For Clemson it was a Perfect Storm. It had been 38 years since a Notre Dame football team last visited Clemson, 17 days since the Tigers took the field against Louisville. 17 nearly pristine plays by Clemson, aided and abetted by bewildered Irish misfeasance (Special Teams), malfeasance (Defense) and nonfeasance (Offense) helped Clemson fashion a 14-0 lead with a mere 6:17 having elapsed.
The Fighting Irish fought back gamely and ended a mere yard away from a two point conversion that would have sent the game into overtime. It was short and so were the Irish. Clemson 24-Notre Dame 22. Notre Dame is now 4-1.
The game exposed some serious Irish flaws, particularly on offense.
The offensive line, compounded by the first quarter play selection, was overwhelmed by Clemson Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables’ pressure schemes, implemented by the young, but swift Clemson front seven.
Venables had mandated that the Irish run game with C.J. Prosise would not beat Clemson and the Irish countered too little, too late.
First of all, Clemson succeeded because they were not afraid of Notre Dame’s offensive line. Eyes in Heritage Hall, Chestnut Hill and Palo Alto will notice. We will see this defensive approach again, perhaps often, maybe weekly.
Mackensie Alexander dominated his matchup with Will Fuller. On October 17th Fuller will see Adoree Jackson when USC comes to town. Fuller must be much, much better, and quickly.
The other receivers struggled with separation and catching the ball.
Deshone Kizer was spunky, showing a lively arm and mature pocket presence. He can be a tactical, but not destructive runner. He can throw on the move after the initial pocket breaks down.
Notre Dame partially self-destructed with four second half turnovers, an egalitarian effort, with a contribution from each class.
Frosh C.J. Sanders fumbled the treasured opening kickoff of the second half. Clemson converted it into a touchdown in a mere 46 seconds. Sanders, for now, is high reward, high risk. He has shown ball security issues on his punt returns all year.
Junior (in terms of eligibility) C.J. Prosise left the ball on the wet turf while galloping in the second level. At that point Notre Dame had touched the ball for two plays in the second half, both of which were fumbled.
Sophomore (redshirt frosh) Deshone Kizer threw an interception when he did not see a safety. But Kizer’s not going to be a high turnover guy.
Senior Chris Brown coughed it up on the Clemson four yard line, struggling for extra yards. Do less, Chris!
As remarkable as the four second half turnovers is that Notre Dame had the will, and the talent, to be within a two-point conversion of sending the game to overtime.
Based on pregame expectations, the Notre Dame defense performed well.
Defensive Line Rotation
Good defenses play 4-6 Defensive linemen. Great defenses play 8-10 defensive linemen as part of the regular rotation. ND plays only Rochell, Tillery, Cage, Day, Okwara and Trumbetti.
That, simply, is too few against potent offenses. William Gallman carried the ball 14 times for 78 yards in the second half. That is unacceptable. It just will not do. Van Gorder and Gilmore need to involve more defensive linemen.
The secondary played well, though Watson is not a great passer. Our coverage depth will not be tested until October 17th. USC will be bringing some “ath-uh-leets” to South Bend.
Max Redfield led the team in tackles and he now may be ready to move past his injury.
You Don’t Want to be in that Room
Harry Hiestand’s Monday meeting with his offensive line group will not be a pretty sight. 4 sacks yielded, 9 Tackles for Loss. And there is not one villain. All five share some of the blame. One would surmise, given Harry’s fire and the personalities of the offensive line, that they will have a better effort against Navy.
Where do we go from here?
Clemson was a good, young team, but not a great team. If Team 127 decides to go for it, there is a lot to play for. Notre Dame may not control its fate regarding a playoff berth, but it may well control the fate of the Pac-XII having a playoff berth due to the games against USC and Stanford. Those games are a two-edged sword. Cutting against the two Pac-XII opponents (who have a puncher’s chance of meeting in the Pac XII Championship game) would cut for the Irish.
The team played poorly but never quit last Saturday. Only they control the zeal and focus with which they play from here.
Brian Kelly’s Milestone
Brian Kelly coached his 70th game as Notre Dame’s head coach, tying the criminally under-appreciated Dan Devine. Devine was dour, mediocre at the podium but remarkable on the sideline. Dan Devine coached five of the most memorable Notre Dame victories in the modern era:
’77 Notre Dame 49 USC 19
‘77 Cotton Bowl (1/2/78) Notre Dame 38 Texas 10
’78 Cotton Bowl (1/1)79) Notre Dame 35 Houston34
’80 Notre Dame 29 -Michigan 27 (Harry O)
’80 Notre Dame 7 Alabama and Bear Bryant 0, in Legion Field in the Belly of the Beast. Bear’s fourth and final loss against the Irish. Paul Bryant died WINLESS against Notre Dame.
Kelly, if he takes the sideline against Navy, as expected, will trail only Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz in games coached for Notre Dame.
The records of the modern four after 70 games
Ara Raoul 57-9-4
What will we see against Navy?
- The Navy Option that has challenged Notre Dame the last two years. Will the Bob Elliott defensive architecture on defense that flummoxed Paul Johnson also stymie Ken Niumatalolo?
- Niumatolo has a vastly more experienced quarterback in Keenan Reynolds and has had three weeks to study the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game film. He will have some ideas. Reynolds is a cool customer, who plays with less emotion that Justin Thomas. He is not easy to frustrate.
- Cut blocks.
- A chance for Notre Dame’s athletes at linebacker and defensive back to get more snaps and use their athleticism to make tackles. The four leading tacklers against Georgia Tech were Schmidt, Martini, Smith and Shumate. It would not be shocking to see Onwualu, Coney, Redfield, Farley and Russell drift toward the top of the tackle list against Navy.
- A Middie defense that has not stopped the Irish, AT ALL, in the last four years. Over the last four years, the Irish have averaged 48.25 points per game, 24.5 first downs, 238 yards rushing 253 yards passing and one punt per game. The Irish have scored on the Middies in 15 of the 16 quarters. Some think that this 2015 Notre Dame offense is a tad better than the four predecessors.
- An opportunity to get a lead, and rest the starters. USC plays on October 8th against Washington, its only game between the Arizona State game and the Notre Dame game. Fresh legs and fresh minds would enable the Irish to be rested and prepared. But it is Navy. “Each day has enough care of its own.”