When asked at his media availability about his team being a 17.5-point underdog on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), Freeman said he didn’t know the stat but would use it for motivation this week.
“We’ll use that in the team meeting today — it’s good to know,” Freeman said. “I haven’t paid much attention to the spread. But I remember the one time we were on College GameDay, I said just keep making it go up and up.”
Both teams are ranked as preseason top-five opponents with Ohio State at No. 2 and Notre Dame at No. 5, but the 17.5-point spread by Caesars Sportsbook is just the fourth time in the past 45 years a team has been favored by 17 or more points in an AP top-five matchup. Notre Dame faced Alabama in such an instance in the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal when the Irish lost to the Crimson Tide 31-14.
The Buckeyes are favored with an 84% chance to win, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, and a big part of that outcome will be whether visiting Notre Dame can stop Ohio State’s high-powered offense.
Freeman said he watched film on the Buckeyes last season, but the offense is so versatile, there isn’t one area you can focus on. Instead, he wants his team to make sure it stops the run, which will in turn help with shutting down the pass game.
“If you don’t stop the run, they’ll run it all day long, so the ability to stop the run is most important,” Freeman said. “We know they’re very talented in throwing the ball, but it’s just the mindset of, if you can’t stop the run, they can throw it, they can run and do whatever they want to do. You have to be able to stop the run and then be able to give different looks defensively.”
Freeman knows what it’s like to try to stop an Ohio State offense, as he played linebacker for the Buckeyes from 2004 to 2008. Despite his ties to the program, he has been able to stay focused on his task as the head coach of Notre Dame. He’s looking forward to going back to the Horseshoe to coach in such an important game and says he has put all the emotions of coaching against his alma mater behind him.
“I’m pretty, right now, emotionless about going back to Ohio State, but more it’s like about the emotions you have is like we get to go play a great team,” Freeman said. “You get to go play in a great, hostile environment and that’s to me where the emotion is. Like any competitor, you get those butterflies, you get that excitement about going to a place like that and going to compete against a great program like Ohio State.”