Marcus Freeman is ready to return to his alma mater and begin his first season as Notre Dame’s head coach.

As the first week of the 2022 season begins, Freeman met with reporters in South Bend on Monday afternoon for his game-week press conference ahead of Notre Dame’s trip to Columbus to play Ohio State on Saturday night at Ohio Stadium (7:30 pm, ABC). The former Ohio State linebacker was asked about his past as a Buckeye, but wanted to keep the focus primarily on his own team as the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish prepare to play the second-ranked Buckeyes in the stadium where he played his own college football .

Here’s a quick rundown of what Freeman had to say in his first media availability leading up to the big game:

  • Freeman said the Fighting Irish are looking forward to playing a “great team” in a “hostile environment” at Ohio State on Saturday. “Any competitor wants this. You want an opportunity to go and play against the best. There’s no better way to see where we’re at as a football team than to go and say ‘OK, let’s go play one of the best teams in the country.'”

  • Freeman says the Fighting Irish have to make sure they “prepare our tails off” this week.

  • “We have to have the ability to establish the run game, take care of the football, be disciplined in what we’re doing defensively.”

  • “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 he’s confident Notre Dame’s leadership will have the Fighting Irish prepared for Saturday’s game.

  • Freeman says his focus has been all on the preparation, not on his emotions of going back to Ohio State or starting his first season as head coach.

  • Freeman notes how the teams that had success against Ohio State last season were the teams that ran the ball effectively against the Buckeyes, so that’s a point of emphasis for Notre Dame this week.

  • Freeman says Notre Dame has to take care of the football and establish long drives in order to limit Ohio State’s offensive possessions.

  • Freeman said Jim Tressel made sure his players at Ohio State understood the tradition of the program, so he wants his players to understand the tradition at Notre Dame too. “Does it correlate with winning? I think maybe it does.”

  • Freeman said being a head coach hasn’t changed who he is as a person. “You have to lead and you have to be the same person that you were six years ago, seven years ago, eight years ago.” The responsibilities have changed now that he’s a head coach, but his approach to coaching and working together with the rest of the staff remains the same.

  • How is Freeman most different as a head coach than you were going into the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State? He says he’s trying to be “very intentional” about being what he’s doing as a leader and doing what’s best for his program.

  • Freeman said Notre Dame left guard Jarrett Patterson, a first-team preseason AP All-American, is still questionable for Saturday’s game at Ohio State. He said Patterson, who has been dealing with a foot injury, will practice this week.

  • “I have great memories of running out on the field at Ohio Stadium.” He said what he remembers most is the time he spent with his teammates at Ohio State.

  • “Right now, I am pretty emotionless about going back to Ohio State, but the emotions we have is that we get to play a great team. We get to go play in a great hostile environment.”

  • On starting quarterback Tyler Buchner: “His growth as a quarterback and as a decision-maker has been really good to see.”

  • The biggest lesson he learned from Tressel: “The best thing I observed from him is the ability to make everyone in your organization feel important, but also make it so that they are important. … I don’t care who you are, if you’re involved with this Notre Dame program, your role is as important as mine to make sure we accomplish (our goals).”

  • Freeman says Notre Dame has to have the ability to rotate at cornerback because of the depth of Ohio State’s wide receiver room. “The depth of that room is as long as any in that those guys can rotate guys in that can just take the top off a defense.”

  • Freeman says he doesn’t expect Ohio State’s defense to look the same as the Oklahoma State defense Notre Dame faced in last season’s Fiesta Bowl. He says “we have an idea” of what Ohio State’s defense will look like based on Oklahoma State’s defense, but he expects Jim Knowles to adapt his defensive scheme to the personnel he has now at Ohio State.

  • Freeman says the Fiesta Bowl loss is still motivating Notre Dame as a team: “That’s gonna be there for a long time. It’s always gonna be there.”

  • On Ohio State being favored by 17.5 points: “We’ll use that in the team meeting today. It’s good to know.

  • Freeman said he leans toward deferring if Notre Dame wins the opening coin toss so the offense starts the second half with the ball, but that changes game to game.