You can always tell when a comment touches a nerve. And Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman certainly struck some in Columbus this week with his perceived shot at Ohio State’s academics.

Freeman was commenting on the difference in academic rigor at Notre Dame compared to his previous career stops at Ohio State and Cincinnati. He played at Ohio State from 2004-08 and was defensive coordinator at Cincinnati from 2017-20.

“You don’t go to class [at those places]? OK. Take some online classes. Show up for your final,” Freeman apparently told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. “At Notre Dame, you’re forced every day to go to class.”

This prompted a rapid response from Ohio State’s athletic department.

Rather than being defensive, Ohio State fans went on the offensive. The basic message: the blood of the Fighting Irish will flow like the Olentangy on Sept. 3.

As it turns out, the reactions on Ohio State’s end are a classic case in oversensitivity.

Freeman was on Columbus radio Wednesday morning to clarify his remarks. (Notably, as a guest of former Buckeye teammate Bobby Carpenter.) What sounded like classic backtracking B.S. — “I was misquoted!” — was actually true.

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Freeman had receipts.

Marcus Freeman’s comments are pretty innocuous

“I walked away from that interview with Dennis Dodd and had no sense of anything that I said would offend anybody. So, I asked him to share with me the audio so I could share exactly what was said,” Freeman said in his interview with 97.1 The Fan. “I wrote it down — here’s exactly what I said:

‘Their study habits are formulated every day. You can’t cheat academics at Notre Dame. If I didn’t go to class at Ohio State, 60,000 students. Cincinnati, another big public school, there’s 40,000 students.

‘If you don’t go to class, okay, take some online classes, show up at your final. At Notre Dame, you’re forced every day to go to class. But it formulates this work capacity, this learning capacity.”

Freeman’s use of the word “cheat” likely made some hairs bristle due to misinterpretation. It’s pretty clear he’s using in the sense that there’s no corner-cutting at Notre Dame, not that students at the other schools are literally cheating on tests.

As for the “not going to class” thing, that’s just the way it is at huge public universities. It’s often impractical to even schedule in-person learning for some courses due to enrollment. Alluding to that reality is not a swipe.

Notre Dame doesn’t do things that way because its selective enrollment allows for that. The university didn’t have any online classes prior to the pandemic.

“The only reason Ohio State and Cincinnati were referenced was because they were large schools with large student bodies compared to Notre Dame, which is a small school at 8,500 students,” Freeman stated. “It wasn’t meant to say that you don’t go to class. When you see a quote that says you don’t go to class at places, that Marcus Freeman says you don’t go to class at a place like that, that changes the entire narrative… I would never say that and disrespect my alma mater.”

The latter sentence is the most important.

Why would Freeman self-own himself by taking a shot at an Ohio State education?

You’re not exactly dunking on anyone by pointing out that you, too, are dumb. Or that you cut class. And clearly he wasn’t seeking to give the Buckeyes bulletin board material before facing them at Ohio Stadium for the season opener.

You think he wants to lose his first regular-season game as a head coach by 30?

Alas, it’s probably too late to wriggle out of that pickle. Many associated with Ohio State will remain angered by what he said.

But that likely has more to do with what happened in the past than statements made in the present.

The Katzenmoyer cloud

If Ohio State seems overly sensitive to perceived academic jabs — and frankly, it is — there’s good reason for that. There was a time when the university was badly embarrassed by its rather lax approach to student-athlete eligibility.

Back in 1998, Sports Illustrated’s college football preview edition was ubiquitous. Doctor’s office, dentist’s office, library, grocery store racks. You couldn’t escape its reach.

Millions of eyeballs would notice Ohio State football. Usually, that was a good thing.

This turned out to be an exception.

That year’s cover story featured Ohio State as the preseason No. 1. But with an asterisk next to the No. 1. The asterisk denoted “If Andy Katzenmoyer Makes the Grade.”

Katzenmoyer, then the best linebacker in the country, had to earn A’s in a number of summer courses in order to be eligible for the upcoming season. The awaited outcome was the biggest storyline in college football.

The focus of the season-preview feature, summarized?

“This guy’s not very bright. Also, he got an offseason DUI. But Ohio State’s doing all it can to get him back on the field!”

Obviously, not quite how a university wants to be portrayed.

And when it was later revealed that Katzenmoyer got eligible by acing courses like Golf and “AIDS: What Every College Student Should Know” while also having a grade changed from a previous semester, no one paid much heed to Ohio State’s 5 Nobel laureates.

Ohio State was the poster child for everything wrong in college athletics.

Almost 25 years have passed. Ohio State has navigated far bigger crises. But it’s understandable that any whiff of the Katzenmoyer academics episode remains a sore spot. Thanks to Sports Illustrated’s reach, nearly everyone was critical of Ohio State at the time.

And to some of those critics, Ohio State’s reputation has never changed. When Cardale Jones infamously tweeted “we ain’t come to play SCHOOL. Classes are POINTLESS” in 2012, it did not help the cause. The fact Jones went on to graduate remains easy for those critics to ignore.

It’s not unlike Freeman’s comment. People will remember what he and Jones first said more than what followed.

Don’t forget Michigan

The identity of Ohio State’s most despised rival exacerbates these sensitives.

Michigan cultivates a hoity-toity image. Michigan Men wield academics as a manner of separating themselves from Ohio State grads. Just recently, Jim Harbaugh played it up when discussing the use of NIL in recruiting.

“Right or wrong,” Harbaugh said, “Our philosophy is coming to the University of Michigan is going to be a transformational experience rather than a transactional experience.”

Commence the eye-rolling in Columbus.

If you’re an Ohio State fan, it’s a nauseating routine. Just another lame excuse to explain away losses. Because when you go a decade between rivalry wins, you tend to make lame excuses.

So when another coach engages in Michigan-like talk, there’s going to be a strong response. Freeman inadvertently sprayed a top irritant directly into Buckeye eyes.

Having attended Ohio State, you’d think he would be more aware of those sensitivities. But the fact it wasn’t even on his radar speaks to his intent. Freeman wasn’t trying to say things are easy at Ohio State. He was pointing out a factor that makes coaching at Notre Dame unique.

Ohio State took that the wrong way. And not just the fans. It’s rare to see a miffing that goes all the way to the top.

But given the history, it’s completely understandable why that’s the case.