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Leftovers & Links: Freeman’s authenticity sheds truth to usual coachspeak; Notre Dame injuries update

Following Notre Dame's win over No. 16 BYU in Las Vegas, coach Marcus Freeman discusses the growth in the now 3-2 Fighting Irish after a slow 0-2 start to the season.

Every so often, Marcus Freeman slips coachspeak into his otherwise authentic thoughts, including after Notre Dame’s 28-20 win against BYU in Las Vegas on Saturday. Considering much of his postgame press conference is filled with more transparency than is typically seen from that podium, perhaps that coachspeak should be reflected on from a few steps back.

Freeman can delve into frustration about the Irish kickoff returns at Ohio State immediately following that 21-10 season-opening loss — the type of detail that most might not consider until Monday — only moments after offering such obvious thoughts as “Do not turn the ball over,” and “Try to continue to run the ball vertically.” The unique sincerity of that kickoff return criticism, a valid one given Notre Dame took two kickoffs for 22 total yards at Columbus and has kept itself to just four returns for 60 yards since then, creates a sense of validity in his broader platitudes.

Freeman oscillates from “He’s a freak now” when discussing junior tight end Michael Mayer with NBC sideline reporter Zora Stephenson (above) to changing the usual rhythm of Brian Kelly’s favorite postgame axiom, “Winning is hard,” only 15 minutes later talking with the media.

“College football, the parity is pretty close for a lot of us,” Freeman said Saturday night. “A team like BYU, you’re going to have to find a way. They’re never going to lay down. You’re going to have to find a way to finish.”

He’s right. Immediate eligibility upon a player’s first transfer has furthered parity across college football (see: Marshall, USC, Mississippi), but it has long been a truth. Aside from the top-four teams, losses can be expected in the most unusual moments.

Coachless and draining talent Arizona State beat No. 21 Washington last week as a two-touchdown underdog. Coachless and listless Georgia Tech upset No. 24 Pittsburgh as a three-touchdown underdog two weeks ago. Perennially-middling Middle Tennessee State (that descriptor was thought of before realizing it’d be the worst pun and whatever, let’s publish it) trounced coached and talented No. 25 Miami in late September, winning by two touchdowns as 25.5-point underdogs.

“The parity is pretty close for a lot of us.”

Winning is hard.

Just as often forgotten, players sometimes take time to develop. Fans want the new signees, the youngest players to explode on the scene and express frustration when they remain behind veterans who were once the new signees and youngest players.

Senior defensive end NaNa Osafo-Mensah is the best case study of this in 2022. Stuck behind future pros and then suffering a meniscus injury, he had played in only 14 games and made just 14 tackles before this season. The No. 23 weakside defensive end in the class of 2019, Osafo-Mensah was a recruiting coup when he chose the Irish over his homestate Texas. Biding his time for three seasons never changed his abilities.

He first flashed this year at Ohio State, standing up Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson on his own in the first half. He then made a play that should not be forgotten anytime soon on the game-clinching fourth-and-one, more to credit for stopping BYU than fifth-year defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, even if the latter got the celebration and subsequent praise.

Fifth-year cornerback TaRiq Bracy’s “grade 1” hamstring pull will leave him questionable this weekend, per Freeman, against Stanford (7:30 ET; NBC). In another moment of more transparency than usual at a press conference, Freeman revealed an error in preparation that may have contributed to Bracy’s injury.

“I just found out he had a virus illness, so he was probably a little bit dehydrated,” Freeman said Monday. “He was playing a lot of plays running around there. … He’s kind of freaky in terms of athletically, hopefully he’ll bounce back.”

Without Bracy, Notre Dame would lean more on the freshman duo of Jaden Mickey and Benjamin Morrison.

Freeman expects senior defensive tackle Howard Cross to play against the Cardinal after a pregame test of a high ankle sprain sidelined him in Allegiant Stadium.

What a facility. Simple as that.

Freeman continues to try to claim it felt like a home game, but the Cougars fans were every bit as loud as the Irish fans in the building, probably a 60/40 split as far as literal attendance goes, suggesting about 25,000 BYU fans made it to Las Vegas.

Allegiant Stadium’s design allowed it to feel like an intimate environment, and it held the sound better than most stadiums, open or domed.

NBC will host a watch party at one of four bars when Notre Dame hosts national title contenders Clemson on Nov. 5. But the question is, what bar?

The Linebacker Lounge and O’Rourke’s Public House, each just a block off campus in South Bend, could host the event, if one of them beats out TD’s and Backstreets in Clemson.

Vote for a bar in this Fanbase Face-off here.

Not to skew the results, but a personal endorsement from this space: As famed as the Linebacker Lounge is, and it should be on the to-do list for any fan making their first trip to Notre Dame, most postgame writing that shows up here after a home game is done from O’Rourke’s. For years, that staff has let yours truly stand at a hightop past last call and after bar close, they have swept around him and left two bar stools on the floor until all other cleanup work was done. A laptop bag sat on one. The other is empty, because in order to stay awake at that point in the night, the writing is done standing, but it is theoretically where this scribe sits.

TD’s and Backstreets both sound great. And few things in life are better than a Tuesday burger at the ‘Backer in the summer. But consider this a vote for O’Rourke’s. Then again …

There was no article published here Tuesday. This is no apology. This is an acknowledgment of an inevitability. To pull directly from the 40 preseason predictions

“16) Notre Dame will beat BYU in Las Vegas, and coming off a top-25 win, this space will miss at least one day of publishing the following week. Who can say why.”

The “why” was not drinks. There were only seven in the last week, with no night involving more than three. The “why” was not gambling. Money was lost at a blackjack table only once. The “why” was a lack of sleep while balancing work duties with the obligation to a college roommate’s bachelor party, delayed by two years for obvious reasons.

That lack of sleep was validated when said roommate confessed to reading every article this space publishes. He should find better things to do with his time, but we all make mistakes in life, and this was not his greatest mistake during his own bachelor party in Las Vegas.

Anyway, appreciate the kind words, old friend. And dinner Thursday night at Carson Kitchen was my personal highlight of the weekend, especially as you realized I did not overhype the pork belly.

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Offensive development from Notre Dame’s receivers and offensive line accelerates Pyne’s growing confidence

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