Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel and Pete Thamel, and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde discuss Notre Dame’s loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl in Marcus Freeman’s first game as head coach.
DAN WETZEL: So Notre Dame, Marcus Freeman's debut, they took a big lead then blew it to Oklahoma State. Came back, made it the game. I don't know what you take out of a single game. Maybe more importantly, they've got another really good recruit in the class of 2023 on that same January 1, Peyton Bowen, defensive back in Texas. They have the number one recruiting class in 2023 right now. I doubt it'll end up that way. They're getting really good players.
I think they have five top 100 players already, all right? Remember we talked last time? I'm like, Alabama, Texas, these guys get 11 a year. Notre Dame's already got like five. So, Marcus Freeman is killing it in that regard. Did not win his debut. Any thoughts on the Irish in that game and can you take anything going forward on it?
PAT FORDE: My thoughts, no. You don't, like, put wholesale stock in one game. There were some phenomenal moments for Notre Dame when they were roaring out to a 28-7 and then, like, ghastly, cover your eyes moments when they collapsed completely thereafter. He's a new coach, coached one game against a guy who's coached, I think the graphic said, 208 for Mike Gundy. And yes, I think there were probably some rookie coach moments where Marcus Freeman could have figured out or had some things to change in the second half to stop the just tidal wave of momentum, but it might not have happened, might not have worked.
But a couple of things. I just thought Oklahoma State wildly exploited one area of Notre Dame's secondary. Like, picked on one guy as badly as I've ever seen anybody pick on one cornerback and just exploit it to the hilt. And that's smart coaching and I think maybe somebody who isn't the head coach while also trying to be pretty hands on with the defense might have been able to step back and say, hey, we've got to make some changes. We've got to alter some things here and maybe slow some of that bloodletting there at that position.
But, for the most part, look, Marcus Freeman, I think everybody's excited to see what he's going to do. Pete wrote a great feature on who he is and why he's been a special guy. That doesn't mean that there's not going to be some growing pains and some learning things, and this might have been the best time for Marcus Freeman to have a learning experience is in a Bowl game that, yes, it was a big game, but it didn't affect whether or not you could play for a national championship. This season was-- again, we've talked about what Bowl games mean, and you learn from it and go forward.
PETE THAMEL: Yeah, I thought that it was, you know, a debut of learning for Marcus Freeman. And first of all, hats off to Oklahoma State. Like, I mean, Mike Gundy called it the best win in school history and they had a remarkable season where they completely shifted their identity from what we've come Oklahoma State to be. And, without their defensive coordinator, made unbelievable adjustments. Were getting smoked on, basically, the first four drives of the game to coming back and pretty much shutting Notre Dame down-- not quite out but down-- in the second half. So, tip of the cap to the mullet, who no longer has a mullet.
For Marcus Freeman, I think it'd be naive to overreact to anything that happened in that game. I think that his role at Notre Dame is going to be as CEO and he's going to run the thing. And I will be really curious to see how he can rev the engines of recruiting. Now, if they had won this game they really could have revved them. They could have been an all time, just sort of pedal to the metal, but they got a commitment from a top 100 player the morning of that game, if I remember right.
And I really think that there's a great operation there in terms of infrastructure that Marcus Freeman is going to be able to build on. And look, it's also a little window into-- Brian Kelly didn't lose games that he shouldn't have lost. Like, that was one of his hallmark skills as Notre Dame's coach. Brian Kelly as a favorite, especially these last five seasons, was not infallible, but I would bet he won at a 90% clip. And that came with 200-plus games coached at Grand Valley. You know, he's made a lot of sideline decisions. So, Marcus Freeman is going to be fine. He's going to learn from it. But I do think there's a little reminder of, like, the last guy there probably might have figured out a way to slam on the brakes a little bit there in the second half.