As Notre Dame enters their biggest home game of the season, The Observer took a look at the overall mood of the fanbase through eight games. The Irish have dropped two games as huge home favorites, but they also have two top-20 wins on the road. Sitting at 5-3, how confident are Irish fans about the rest of this season and the direction of the program under the current coaching staff? In an Observer survey, 105 respondents weighed in with their opinion.
Confidence in Marcus Freeman: 8.12 of 10
All confidence ratings were given on a scale of a 1-10 with 1 being “should be fired after the season” and 10 representing “can lead the Irish to their next national championship within a few years.”Overall, Irish fans feel good about their young head coach. He’s had some learning moments this year, but he’s gotten the Irish up and ready for big games. If he can start making sure the Irish are mentally ready for those easier contests, this team and program can elevate itself sooner rather than later.
Confidence in Tommy Rees: 4.76
Rees, in year three as offensive coordinator, got a lot less slack from Irish fans. A touch under 30% of respondents granted Rees a seven or above. Those higher grades reflect a confidence in Rees to expand on some of the brilliant moments that he’s shown. The Irish have at times put together some superbly-called drives, such as the end-of-half touchdown drive at Syracuse last week. Rees has demonstrated some creativity, and some respondents appear to believe that Rees has been dealt a tough hand with thin depth at wide receiver, and now four starting quarterbacks in three years.
However, 33% of grades saw Rees land at a three or below, so the feelings can be pretty extreme. Who exactly is to blame for the inconsistent offense? Irish fans are split on this answer.
Confidence in Al Golden: 7.26
Golden has by and large done a solid job in his first year as defensive coordinator. There’s been some interesting blitz decisions that have led to big gains at inopportune times, but the adjustments and overall performance have been there. The biggest weakness for the Irish is their awful red zone defense, ranked dead last in the FBS.
However, Golden and the Irish defense have held a lot of teams below their scoring and yardage averages. Of respondents, 54.7% gave Golden a seven or an eight, so there’s a lot of confidence, but there’s a little more doubt with some questionable moments scattered throughout the year.
Who should start at quarterback?
This was a curious question that ultimately revealed that junior Drew Pyne is still the favored signal-caller, despite growing noise for freshman Steve Angeli. Of the 106 respondents, 70.1% picked Pyne, the more experienced signal-caller who is 5-1 as a starter. Pyne has been less than ideal in recent weeks, completing under 50% of passes over his last three games. However, he’s shown the ability to be a strong QB1 in prior games, and he has his flashes in every game. Pyne could also benefit from a lot less drops from his receivers, but certainly he’s missed his fair share of throws.
That being said, while there’s some intrigue about Angeli, particularly after the freshman engineered a comeback in the spring game, many realize that throwing a lower four-star quarterback into the fray as a true freshman is not the answer. Under Pyne, the Irish still have a small chance at 9-3, and building for the future by starting Angeli is not the answer.
Who are Notre Dame’s top three offensive and defensive players?
While the exact answers varied, the general offensive consensus was junior tight end Michael Mayer (not exactly shocking), a running back and an offensive lineman. The most popular permutation was Mayer, sophomore Audric Estime and sophomore Joe Alt. Estime appeared on 72 ballots, while classmate and fellow running back Logan Diggs earned 30 votes. Alt, sophomore tackle Blake Fisher and graduate student guard Jarrett Patterson were among vote-getters on the offensive line.
At other positions, Pyne brought in a handful of votes, and sophomore Jayden Thomas led all wide receivers with eight votes.
There was a decent amount of variation amidst the defensive players, but overall, three seniors separated themselves from the crowd. Vyper Isaiah Foskey was the clear top vote-getter, with transfer safety Brandon Joseph sitting in second. Both Foskey and Joseph are potential first-round draft picks, and they’ve come on strong in recent weeks. Foskey has four sacks and two punt blocks in the past two weeks, and Joseph notched a pick-six against Syracuse. Coming in third was linebacker J.D. Bertrand who had himself a day against Syracuse. The senior has performed well recently after a slow start that involved two targeting penalties, and he’s leading the linebacker unit.
Beyond those three, defensive lineman Rylie Mills and senior linebacker Marist Liufau earned plenty of votes. Three cornerbacks, freshman Ben Morrison, junior Cam Hart and graduate student Tariq Bracy all earned similar numbers of votes.
Predicting the rest of the season
There’s a lot of confidence in the fanbase surrounding the upcoming game. In all the responses, 72.5% picked Notre Dame to upset Clemson this weekend, with another 3.7% picking the Irish to at least cover the 3.5-point spread. Interestingly, however, many Irish fans do expect another loss this season, likely to rival USC at the end of the season. Only 12% of answers picked the Irish to finish 9-3, while the most popular answer was eight wins (56%). Another 26% chose the somewhat predicted outcome of 7-5, with the Irish likely losing their top-10 games versus USC and Clemson but beating Boston College and Navy. Only six answers had the Irish finishing with just six wins, and no one picked the Irish to lose out.
Overall, there’s more positivity amidst the fanbase then one might expect from scrolling social media. There’s a lot of confidence in Marcus Freeman and Al Golden. And there’s some faith in Tommy Rees (although considerable less patience for the third-year coordinator). Over 70% expect the Irish to win this weekend. So despite some bumps in the road, the Freeman Era is alive and well in South Bend. Now can the Irish keep the positive momentum going with a monumental win on Saturday?