied for 50th in the country in passes defended.

Another key note: once opponents get into the red zone on the Cowboys, they have a great chance of turning that into points — Oklahoma State is 94th in the country in opponent red zone score percentage, allowing a touchdown/field goal nearly 87% of the time.

Overall, the Cowboys are 10th in the country in touchdowns allowed, as they’ve only given up 16 all season. For context: Marcus Freeman’s defense is tied for 4th in that metric, having only given up 14 TDs this year.

One key note: Oklahoma State will be without Knowles, their leader and one of the best defensive coaches in America, as he recently accepted the same title at Ohio State and has already made the move to the new job, opting to not coach his guys one final time in the Fiesta Bowl. So, that could absolutely impact how good OSU will be on Saturday, without their head honcho calling the defense, making adjustments, etc.

NCAA Football: Cheez-It Bowl-Oklahoma State vs Miami Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Offensively, there’s much more to like as an Irish fan than the litany of elite metrics we discussed above for the Oklahoma State defense.

The Cowboys offense ranks 67th in SP+, 51st in scoring (30.6 ppg), 67th in total offense (401.7 ypg), and 91st in yards per play (5.37). They’re definitely a better running team than passing team, considering their rushing offense is 46th in the country while their passing is 76th, but in terms of efficiency they’re pretty much just mediocre-to-bad at both: OSU is 75th nationally in yards per carry (4.09) and 80th in yards per attempt (7.2) and passer rating.

Also, starting running back Jaylen Warren (1,134 yds, 4.8 YPC, 11 TD, 82nd in the country in all-purpose ypg) is expected to return and play in this game, as he had to miss the Big 12 Championship game due to injury — however, he probably won’t be 100%, and thus that would only serve to further solidify how non-dangerous the Cowboys rushing attack will be.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Knowing all of the above, you would think that the Cowboys would look to at least control the ball and be efficient in terms of turnovers, but Oklahoma State is 79th in the country in turnovers lost, which drives their -1 turnover margin on the season, good for 72nd-best in America. One of the major issues there is interceptions, as starting QB Spencer Sanders has thrown 12 on the season (compared to just 16 TDs) and Oklahoma State’s 13 in total have them ranked 106th in the country.

Add in a propensity for negative plays (73rd in the country in TFL allowed per game) and a lack of big-play capability (see below), and this Cowboys offense really doesn’t do much right.

National Rank in X-Yard Rushing Plays

  • 10+ Yards: 31st (74)
  • 20+ Yards: 59th (17)
  • 30+ Yards: T-83rd (5)
  • 40+ Yards: T-75th (3)
  • 50+ Yards: T-52nd (2)

National Rank in X-Yard Passing Plays

  • 10+ yards: T-38th (123)
  • 20+ yards: T-45th (44)
  • 30+ yards: T-100th (13)
  • 40+ yards: T-116th (4)
  • 50+ yards: T-114th (1)

The one thing they DO have going for them, though — which is especially useful considering the Fighting Irish rank tied for 6th in the country in sacks — is that they are very good at not allowing sacks. The Cowboys rank 13th overall and 12th on a per-game basis in that stat, having given up only 16 sacks all season. It will be very interesting to see how often Isaiah Foskey, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Justin Ademilola, etc. can get to Sanders, considering he’s a very mobile guy who ran for 543 yards and 6 touchdowns this season.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Football Championship-Baylor vs Oklahoma State Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

One final note on these guys — they’ve got some special teams magic they could potentially call upon in this one. They’re only ranked 40th in SP+ in special teams, but they’ve got two different guys who’ve returned kickoffs for touchdowns (WR Brennan Presley, RB L.D. Brown), with Presley’s recently coming in Bedlam to help the Cowboys clinch their berth in the Big 12 title game.

Along with that, Oklahoma State has a very reliable kicker in Tanner Brown — he’s 28th in the country in field goal percentage at 82.4%, having hit 14 of 17 field goals and sitting perfect on extra point attempts in his one season of kicking for the Cowboys.

Okay, with all the above covered, What’s Important Now for the Irish heading into this game??

I won’t read each one of these to you guys verbatim, but it’s pretty clear. If the Irish can use the emotion and adrenaline they have from the BK-leaving-and-Freeman-hiring earlier this month to come out and punch the Cowboys in their collective mouths early, they can use their big-bodied weapons in the passing game and their talented, speedy backs in space to jump out to an early lead — especially if Tommy Rees gets a bit more creative than he was able to be under Kelly’s watchful eye.

Then, if Marcus Freeman’s defense can do what they do in shutting down the run and forcing a bad QB prone to turning the ball over to make plays with his arm, we should see an Irish defense that forces multiple turnovers, bleeds the Oklahoma State offense dry, and ultimately clinches a huge win to begin the Freeman Era and end the “Notre Dame can’t win a NY6 Bowl” era. LET’S DO THIS.

Does anyone have any questions??

Excellent, well as always I will send out the link to this deck immediately after the call, so please let me know if anything comes up as you peruse that in your free time.

Otherwise, thank you all for joining, and hopefully the next time we speak I won’t be massively contagious with a virus that’s changed the world forever.

Alright, have a great week everyone and if I don’t see you before then, happy new year!

*Clicks “End Call” button*

Alright, time to chug some DayQuil, heat up some soup, and tear through the last few episodes I have of Only Murders In The Building. G’Irish.