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Clemson vs Notre Dame: Position Grade (Defense and ST)

It was just a bad day

NCAA Football: Clemson at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The defense had a tall task to overcome this game. It’s a little hard to give them too much criticism when they had to watch their ST and Offense gift Notre Dame 14 points. At the end of the 1st half the defense had only surrendered 7 points despite being put in difficult positions such as when ST shanked a punt and gave Notre Dame a short field. The hope was that like against Syracuse, the defense would continue to stonewall ND and allow the Clemson offense the time it needed to look competent.

They started the 3rd quarter looking like they would be up to the task when they forced ND to punt two straight times. They then watched as Cade came in and immediately threw an INT that gave ND the ball at the 12 yard line. The defense cracked and allowed a TD to put them down 21-0. The very next Clemson drive, the offense threw a pick 6 and the defense was staring at a 28-0 scoreboard.

The defense was failed by the offense and ST play but they also struggled this game especially with stopping the run. Let’s see how each group graded out.


Notre Dame’s QB isn’t great. Both teams knew this and the hope was that Clemson could stop the run and force them to relay on his arm. We’d then send the dogs after him and force turnovers and sacks. This seemed to be working in the 1st half and the DEs were solid in their play. However, ND made adjustments right before half time and went on a long drive to drain the clock and punch in a TD. On that drive they only threw the ball once leaving no chances for the DEs to get pressure on the QB. Having found their formula, ND focused on running the ball the rest of the game and found enough success against the front 7 to tack two more TDs on the board, though one was aided by an INT and short field.

As a whole the DEs were average at best. Murphy did record a sack but this was not a game that was going to allow a big impact by the DEs in pass rush with how the first half unfolded. However, the DEs were flat out bad in playing contain and locating the football. They failed to set a hard edge and ND exploited that for yards and eventually points.

We should send a special shout out to Xavier Thomas. He reinjured his foot in practice and is out for the rest of the year. You hate to see that for a player that stuck around for so long working on improving himself and was poised for a big year to hopefully elevate his future draft stock. We wish him the best and no matter what the future holds, he will always be a Clemson Tiger.

Grade: C-


Notre Dame ran the ball for 265 yards and that’s unacceptable against our front 7. They got nothing up the A gaps due to our DTs clogging the middle but like FSU, they found sustained success along the edges once they got the defense moving. Credit Notre Dame for finding another way to attack but it’s frustrating to see this happen more often as the season continues. However, the DTs were having issues getting off blocks, or holds, and weren’t creating enough havoc in the backfield. Payton Page had three tackles, Breese had one and Davis only an assist of one. We need the DTs to disrupt the middle and make more of an impact against run heavy teams to put them behind the chains and force them to pass the ball.

Grade: C-


Against a heavy run team like Notre Dame you want your leading tacklers to be your LBs. This normally will reflect that the RBs aren’t getting to the 3rd level and the LBs are fitting their gaps correctly. Looking at the stats of the game, our starting LBs were three of the top four tacklers. However it’s been evident for a few games that our LBs are having some issues with their run fits. They don’t use their eyes well and teams have figured that out.

Notre Dame had two RBs go over 100 yards and average over 5 yards a carry. Clemson couldn't keep contain and the LBs failed to fil their gaps consistently. Maguire in particular ran into the wrong gap more than a few times and gave up yards because of it. All of these guys are young to their positions but at this stage of the season it’s concerning we are still experiencing these same problems. Notre Dame doesn’t run a complicated offense and yet the LBs still struggled to use their eyes, locate the ball and make plays.

Grade: D


Notre Dame threw for less than 100 yards which sounds like an accomplishment. However, they only threw the ball 17 times all game due to the success they had on the ground. From that aspect it’s hard to judge the secondary as they weren’t truly tested. Run fits is where we will need to look to see how the position group faired and it wasn’t great. When a team has two RBs go for over 100 yards a piece that’s a failure at each level of the defense. The leading tackler for the game was safety Jalyn Phillips and the others were solid in tackling as well.

Grade: B-


The game plan was simple. Stop the run, force ND’s QB to have to play hero ball and then get after him. Given the hole the offense and special teams put the defense in it’s easy to want to give them a pass. They only gave up two long drives that resulted in TDs but some of these offensive numbers for ND are still troubling.

Notre Dame had almost 350 yards of offense while only throwing for 85 yards. That means they committed to running the football and dared the defense to stop them, which didn’t happen. Notre Dame averaged over 5 yards a play, had (24) 1st downs and was 50% on 3rd down conversion. They weren’t explosive but they were efficient and controlled the game and clock on the ground. That combined with the ineptitude of the offense and special teams created the result we experienced.

We have to better set the edge, keep contain and have the LBs play with their eyes. Louisville is playing with a lot of confidence and they have a running QB that can and will test the defense’s discipline.

Grade: C


Special teams has actually been a consistent strength of the team this year. BT Potter is automatic and a clutch kicker. Using Shipley and Antonio Williams as KR and PR has shown flashes of potential that we haven’t had since the combination of CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford were suiting up for the tigers. Young Aiden Swanson was beginning to round into form as a weapon at punter and had a great game against Syracuse to help the defense hold the line until the offense could secure victory.

Unfortunately, in this game Clemson surrendered it’s first blocked punt for a TD in years. This is due to the protection which has been shaky all year and the fact that we didn’t address this against a Notre Dame team entering the game having blocked numerous kicks is a serious knock on the coaching staff for the lack of preparation. Swanson ended up averaging 45 yards a kick and had some nice booming ones to push Norte Dame back. Potter didn’t get a chance to attempt any FGs but his kickoffs as to be expected were excellent and allowed no returns.

Grade: F


What grade do you give the Clemson Defense and ST against Notre Dame?

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