Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman 'emotionless' as he prepares to come back to Ohio State

Colin Gay
The Columbus Dispatch

Marcus Freeman has great memories running onto the field at Ohio Stadium. But that is not what he's focused on heading into Notre Dame's season opener.

The first-year Notre Dame head coach and former Ohio State linebacker said he is "emotionless" about his return to Columbus for the season opener between the Fighting Irish and the Buckeyes.

Instead, Freeman is more focused on the challenge Ohio State provides.

"We get to play a great team," Freeman said. "We get to play in a hostile environment. To me, that's where the emotions lie.

"Like any competitor, you get butterflies and excitement to play in a place like that."

As for Notre Dame's focus heading into its season opener against Ohio State, Freeman said it's simple defensively: stop the run.

"If you don't stop the run, they'll run it all day long," Freeman said. "And so the ability to stop the run is most important. And then, yeah, we knw they're very talented in throwing the ball. But it's the mindset of if you can't stop the run, they can throw it, they can run it and do whatever they want to do."

Freeman said that's his focus offensively too, mentioning that both Oregon and Michigan, in their wins against Ohio State in 2021, established the ball and limited the Buckeyes' offensive chances, taking control of the game on long drives.

While Freeman's game plan for Ohio State is clear, the Notre Dame coach, when asked about the 17.5-point spread in favor of the Buckeyes in the season opener, said he wasn't aware of the large margin.

"You said 17.5 points?" Freeman asked. "We'll use that in the team meeting today."

Marcus Freeman has an idea of what to expect from Ohio State's defense

Freeman got a good look at what a Jim Knowles defense could look like last season when Notre Dame took on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

While Knowles wasn't in attendance and was already preparing the transition to become Ohio State's defensive coordinator, Freeman's team recorded 551 yards of offense and 35 points against the Cowboys to end the season.

But he doesn't expect Ohio State's defense under Knowles to look the exact same Saturday night.

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"It's still based upon the talent that you have," Freeman said. "It's based around your personnel. You're not going to come in here and drop a book and say, 'This is our defense, this is our offense, you guys fit it.'

"For me, that's not the way to do it. It's, 'Let me evaluate our talent, let me evaluate our personnel and how can we tailor our scheme that fit the guys we have."

Freeman said Notre Dame has an idea of what Knowles' defense could look like based on what he did at Oklahoma State and what personnel he has at Ohio State. But the Fighting Irish coach said he expects to adapt and adjust to what they see come Saturday.

Notre Dame football's Marcus Freeman uses aspects of Jim Tressel's coaching style

Jan 1, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2022 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Freeman said he has adapted aspects of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel into his coaching style.

“The best thing I observed from him is the ability to make everybody in your organization feel important, but also make it so that they are important," Freeman said.

He also said that when he was at Ohio State as a player, Tressel spent time understanding the history and the tradition of the program and the school, something that allowed him to develop an ownership of the program, which is something he brought with him to Notre Dame.

Freeman hired former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis as a graduate assistant for his defense, while also bringing in former Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington as defensive run game coordinator and defensive line coach.

Freeman said he feels Notre Dame has significant leadership on his roster with players who have experience in big games, adding that he's confident in all three phases heading into the season opener.

However, heading into the first game of the 2022 season, Freeman said he will learn a lot about Notre Dame from his time against Ohio State Saturday night.

"We'll see after the game exactly where our strengths are and where our weaknesses are," Freeman said.

Fighting Irish left guard Jarrett Patterson questionable heading into Ohio State

Notre Dame may be without another piece of its offense heading into the season opener against Ohio State.

Freeman said left guard Jarrett Patterson, a first-team preseason AP All-American, remains questionable ahead of Saturday night's game with a foot sprain.

Patterson was listed as Notre Dame's starter ahead of redshirt freshman Rocco Spindler.

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