Here is a take from behind enemy lines on the upcoming, massive tilt between Ohio State and Notre Dame Saturday.
And while you are at it, see what we provided as the OSU side of things.
Phil Harrison (Buckeyes Wire): Marcus Freeman has said some things that Ohio State fans have taken as a slight to the program. How is that viewed in South Bend? How do Notre Dame fans feel about Freeman and what he can do for the program?
Nick Shepkowski (Fighting Irish Wire): What I’ve learned about Marcus Freeman in his time in South Bend is that anytime there is a camera or media member that his mind goes to recruiting. It’s a world of difference compared to Brian Kelly who really never offered much of anything to say. I don’t think Freeman has any ill-will whatsoever to where he went to college but knows that Ohio State is the big dog in the midwest for the last 20 years and that if he’s going to reach his ultimate goals at Notre Dame, that the Buckeyes will have to be topped in a good amount of recruiting battles.
On what Notre Dame fans are feeling going into the matchup with Ohio State PH: What are fans feeling going into this matchup with Ohio State? Is there optimism, or is there a feeling that it’s going to be an uphill battle to beat the Buckeyes in the ‘Shoe?
NS: There is excitement for the Freeman Era to begin in full but I wouldn’t say optimism for this night, in particular, is too high. I think the best way to describe the majority of the feeling would be a quiet curiosity but excitement for the bigger picture.
On what Notre Dame fans think of the Ohio State program PH: What is the perception of Ohio State for today’s Notre Dame fan?
NS: Ohio State is now what Notre Dame was in the early-90’s aside from the NBC deal. The Buckeyes have been the class of midwest football since the early-2000’s and are seemingly annually in the CFP conversation. They’re seen for what they have earned: in the short discussion for the best college football program besides Alabama.
On the conversations of Notre Dame joining the Big Ten with all the expansion talk PH: Obviously, Big Ten expansion is big in the news today. What’s the temperature of Notre Dame fans on potentially joining the conference? Is it something the fanbase is open to or is there a desire to remain independent in face of all the changes?
NS: I wouldn’t say that it’s 100% to stay independent, I’ve heard more Notre Dame fans at least be interested in the idea now than probably ever previously. The most important things to consider will be if Notre Dame can continue to put together a competitive schedule like they traditionally have and do they have a route to the College Football Playoff. If the answers to those questions remain yes then independence won’t be changing anytime soon.
On an area that Notre Dame might have an advantage over Ohio State PH: What’s the strength of this year’s Notre Dame team? Where do you see the Irish having an advantage over Ohio State?
NS: Stop me if you’ve heard this before but Notre Dame’s offensive line should be among the best in college football. Joe Alt and Blake Fisher at the tackle spots are sophomores with legit first-round potential and size. Michael Mayer is as good of tight end as there is in college football and if Ohio State fans haven’t watched him up close yet they’ll quickly understand why he’s been nicknamed “Baby Gronk” since stepping foot on campus. Ball control offense and a heavy dose of tight ends, something Notre Dame has been used to for a very long time.
On where Notre Dame might struggle against the Buckeyes PH: On the flip side, what’s the one area you feel OSU can take advantage of on Saturday night?
NS: Make Notre Dame’s receivers beat you and force them to until they can. Brian Kelly oversaw a lot of good things while he was Notre Dame’s head coach but wide receiver is the position where that improvement simply wasn’t evident. Underclassmen are going to need to step up for Notre Dame in the receiving game, a tough ask in week one at Ohio Stadium. If I’m Ohio State I’m making them and a first-time starter at quarterback in Tyler Buchner beat me.
On why Marcus Freeman has been such a good recruiter so far PH: Marcus Freeman is recruiting at a higher level than Brian Kelly did. What do you attribute that too and do you think it is sustainable?
NS: When I worked in radio in Chicago I remember Bulls GM John Paxson being asked how Eddy Curry could improve his poor rebounding statistics. “Jump” is all Paxson said.
Freeman is recruiting at a higher level because of effort and not a whole lot else. Listen, I don’t want to make this a rip on Brian Kelly segment but if the man cared as much about landing elite recruits as he did his golf game while in South Bend then the talent gap between the truly elites and Notre Dame wouldn’t be what it currently is. As long as Freeman is able to keep his energy (seriously, the man is everywhere at all times) then regularly bringing in top-five or so classes will likely be the norm.
On Notre Dame falling on hard times and now coming back to relevance PH: Interested to get a Notre Dame take on this because we have our own thoughts. The Irish have made it back among the elite here in the last few years, but before that, it was a real struggle to compete at the level everyone expected. What do you attribute those down years to?
NS: It certainly begins with poor coaching hires. Bob Davie was a disaster and Tyrone Willingham was somehow worse. Charlie Weis had flashes early but his end was worse than even Davie or Willingham. That’s 14 years of mediocrity. Brian Kelly changed the culture but took Notre Dame as far as it was going under his watch. Can Freeman now take that next step and go from College Football Playoff contender to actual national championship threat, because like it or not there is a difference.
On how the game might play out on Saturday PH: OK. Time for the rubber to meet the road. Give us a score prediction and why.
NS: I think Notre Dame shows up well in this one but that Ohio State walks out with a win. Notre Dame tends to dummy down games like this often (Georgia in 2017 and 2019, Clemson in 2015 and 2020 are just a few examples) and despite not leading on the scoreboard, are often right there at the end of the game. The thing is with Ohio State’s firepower is that this could very well be the case with five minutes left and the Buckeyes could still run off 17 points before you can blink twice.
Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 27
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