Las Vegas may distract Notre Dame fans plenty, but Irish head coach Marcus Freeman expects no such problem from his roster. For one thing, Notre Dame will arrive in Las Vegas late enough on Friday to cut into any distractions before facing No. 16 BYU (7:30 ET; NBC).
The Irish will then take a quick site visit to Allegiant Stadium before calling it a night, and Freeman himself will make sure everyone on the team has called it a night, as he does each Friday before a game.
“They got the head coach that’ll be doing bed coach at 8:30 Pacific Time on Friday night,” Freeman said Monday. “So I’m not real concerned.”
Freeman has often argued games away from home actually elicit fewer distractions than ones at home, something heard often around college coaches. Generally speaking, more family is in attendance at each home game, not to mention friends with typical college parties. On the road, the players arrive in town, perhaps check out the stadium, and then they head to the hotel for the night.
The loss of the comfort of sleeping in your bed is universal; Notre Dame has stayed in a hotel the night before home games for decades.
“The Shamrock Series is what makes Notre Dame unique,” Freeman said. “It’s one of our distinctions. The chance to go play a home game in Las Vegas is an extremely exciting opportunity.”
The Irish will be without senior linebacker JD Bertrand for the first half after a targeting penalty led to his ejection in the second half at North Carolina. Notre Dame appealed Bertrand’s one-half suspension but did not win the appeal.
The Irish should have both junior safety Ramon Henderson and fifth-year safety DJ Brown back in the lineup, after an ankle and a hamstring limited each nine days ago.
“Our head athletic trainer texted me this morning that both of them looked really good today, expect them both to go and practice …,” Freeman said. “I would expect both of those guys to be ready to go.”
Whether they are or not, junior Xavier Watts will be a part of the safety rotation and only the safety rotation. After Avery Davis tore his ACL in the preseason, leaving Notre Dame with just six healthy receivers, including fifth-year former walk-on Matt Salerno, Watts handled double-duty. The former receiver played both sides of the ball during at least one preseason scrimmage.
But Freeman said Watts is working at only safety these days, despite moving to the position less than a year ago.
“He’s getting better, he has a lot of natural ability we have to continue to coach and mold,” Freeman said. “… He’s all safety now. We just felt his role had more value to our team on defense than to go on offense and really compete to try to get playing time. Defensively, we knew there was already a plan for him to play.”
BUCHNER IN THE BOOTH
Most injured players roam the sidelines on Saturday, but sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner has been in the coaches’ booth since injuring his shoulder against Marshall on Sept. 10. More than learning the system from above and helping coaches chart plays, Freeman said that was a safety precaution initially.
“We didn’t want him in harm’s way,” Freeman said. “He was fresh, two or three days, out of surgery. We wanted to get him away from anywhere he could be in harm’s way.”
Freeman would not rule out Buchner moving to the sideline yet this season, where he and junior starting quarterback Drew Pyne could talk things through more actively, but for now, Buchner likely will remain up top.
ON THE QUICKENING NATURE OF COACHING CHANGES
After Wisconsin shockingly fired head coach Paul Chryst on Sunday, a surprise such that it will now be the poster child for early-season firings, Freeman was asked for his thoughts on those pressures and how it could impact his assistants. None of them figure to be in the mix for any of the current job openings (six, in total), but the concept holds enough merit to be discussed.
“We have a job to do, every single week,” Freeman said. “Anything that is going to distract us from getting our job done, we don’t want it, but I’m always going to be in a position where I want to make sure I’m helping every single person I’m surrounded by reach their goals.”
So Freeman would not stand in the way of an assistant coaching talking about an opening sooner than usual. Consider it unlikely right now and too abstract to ponder in the future. Of the six job openings, UAB’s interim coach is being given a valid chance at keeping the job, and Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees would know better than to pick up the phone if Georgia Tech called, not that this year’s offense has Rees atop many coaching lists.
Defensive coordinator Al Golden presumably needs to succeed at the collegiate level for a few years before landing another head coaching gig, and while running backs coach Deland McCullough has explicitly said that is his goal, he is not established enough to be viewed as a contender for any Power Five job, which five of the six now open are.
That hypothetical aside, Freeman knows well the reality of a coaching firing and the frustrations that come with it. Just about anyone in the coaching industry does, and thus they feel great empathy when discussing such moments.
Freeman felt it in 2016, as the defensive coordinator at Purdue when head coach Darrell Hazell was fired after six games. Current Irish tight ends coach Gerad Parker was the Boilermakers’ interim coach for the final six games of the year, going 0-6.
“It’s tough. You feel for the guys in your occupation,” Freeman said. “I’m sure it’s not a lack of effort, but we’re in a results-driven business. That’s a part of the profession we chose. We chose this profession. But you never want to see that.
“People with families — it not only affects the head coach, but it affects all those assistants with them.”
Stays at -3 amid the chaos of this first hour. Might not move much at all this week.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 2, 2022