Across The Field: Q&A with Notre Dame Beat Writer Tyler Horka on Marcus Freeman and the Fighting Irish’s Chances Against Ohio State

Before each Ohio State game, the 11 Warriors interview a member of the media covering the opposing team to get their thoughts on the Buckeyes’ upcoming opponent.

As Notre Dame prepares to travel to Columbus for Saturday’s highly anticipated season-opening game between the Buckeyes and Irish Fighters at Ohio Stadium, we invite Taylor HawkaCovering Notre Dame for Blue & Gold Illustrated, answering some questions about South Bend’s fifth-ranked team.

Hawka said Notre Dame fans were very excited about the start of the Marcus Freeman era, while Fighting Ireland loyalists liked his comments and Ohio State fans didn’t. But Horka believes Fighting Ireland finished the season as high as they do now, and he doesn’t think they’re likely to beat the Buckeyes this weekend.

Marcus Freeman is entering his first season as Notre Dame head coach. Compared to Brian Kelly, what differences do you see in the projects he leads?

Holka: It’s certainly more dynamic and cohesive now than it was at this time a year ago. You can call it the honeymoon period, but the honeymoon period usually doesn’t last for several months. With Notre Dame leading by 21 points in the Fiesta Bowl, excitement and optimism remain for the head coach who has led the Irish Combat Team to its first national title in 34 years.

In a 12-game season, that’s how far off accuracy is. But for now, players have embraced freshness and energy. You can tell even if they feel any complacency has been eradicated. Notre Dame is “cool” again since a near-perfect season in 2012.

Ohio State fans dislike Freeman saying he made a “bad decision” to go to Ohio State through Notre Dame, and Buckeyes fans when he suggested that Ohio State’s academics aren’t as rigorous as Notre Dame’s don’t like it. What do Fighting Ireland fans think of these comments?

Holka: They can’t get enough first reviews. Some say he finally figured out what he was missing at the time. Others felt he didn’t make the “right” choice in hiring. But the two sides could reach a deal, and he finally saw the light. His comments prove that Notre Dame is the best brand in the country.

As for the academic comments, Notre Dame fans mostly have a “well, yes, tell us something we don’t know” attitude. It has a 24-hour news cycle at best. No one was talking about it two days later. Still, there are things that Ohio State fans still haven’t forgotten.

Notre Dame started the season in the top five in two major polls. Do you think The Fighting Irish will be done there? What does this Notre Dame team need to do to become a CFP?

Holka: NO, I have not. I predict the Irish will end the game 9-3.

Marcus Freeman had to do two things to make the college football playoffs. Freeman must have at least two of the top 10 coaches in college football (Ryan Day, Dabo Swinney and Lincoln Riley) to be on Notre Dame’s schedule. Notre Dame didn’t make the playoffs by losing to either of those coaching teams. Quarterback Tyler Buchner has to be a sophomore feeling. Freeman can’t beat those coaching teams alone. He needs someone who hasn’t started a game in his career when he hits those words playing an elite quarterback.

Tyler Buchner will start Saturday’s game against Ohio State. What has he done this offseason to earn the starting spot, and how do you expect him to perform against the Buckeyes?

Holka: Buchner is himself. He’s incredibly athletic, and his feet are a proven playmaker. He had to prove he could pass the ball with accuracy and prolific ability, and he did. I’m hoping he’ll have some of the initial jitters against the Buckeyes. He will not be flawless. He will make mistakes. But he’ll also play a role in convincing Notre Dame’s coaching staff that they have someone who can start a few years at Notre Dame.

Tyler Buchner vs. Toledo

Tyler Buchner ran for 336 yards on just 46 carries last season, and that running ability earned him a starting spot at Notre Dame this year. (Photo: Matt Cashall-USA TODAY Sports)

Ohio State is widely expected to have the highest offense in the country this year. Do you think Notre Dame’s defense can slow the Buckeyes?

Holka: Does anyone really have the power to slow these guys down? Notre Dame de Paris could have some big drama. Defensive end Isaiah Foskey can make a sack, and safety Brandon Joseph can even replace CJ Stroud. But it would be difficult to stack several sites in a row. I cautioned Notre Dame fans not to judge the Irish defense led by first-year coordinator Al Golden in this game. Notre Dame’s defense could be very good in 2022. Ohio State’s offense could be better.

Which Notre Dame players does Ohio State need to circle in scouting reports?

Holka: Foskey and Joseph are two on the defensive end. Look for linebacker Marist Liufau to recover from a compound leg fracture that ended before his 2021 season began. On offense, Lorenzo Styles, brother of Ohio State freshman defensive back Sonny Styles, is a wide receiver and is expected to be a top wide receiver at Notre Dame. The Irishman’s best receiver, though, is undoubtedly tight end Michael Mayer, who could be a first-round pick in April. A three-headed running back trio of Chris Tyree (speed), Audric Estime (strength) and Logan Diggs (all-around) will be at the forefront of the blockbuster offense.

How do you feel about Saturday night’s game?

Holka: Ohio State would be too much. Offended too much. The atmosphere is too much. Emotions, especially for Freeman, are too much​​​. The Buckeyes won 41-24 on three in a game that proved they were national title contenders.

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