Notre Dame's rout of USC is validation of Marcus Freeman's leadership
The Irish didn't just beat their rivals; they dominated the undefeated Trojans from start to finish. They changed the direction of their season, and perhaps much more.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Marcus Freeman emerged from the Notre Dame locker room at 11:07 p.m., leaving behind a room full of 100 or so jubilant college kids and walking right into a crowd of a couple hundred — if not thousand — more.
FREEEEEE! a few onlookers screamed at the first sign of the head coach, setting off a round of applause.
Freeman dapped up a few fans who were hanging outside the locker room, before leaning over the railing above the main Notre Dame Stadium tunnel and delivering a huge fist pump to the departing field-stormers, setting off a frenzy.
It looked all so familiar to a year ago.
It had appeared so damn unlikely just a week ago.
No. 21 Notre Dame flattened No. 10 USC on Saturday, 48-20, taking back the jeweled shillelagh, knocking Caleb Williams off his Heisman pedestal and giving its coach his first win over his school’s biggest rival.
It was Freeman’s second victory over a top-10, undefeated opponent, after the Irish routed Clemson last November. That game was picture-proof that the then-first year coach just might know what he’s doing here, and that this fan base’s love for him knows no bounds.
They stormed the field. They went crazy for him in the tunnel. And even after an uneven 9-4 season, they ate up everything he and his program put out there, from a record-setting gathering in Dublin in August, to making Notre Dame the center of the college football universe for its Ohio State showdown three weeks ago.
So much had changed for these Irish from the final minute of that game till the start of this one. Two defeats, sure, but a sense of disappointment at what was lost and what this season could have been. And yes, for the first real time, there were some serious questions — or maybe, more appropriately, concerns — about Freeman being the guy to take this program to the next level.