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Setback or a Stepping Stone: Reviewing the 2023 Season

By Liam Farrell|Senior Staff Writer|Twitter/X: @LiamFarrell_IT

Via The Irish Tribune


This season as a Notre Dame fan has been quite the rollercoaster. The first 4 weeks of the season seemed to be a blur, with the offense scoring on nearly every possession, and the defense imposing their will, by creating a wide array of turnovers. Then, the middle four games of the season, all primetime night games, had the Irish take a couple steps back. The agonizing defeat at home against Ohio State to the come from behind victory at Duke to the total second half meltdown against Louisville and then finally, the dismantling against arch rival USC. As the Irish stroll into the last week of the season with 3 losses, it's time to take a step back and reflect on the direction of the program. Was this 2023 a setback, or a stepping stone for Marcus Freeman going into his 3rd season as being a head coach? Let's take a deeper look here.




A Setback?


Even though the Irish came into the season ranked lower than the 2022 season, the expectations for Notre Dame could not be higher. With the quarterback position being the main culprit holding Notre Dame back in recent years, the addition of Sam Hartman, the best QB prospect in the transfer portal, had all fans clamoring for the Irish to make a National Championship run. This looked to be the path of the 2023 season before the Ohio State heartbreaker and Louisville letdown derailed the Irish's dreams.


With that being said, was this 2023 season a setback? Well, in some regards, yes. The 2023 season displayed a multitude of things about Notre Dame and where they sit along the best in college football; however, the biggest insight this season provided was the problems in authority. Obviously, Gerad Parker is the main coach being thrown into the fire for his lackluster performances in big games, and his unwillingness to adapt within the game. Parker clearly wasn't Freeman's first option to fill the hole left by Tommy Rees' departure to the Alabama Crimson Tide.


Another eye opener that this season provided is Freeman's inability to learn certain things about being a head coach. His time management skills have been absolutely terrible in the second half of the season, and his performance in road games tells the average fan that he doesn't have his team ready to go. As clock management goes, in their game against Wake Forest, Hartman spiked the ball after moving the chains, and then Notre Dame had to call a timeout the next play. In the previous week, the terrible decision to hold onto one timeout and drain clock against Pittsburgh, lead to taking points off the board, as well. Once again, this is Freeman's first time being a head coach. It isn't expected for him to learn these nuances right away, but the learning curve better be coming quick as year 3 is just around the corner.




A Stepping Stone?


There was a lot of good things to pull from this year for the Notre Dame coaching staff. Obviously, the Irish finished the season with a win over Stanford, which improves their regular season record from last year by a game. Also, they didn't have any real bad games against inferior opponents as they did last year against Marshall and Stanford.


It is evident that Marcus Freeman is learning more to being a head coach with every game he coaches. This year, especially in the Ohio State game, he had a clear plan going into the game and stuck by it. I respected Freeman's aggressiveness in big games, and it has proved to work in the past. With two big time wins against Clemson in 2022 and USC in 2023, Freeman knows how to pump his team up for big home games.


Year 3 is the difference maker for Notre Dame head coaches. For Lou Holtz, Dan Devine, Are Parseghian, and Frank Leahy, their third season all ended in National Championships. For Marcus Freeman, the 2024 season will be possibly the most prime year to add to this trend. Despite opening the year on the road against a probably revamped Texas A&M team, the schedule is extremely favorable for the Irish. While this is a plus, it is also important to take into consideration the playoff will be expanding for the first time in its history, and multiple teams will be thrown into new conferences for the first time. Notre Dame will remain constant in this wild year of change, making it a true advantage for the Fighting Irish.




Wrap Up


While this season could be seen in one of two ways, the 2023 Irish were a combination of both in my opinion. The talent on the roster was definitely there in 2023, along with there being no true dominant team in college football this season; however, the coaching maturity simply wasn't as high as it needed to be. The 2024 roster will feature new young talent, but still have enough experience to make a run deep into the playoff. This season may have been frustrating, but there is surely brighter times ahead.



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