After a win last week against Boston College that raised some questions about the Tiger defense, Clemson traveled north to South Bend to take on Notre Dame in what many have seen as their most challenging regular season game. With the continued absence of LB James Skalski, DT Tyler Davis and LB Mike Jones, Jr., as well as DE Xavier Thomas for the 1st half, the Tiger defense would need all the help they could get on that side of the ball.
Notre Dame won the toss and chose to receive. The Irish started at the 25 after the touchback and Baylon Spector was called for a defensive hold, and on the next play Irish running back Kyren Williams ran through a beautifully constructed hole by his offensive line 65 yards for a touchdown. Only 33 seconds in, the Irish running game had them up 7-0. Lyn-J Dixon muffed the kickoff but managed to pick it up, A holding penalty put the Tigers at their own 6. Travis Etienne picked up 10 and D.J. hit Cornell Powell out to the 23. On 3rd down, Clemson’s offensive line got whipped, and the Irish stopped Etienne for a loss of a yard. The Tigers punted and ND got the ball at their 44.
The Clemson defense did well on the first two downs, but Irish QB Ian Book connected with Javon McKinley for 28 yards. They converted another 3rd down to move to the Tiger 11. The Tigers got the Irish to another 3rd down and held them. ND was going to go for it on 4th down, but committed a procedure penalty and settled for a FG. At the 5:55 mark of the 1st quarter, the Irish led 10-0. Etienne took a short pass for 7 yards and and picked up 1 on 2nd down. DJ rolled right and hit Joseph Ngata for the 1st down at the 47. On the next play, DJ hit Powell on a post for the score. With 4:11 left in the 1st quarter, Clemson narrowed ND’s lead to 10-7.
The Irish started at the 25 after the touchback and drove down the field, running behind that big offensive line and hitting passes as needed, especially on 3rd down. They got to 1st & goal from the 10. The Tiger defense only gave up a yard on the first two downs, and they forced Book to throw incomplete on 3rd down. Settling for a FG, the Irish led 13-7 at 13:09 in the half. Etienne took the kickoff but was brought down at the 10. After a 1st down incompletion, DJ hit Amari Rodgers for 28 yards, most of which Rodgers got after the catch. On 2nd down, the Tigers executed a nice screen play to Rodgers and got down to the ND 27. On the next 2nd down, DJ had Ngata open over the middle but missed him. He then hit Rodgers over the middle to the 13, throwing a strike across his body. Etienne picked up 6 to the 8 but on 3rd down, the Tigers couldn’t pick up the blitz and DJ had to throw it away. B.T. Potter kicked the FG to make it 13-10 Irish with 8:32 left in the half.
ND started at the 25 and had a nice 2nd down pass where multiple Tiger defenders over-pursued the receiver. A sack by K.J. Henry put the Irish behind the chains and a procedure penalty pushed them even farther back. On 3rd and 17, the Tigers held. Rodgers fielded the put at the Tiger 31. The next play was one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. An Irish defender blitzed and distracted Etienne on a pitch. The Irish defender took the pitch and ran it in. ND led 20-10.
Clemson started at the 15 and after two forgettable plays, faced 3rd & 8. DJ hit Rodgers over the middle that looked like an incomplete pass to me, but was called a catch and fumble that ND recovered. The review sided with the on-field call and the Irish took over at the Tiger 25. The Irish committed a blind-side block and got pushed back 15 yards. The Tigers forced ND into 3rd & 22 and held them, making ND try a 45-yard FG. The FG was good and ND led 23-10 with 2:46 left in the half.
From the 25, DJ hit TE Braden Galloway to the Irish 48 and then connected with Etienne down the middle to the 31. A couple of plays later, it was 3rd & 12 and Etienne dropped a short pass over the middle. Potter punched through the 45-yard FG to make it 23-13 with about a minute left in the half. Book scrambled for 9 yards on 1st down and threw incomplete on 2nd. They continued to move down the field as safety Lannden Zanders was injured, further depleting the Tiger defense. They ended up trying a 57-yard FG that fell short and Etienne returned it. It looked like he might score, but tried to leap over the holder and was tackled. It looked to me like he could have just cut to the right, and probably would have made it to the end zone. That ended the half with the Irish up 23-13.
The Irish kicked the ball out of bounds, so the Tigers started at the 35. DJ picked up a yard on 1st down and E.J. WIlliams caught a short pass to set up 3rd & 1. DJ rolled right and hit Rodgers who ran it down to the Irish 41. A couple of plays later he connected with Powell to the ND 30. Left guard Matt Bockhorst went down holding his right knee on the play, something the Tigers definitely didn’t need. Etienne managed to pick up a yard with minimal help from his line. On 3rd & 9, the Tigers tried a hitch pass to Rodgers but it fell incomplete. Potter nailed the 46-yard FG and the Irish lead was cut to 23-16 with 12:15 left in the 3rd quarter. The Tiger defense got a much needed 3 & out and the punt rolled to the Tiger 40.
Rodgers took a hitch pass for 8 yards and then picked up the 1st down on the next play. ND blitzed on the next play and Etienne nearly broke loose up the middle but was tackled after 5 yards. He took a flare pass and picked up the 1st down at the ND 32. Two plays later, it was 3rd & 5. DJ rolled right and threw a laser to Etienne to get the 1st down. A couple of runs by DJ set up 3rd & 7. DJ got it to Galloway but he was tackled half a yard short of the line to make. DJ used his size and power to give the Tigers 1st & goal at the 10. DJ had a short run and then TE Davis Allen snuck out on the Irish defense and DJ hit him for the score. At 4:12 left in the 3rd quarter, momentum seemed to be shifting to the Tigers with the score tied 23-23. After the touchback, ND tried to strike deep and it looked like the Irish receiver made a spectacular catch. A lame review decision agreed that he did, but the ball clearly moved when it hit the ground. The Irish had the ball at the Tiger 30. ND kept moving and looked like they were going to score as Book ran right but Jake Venables stripped the ball and the Tigers recovered in the end zone.
Etienne picked up 5 yards and then another 2 to set up 3rd & 3. DJ rolled right away from pressure but couldn’t connect with Rodgers. On the punt, the ND returner called for a fair catch but Andrew Booth didn’t see the call and tackled him. ND started at their 43. The Tigers pushed them to 3rd & 11 but the ND TE made a nice catch and run to the Tiger 29. Clemson got ND to 3rd & long again, and Book nearly connected with a receiver but Nolan Turner got enough of it to knock it incomplete. The Irish settled for a 44-yard FG and it was 26-23 Irish with 11:37 left.
Etienne returned the kickoff to the 29. On 1st down DJ hit Powell with a long strike to the Irish 20. Chez Mellusi picked up 4 yards up the middle on 1st down and DJ ran for 3 more to make it 3rd & 3. DJ then missed the throw to Rodgers and Potter came in and kicked another FG to tie it up 26-26 at the 9:46 mark of the 4th quarter. This game was beginning to look like it was going to come down to which team had the ball last. The Tiger defense forced two incomplete passes to make it 3rd & 10. A snap infraction pushed it to 3rd & 15 and an incomplete pass forced the Irish to punt.
Clemson took over at their 26 after a 54-yard punt. The Irish had good coverage on a screen to Etienne, so DJ threw it away. On 2nd down he hit Allen for 9 yards. Etienne didn’t quite make it, maybe half a yard short. ND then jumped offside, but it was clear that the Tigers were going to throw deep to Powell and he was wide open. On the next play DJ, scrambled for 9.5 yards. Etienne then got the other 0.5. DJ did a nice job scrambling and found Rodgers for a 1st down. ND committed pass interference and the Tigers had a 1st down at the 30. Etienne got loose up the middle to the 17. Powell then had an awesome catch and run down the 3. Etienne then punched it in. Clemson led 33-26 and the Irish had 3:33 to make something happen. ND was driving but the Tiger defense forced 4th & 7 and the Irish couldn’t convert. The Tigers got the ball with 2:25 left. Clemson tried to run the clock out but good defense and ND timeouts, plus bad play by the Tigers, forced a punt. The Irish fielded the punt at their 9 with just under 2 minutes left. ND moved steadily and then completed a big pass over the middle down to the Tiger 4. On 3rd down they scored a TD with 22 seconds left. The extra point tied the score 33-33 and the Tigers got the ball at their 27 with 16 seconds left. The Tigers decided to play overtime with DJ taking a knee.
The Tigers went first and DJ hit Powell down the middle for the apparent TD but review ruled he was down about half a yard short. DJ then ran it in. With the extra point, Clemson led 40-33. Notre Dame scored a TD on their possession and kicked the extra point.
ND started first in the 2nd OT and scored a TD. Clemson’s offensive line appeared to stop playing and gave up 2 sacks on the first 2 plays. Allen couldn’t pull in a pass up the middle and the game was on the line with 4th & 24. The Tigers couldn’t it done and the Irish came away with the 47-40 win. One can’t help but wonder how things would have gone if the Tiger defense had been healthy, but that’s the way football goes.
So, as expected, it was a close game. After this game, we can say one thing for sure: the QB situation at Clemson is in good shape for the next few years. Another thing we can say is the Tiger defense needs to start getting pressure on the QB from the defensive line. Book, who is great at moving around in the pocket, had way too much time, with little to no pressure from the middle of the Tiger line. The Tiger offensive line is also a liability against good teams. The Notre Dame offensive line was making great blocks all night. What do you think the Tigers need to do to get back on top at the end of the year? Let’s discuss it below. The Tigers get a much needed break next week before traveling to Tallahassee in two weeks. Thanks for stopping by and check back for analyses and previews over the next few days.