The Notre Dame Fighting Irish gave up 605 yards to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl in a 37-35 loss. At one point the Irish were up 28-7 and over the course of a couple of quarters were down 37-28. It was an epic meltdown that will haunt Irish fans for months to come.
POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE VIDEO
Notre Dame head coach Marcus freeman along with quarterback Jack Coan, running back Chris Tyree, linebacker Jack Kiser, and linebacker J.D. Bertrand spoke to the media following the game.
QUESTIONS FOR HEAD COACH MARCUS FREEMAN, JACK COAN, CHRIS TYREE, DREW WHITE AND JD BERTRAND
COACH MARCUS FREEMAN: Well, obviously didn’t finish the outcome that we wanted. We’re obviously disappointed. I thought the kids prepared tremendously. I thought the coaching staff did a great job, but at the end of the day, we didn’t execute when it mattered most. But these guys, man, this is a special group; and for those that aren’t coming back, they’re going to be greatly missed. More than anything, I think there’s a group that’s, one, disappointed, but, two, motivated, motivated to right what happened today and to start the progression for the future. As I told them 28 days ago, this is about right now. This is about finishing this season off the right way. Wouldn’t happen. And it’s okay. All we can do now is start focusing on what we’ll do as we move forward to make sure that we’re successful the next time we’re on a field.
Q. Sorry about the loss today. What is your message back to the fan base? It’s your first game in as the head coach. You said a lot there in your opening statement, but what is the driving message back to the fan base down in South Bend?
COACH FREEMAN: They deserve a winning product. They deserve a team that every week goes out there and wins. It’s our job to make sure we prepare and do everything necessary to give this team, the fan base, the university, and everybody else that deserves a really, really good product out on that field. So we’ll get back to work. That’s the only thing we know how to do. Win or lose, we’re going to get back to work and find ways to improve and make sure that we’re even more prepared and have a better opportunity to have success next time we’re on the field.
Q. I know you said this isn’t the way you wanted your first game to go today, but can you just kind of tell me what it was like on the field with your first game as head coach of this program?
COACH FREEMAN: Like everything else that’s happened in these first 28 days, it’s an honor. It’s a surreal feeling at times. I try to take it in, and I try to understand the platform you’re on; but at the same time, as the foot hit the ball, it’s time to go. It’s time to lead. It’s time to be the head coach. And so just want to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to give these kids a chance to have success.
Q. Schematically, in the second half, what did Oklahoma State do differently offensively to sort of get you guys moving in some bad directions? And was there anything that happened today that you learned about yourself as a head coach for the first time that may inform kind of what you want the rest of the off-season to look like, where you want things to go next?
COACH FREEMAN: Yeah. They did a good job at getting into some 10 personnel which they really hadn’t shown much all year. It was good. They made some good second-half adjustments offensively and defensively to stop what we were doing offensively and to kind of exploit some things defensively. So they did a good job. And you got to give them credit where credit’s due. But for me, obviously, as the leader of this program, again, it’s a pit in your stomach, as I told the group a minute ago, that you want to bottle it up, and you want to remember how this feels. The honeymoon stage is over; right? The whole new head coach, it’s a great story. No. It’s about having a great product, and it’s about having a great team. So we have to make sure that it’s about developing this team for next year. Right? This year’s over. So everything we do from now moving forward is going to be development and making sure we’re prepared to have success.
Q. Marcus, was Tyler Buchner an option for you guys today? Was he available? And if so, what went into your guys’ management on how to do that?
COACH FREEMAN: Yeah, he was definitely an option. You look at the way our offense is moving the ball the first half. I don’t think Coach [Tommy] Rees wanted to make that change, and he wanted to keep that thing going. As you get to the second half, they did a good job getting some three and outs; but, obviously, not until the fourth quarter did the lead change, in terms of who was in the lead. So I think at that point, you know, you’re just going to ride with Jack. And Jack played well, man. He played really well. Obviously, there’s a couple plays we wish we could take back, but we can’t. And so I’m proud as heck of Jack. I’m looking forward to seeing this QB competition as we move forward.
Q. Couple questions. One is could you evaluate the offensive line play today? The second is you had a big to-do list beyond getting ready for the bowl. Do you just take a deep breath now, or do you have to plunge right into coaching hires, portal perusal, and those kinds of things?
COACH FREEMAN: Yeah. I think for the most part, again, I haven’t gone and evaluated it, but they protected the quarterback. Again, it’s the tale of two halves, in terms of the first half, you scored
28 points, I think, offensively. We’re moving the ball. They’re protecting the quarterback. And in the second half, obviously, things didn’t go that way. So we have to go back and timing and look and say, okay, what did the defense do second half schematically that gave us issues? And let’s try to find a way to make sure that never happens again.
As far as taking a deep breath, I’m more motivated now to go, go, go; right? And everything we do, from staff to personnel to recruiting to whatever it is that this organization needs to improve, that’s all my mindset is.
Q. Certainly the fastest tempo you saw this year as a defense. Was it something you were prepared for, and how hard was it to combat that? And the second part of my question was: They seemed to start targeting [Tay] Martin against Clarence Lewis. Was there any way to help that or would that compromise your defense too much in the back end?
COACH FREEMAN: Yeah. We knew they were going to go fast, and they did. We prepared for it; but at the end of the day, they still executed a little bit better than we did defensively. And we wanted to play some zone early in the game, and they were starting to exploit that zone. So we said, Okay, let’s change the play a little bit more man. You know what? I trust him. You know what? That guy made some plays. He’s a heck of a player. We got to do a better job of maybe mixing it up. You know what? CLew is going to do great things for us, and he’s done great things for us. I wouldn’t trade him for the world.
Q. You get some pass rush in that first quarter against Spencer Sanders. What changed, as the game went on, that negated the pass rush?
COACH FREEMAN: You started to see them running quarterback draws. All of a sudden, you get pass rush, and the quarterback scrambles up the middle, we’re going to tell our defenders, Hey, don’t rush the quarterback. So it’s a chess match. We want to get pass rush, but we also don’t want the quarterback to scramble right up the middle of our defense. So they did a good job of mixing up. They did a good job of getting the ball out of quarterback’s hand. And so that could slow down your pass rush. Your pass rush is nonexistent if they can get the ball out his hands so fast. They did a good job. Again, kudos to them. We got to look at how we can fix some things and make sure we’re better prepared.
Q. Coach [Freeman], this is obviously a tough loss. I’m just curious whether you’ve had a chance to grasp the enormity of the program, the enormity of the job. We’re thinking about the Knute Rockne and the Heismans and the championships. Did that factor into your mind at all during the preparation? And now that you’ve had a chance to digest it, what does it feel like to be in charge of a program this big?
COACH FREEMAN: You know the enormous responsibility the moment you’re named the head coach of the University of Notre Dame football team. And so I understand the expectations. You can’t focus on that. The only thing you can focus on is your guys. The only thing to focus on is enhancing what you do. That’s where my focus is. It’s not about, hey, do you know the pressure that’s on you? No. It’s about you know what? Everything in my power that I can do to make sure this team improves every single day and that we improve, as an organization, in terms of how we recruit, our culture, how we develop these guys. That’s where my mindset is. It’s not about how big this opportunity is. It’s about, hey, taking care of these guys and making sure we’re helping them improve and reach their goals.
Q. You mentioned the honeymoon period being over. I’m curious, how much do you feel this loss maybe does for the excitement for the start of your era here at Notre Dame with the fan base and in terms of just the excitement around the program that you have had for the first month since you’ve been on board as head coach?
COACH FREEMAN: It might disappointment some people, but I understand where we’re going in the future, and I understand we have a lot of games ahead of us, and we’re going to use this game as motivation. We’re going to use this game to look back and say, Remember that first one? Look where we’ve come from there. Sometimes you got to look at it as a blessing, man. Maybe it wasn’t this honeymoon phase that kept going boom, boom, and all of a sudden, everything is good and, bam, reality hits. We got to work harder. We got to make sure that we evaluate everything we do a little bit more so the next time we step on that field, we’re prepared a little bit more to have success.
Q. Marcus, if you can hear me, can you expand on the game calling of Tommy Rees, and how was communication with Tommy throughout the game and Mike Elston?
COACH FREEMAN: It was obviously a first time for me being on the offensive side of the ball and listening to their communication. I thought it was really good. Again, the play calling and execution are two different things. Tommy [Rees] did a great job of getting a call in, felt like he had a great rhythm, and he did a great job. It’s easy to look at the first half and the second half and say, Hey, it didn’t go as well in the second half. Yeah, it didn’t.
But that has nothing to do with the play calls. It’s about execution. We got to execute better. We got to coach better. We got to execute better on both sides of the ball. So we’re all going to look at ourselves; right? We’re all going to point the finger at ourselves and say, What can I do as an individual to make sure we’re more prepared?
If we can get everybody in the locker room, everybody that’s involved with our football team, to look at themselves and say, Hey, my role is important as the head coach. What do I have to do to make sure that I execute my role better than the person I’m going against? If we get everybody to look at themselves like that, we’re going to be really, really successful.
Q. I know you guys were up big there at the end of the second half, but when Oklahoma State cuts into that lead and you guys get the ball back with, I think it was 35 seconds, three time-outs. Was there any thought of maybe tacking on a field goal or trying to push the ball down the field there at the end of the first half?
COACH FREEMAN: No. I tried to talk to Tommy [Rees], and he said, Hey, man, if we take a shot, they still have a few time-outs. So that’s not what we wanted. We felt really good with the 28-14 lead going into half-time. Let’s be smart and make sure that we don’t give this team another opportunity to score points. And so I thought that was a great decision by the communication between me and Tommy, and I wouldn’t change that.
Q. And just a quick follow-up to that, how would you assess, obviously your first time, being in charge of all those different type of logistical things? How would you look back? And I know you’ll probably watch the film and whatnot and get a better idea of how you faired in that, but how would you assess how you did?
COACH FREEMAN: Well, not as well as you wanted. You obviously wanted a victory, but I think we can all learn from it, myself included. Look at every situation, say, Hey. Is there something you can do differently? Is there a time-out you could have called? Is there something defensively you could’ve done? Maybe a suggestion offensively we could have done? It’s a learning situation. It’s a learning opportunity. You like to learn from wins, but this is going to be a learning opportunity from a loss. As long as everybody learns from this, we’ll be fine.
Q. Just two quick questions. One, how did you feel like [Mike] Elston did calling plays for the defense today? And, secondly, was there any thoughts of punting on that fourth and seven deep in your own half at the end of the game?
COACH FREEMAN: I think Elston did a great job. I thought he prepared like crazy. I thought this defense was prepared. And they gave us a few wrinkles that we hadn’t prepared for and maybe we hadn’t seen them do on film. Again, as I said earlier, kudos to them. They did a good job. And then, no, I did not consider punting with three minutes left, just because we were reeling a little bit on defense; right? Hey, we hadn’t been able to get the big stops that we needed. So let’s try to put our hat on our offense and see if we can get a fourth-down conversion and try to score. And so, obviously, it didn’t go that way. We still got the ball back, had a chance with a minute left to try to get an onside kick to win. It didn’t happen. So let’s, hopefully, next time don’t put ourselves in that situation.
Q. Sorry about the loss there today. You go out and you throw 509 yards in a college game on January 1st. Sum up what happened over your last year here at Notre Dame and how it led into today.
JACK COAN: Yeah. Coach [Tommy] Rees had a great game plan, as far as passing the ball for us. So he called some great plays for me. I guess it was a lot of yards, but at the end of the day, all I care about is winning and losing. I wish I could have done a little bit more to help the team.
Q. Once again, just going off of Tommy Rees’s game plan, when Oklahoma State came back, what did you see defensively that caused some wrinkles and challenges?
JACK COAN: Honestly, I feel like they were just making more plays, to be honest. I don’t think they were doing anything crazy to confuse me or the offense. At the end of the day, they were just making plays and we weren’t. I would say that was the biggest thing.
Q. Jack, obviously it was a fantastic first half for the offense, and then no points there until late in the second half. How tough of a pill is that to swallow to end your career and your time at Notre Dame in that fashion with the way the game developed?
JACK COAN: Yeah, it is definitely very tough when you have a lead like that at half. You want to build upon that and win. I mean, any loss hurts, no matter what kind of game it is. Definitely hurts and use it as motivation on whatever I’m in next.
Q. I was interested in your assessment of just sort of how the freshman offensive tackles held up in pass pro, and how clear was it, early in bowl prep, that this was going to be a pass first, second, and maybe pass third-type of game plan with you and Coach [Tommy] Rees collaborating?
JACK COAN: I think the freshman tackles did an amazing job. Those guys are unbelievably talented, and they work extremely hard. I have all the trust in the world in those guys. The fact that they’re going to be here the next few years is pretty scary for other teams. Yeah, I think from pretty early on, I knew we were going to have to pass the ball a lot to win. Their defense is outstanding at stopping the run and loading guys in the box. I knew we were going to have to go outside.
Q. Were there some kind of looks that Oklahoma State threw at you, as the game went on, that maybe weren’t on the scouting report or new stuff that they did that you hadn’t seen on film?
JACK COAN: I don’t really think they did anything new. They’re very multiple in what they do, as far as coverages. They’re always mixing and matching those. At the end of the day, they were just making plays and we weren’t. So that was the biggest thing.
Q. Two questions. One, what did you see on that interception in the fourth quarter and how that play developed? And then two, looking at kind of some of the freshman talent, Lorenzo [Styles] had his first career 100-yard receiving game. What did you see from him as the season progressed and how he played today?
JACK COAN: I’d say on the interception, I just thought I was going to be able to backdoor the guy. Obviously, he read my eyes well and came back on it. At the end of the day, it’s tough; and I should have probably worked outside and threw to somebody else, but that’s football.
As far as the young receivers and Zo [Lorenzo Styles], he’s a special player. I’ve known him since day one. He’s been an extremely hard worker. He’s an amazing athlete. The fact that he’s going to be back, too, is scary for other defenses.
Q. Two-parter, what did you learn about Marcus Freeman as a head coach during the month of December? And the second part of it is: As you’re watching this team from a distance next year, what do you expect to see in this 2022 Notre Dame football team?
JACK COAN: I’d say just from being around Coach Freeman more, just seeing how competitive he is and how much energy he has, he’s always incorporating some sort of competition into what we’re doing. The guys have loved that. It’s been a ton of fun. He’s just such a genuine guy. It’s great to be around him. He’s such a real person, great guy, family man. I don’t have enough good things to say about him.
Obviously, there’s a ton of guys coming back. Team’s going to be super talented, just the way this team works. Being in the weight room with Coach [Matt] Balis and his staff, just building the guys mentally and physically, this team will always be a power in college football.
Q. Just on Tyler Buchner and what you saw from his development throughout the year and what you think he will be able to do for the program next year.
JACK COAN: It’s been amazing watching him grow. He’s just a super smart guy. He picked up the offense extremely well and is continuing to learn it more in depth each and every day. I got to watch that throughout every practice. He’s an amazing athlete. He’s an amazing thrower. He’s going to be electric to watch next year, and I’m super excited.
Q. Chris, did you notice the defense — Oklahoma State’s defense making any second-half adjustments to kind of curtail the damage you guys were doing out of the backfield on those slow-developing screens and hitting them for big plays?
CHRIS TYREE: Throughout the course of the game, me and Logan [Diggs] and Audric [Estime] and Coach Taylor were talking about how they were, one, not really letting us get out and just keeping us in protection so we couldn’t get out. So that’s what we noticed.
Q. Chris, I was interested in sort of how you approached prep and now that you’re through the bowl, being the lead guy. If that felt differently to you and also just as a follow-up, where do you feel like the run game needs to go to be better?
CHRIS TYREE: I don’t think I took a different approach to the bowl game, honestly. I just knew that there were a lot more opportunities to be made with Kyren [Williams] not playing. My approach was to take advantage of the opportunities as best I could. And honestly, I think in the run game, I think we were doing pretty fine. I think it’s just up to us to keep doing what we’re doing.
Q. Chris, how early in bowl prep and as you guys started studying film here did it kind of become an emphasis of getting you involved as a receiver in the passing game?
CHRIS TYREE: I think that’s been and emphasis since I’ve been here. That was one of the reasons I came here. Coach [Tommy] Rees and Coach [Lance] Taylor made it pretty clear that I was going to be used to the best of my ability. If they see that as me getting the ball in space, then that’s what it is.
Q. Chris, is that as good as maybe you have felt all season there in the first half especially? It seemed like you just had that extra burst as you talked about this week obviously being recovered from the turf toe. Maybe just how you felt out there making those big plays and how good it was compared to most of the season.
CHRIS TYREE: I would say just I agree just because I’m fully healthy. I felt really good out there. It was just up to me to take advantage of how I feel.
Q. Chris, I just wanted to hear what your perception was of Marcus’s message in the locker room post game. What did he want you guys to take away from this? How did he want you to sort of feel about this experience?
CHRIS TYREE: His main points were just talking about how we felt about the disappointment of the game, not being able to send the seniors off as champions. And just taking everything that we feel right now and using it as motivation for the next season.
Q. What did you see in the difference from the offense between first half, second half? What do you think was the biggest game changer that you saw?
DREW WHITE: I mean, I would say they shifted from opening it up in 11-personnel, trying to run the ball a little bit. Then they started switching to 10-personnel and spreading us out, trying to get the ball to the perimeter in the screen game. I think they found success with that, getting their guys in open field and challenging us to make tackles, make the open-field tackles. I think we fell short on that aspect.
Q. Drew, in the second half, did their success have anything to do with just gassing you guys a little bit? Or was it just schematically, and you have to get adjusted to it on the fly and it just took a while to get a handle on it schematically?
DREW WHITE: Yeah, no, I wouldn’t say it was anything to do with a conditioning aspect. I think it forces you to kind of stay in a base defense. It forces you to kind of simplify so you can easily get set up and be disciplined and run the right call. So I think that kind of limited us in our play calling a little bit.
But at the end of the day, I don’t think — many times we were outschemed. I think it came down to just executing and making tackles and covering guys. That’s really what it came down to.
Q. I asked [Chris] Tyree this on the other Zoom call. But if you could sum up what the message was from Coach [Marcus] Freeman post game, how he wanted the program to process this, how he sort of wanted you guys to feel coming out of this, to spin it forward, I mean.
DREW WHITE: Yeah. We started out by thanking the seniors, thanking those guys that have been here for four, five years that are going to be leaving this program. For a lot of us, we’re leaving it better than we found it.
And what a journey it’s been for me. Coming off a 4-8 season in 2016, I came in and we’ve had double-digit seasons every year I’ve been here.
And I’ve seen the culture change. I’ve seen this program continuing to climb. And I think that
was — he thanked the senior, thanks for everything they did. And then he was looking forward. He was looking forward to what’s next. I mean, this is — I’m excited for next year, because, I mean, it’s a blessing in disguise sometimes. We all want the win, don’t get me wrong.
But to have that fire under you, to push you in the offseason. This is going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of everyone for months and going into spring ball. And so I think that was a message that he put on.
I was telling the younger linebackers, too, take it as everything happens for a reason. This is a blessing. It’s not the outcome we wanted; and it’s hard, it’s bitter. But it’s going to continue to move forward for the next season. And I’m excited to watch Notre Dame football in 2022.
Q. Drew, what was the attitude on the sideline and how were you guys able to sort of handle things when it seems like things — nothing was seemingly going your guys’ way?
DREW WHITE: Yeah, so we have a main message and theme.
It’s “one play, one life”. And so, I mean, every play, whether it was big explosive plays, which we had too many of those — it was reset, refocus, get the call, and you can’t hang your hat on what happened in either the previous drive, the previous quarter, the previous play.
It’s continuing to try to get better and find solutions. Just hanging your hat and getting all rumbled up for what happened in the past doesn’t help the future plays at all. So it’s really just a locked-in focus.
And I’m proud of the defense. I think we did that in the second half. I mean, there’s a lot of tough plays, explosive plays, missed tackles. Things didn’t go our way, and so we were battling. And I think the sideline was good. It was nothing to do with that.
Q. I just wanted to ask, with the pace that their offense was moving at, how did you feel the communication was on the field, especially between the line and the secondary?
DREW WHITE: Yeah, any fast-tempo offense, and especially Oklahoma State who runs a high-tempo offense, it challenges you. It challenges you in communication. It challenges you to get the call, get lined up.
But at the same time, I feel like our preparation was great. We practiced that all bowl prep. We practiced the conditioning. We practiced communication, practiced getting lined up.
There might have been a couple of times where we felt short of getting the communication and getting lined up, but I think as an overall, I really don’t think that was the problem on defense. I think it was more of just executing. On the 50-50 balls, you’ve got to make a play. They’ve got to be ours.
On the tackling, by the first level and second level, you’ve got to tackle the quarterback, you’ve got to tackle the running back. I want to give credit to those athletes, too. Sometimes when the offense makes big plays, everyone is quick to say the defense made a mistake.
I’ve got to give my hats off and praise to the Oklahoma State offense for having playmakers and really making good plays, making explosive plays when they had to.
Q. Just talk about the learning experience and playing in the Fiesta Bowl. And then secondly, what did you learn playing alongside Drew White as a linebacker this year?
JD BERTRAND: Drew has been awesome to me. Even in the locker room today throughout the whole game, he’s there, he’s talking to me. And he’s just been a good person to be able to lean on. I’ve been able to lean on him a lot. He’s been able to pick me up, teach me things, just the little details of the game that you don’t necessarily pick up from just watching film and things like that.
And so I’m so thankful that I played along Drew White, and it’s disappointing to not to be able to finish the way we needed to finish and help these seniors finish the way they wanted to finish.
Q. What was Marcus [Freeman] like as a head coach in comparison to a defensive coordinator this month? And the other thing is: As you kind of spin into 2022, what are your goals, what are your thoughts about what needs to get better with this team as you go into next season?
JD BERTRAND: I think Coach Freeman has done an awesome job. I think he prepared us really well. He had us ready for the high tempo. It wasn’t schematically, it was the little details that we missed tackles. We didn’t win the 50-50 balls, those little details. And we need to make sure we do that better, and it’s on us.
And going into next season, I just want to make sure I focus on the fundamentals, the little things like finishing leverage tackles, not going one-for-one for blocks, just every little detail, just being able to enhance it.
And then just being able to take that next step in leadership and be able to help this team become the team we want to become.
Q. Marcus [Freeman] did talk about when Oklahoma State does get into 10 personnel and some of the challenges that did create, can you expound on that as a linebacker? Why that’s maybe a difficult personnel group and what it forces you to do to sort of change up maybe how you attack it?
JD BERTRAND: Sure. Started out trying to run the ball. And when they go into the 10-personnel, it puts a lot of stress on the linebackers as they’re in an apex. A lot of times they’re trying to read that apex linebacker, and so a lot of times you’re in the fifth but you are also having to help with any kind of duo or two-detached receivers.
So it puts just a little more stress on the linebackers. We just need to make sure we do a better job as we go forward. I need to make sure I do a better job and just continue to get better.
Q. Earlier in the year, the linebacker room had a lot of injuries. Having some of those guys coming back, your role expanded a lot in the later half of the season. How did you feel your role as a player, as a leader, within the linebacker room developed throughout the year?
JD BERTRAND: I think throughout the year, it’s always going to continue to develop. I’m going to be able to lead better. I’m going to be able to learn. There’s a lot of learning from game 1 to game 12 or 13, whatever this was. And I think going into next season, it’s only going to be great. And I mean, obviously, it’s disappointing, it’s embarrassing. It’s sad for us. But going forward, I think we’re going to be better and we’re going to have to take this, learn from it, and go into the offseason with a fire.
Q. Building off of that, just the fire, the motivation, how do you guys turn this into a positive now in the offseason? Coach [Marcus] Freeman talked about the honeymoon phase being over. Obviously there was so much excitement from the fan base around the program, and certainly now there’s a lot of disappointment from them as well in addition to you guys. How do you guys turn this into a positive in the offseason?
JD BERTRAND: I think it starts by each of us looking at our own performance and seeing what we need to get better, not just this game but throughout the entire season and then taking it from there and becoming closer as a group and loving each other and being able to work throughout this entire season to be able to come back for that first game against Ohio State.