Notre Dame Post Game 6-Pack: Irish Collapse in Cotton Bowl

Hello darkness, my old friend.  After hearing about how Notre Dame was going to get rolled by Clemson in the playoffs and trying to figure out how the Irish were going to shock the world, the Irish fell apart on the national stage once again on Saturday.  This time the Irish got pushed around 30-3 by Clemson in their first appearance in the College Football Playoff.  Not much went right for Notre Dame yesterday in another game that is going to sting for Irish fans for a long, long time.

I waited until the morning after for this column because I just couldn’t bring myself to put pen to paper after a disappointing performance, but it’s time to crack open the 6-pack.

1. Notre Dame couldn’t overcome the loss of Julian Love and that is bad

Notre Dame had a good defensive game plan in place for Clemson that was based on having All-American CB Julian Love on the field for 60 minutes.  When Love went out of the game in the first quarter, things unraveled fast and by the time Love was cleared to get back in the game, it was too late.  With Love on the field Clemson had a hard time moving the ball in the air.  Without Love on the field, Clemson went to work on Donte Vaughn, Love’s replacement, and the scored three second quarter touchdowns including two in the final two minutes of the first half.

With Love on the field Trevor Lawrence was 14 of 24 for 98 yards and no touchdowns.  Without him on the field Lawrence lit up the Irish secondary to the tune of 13 of 15 passing for 229 and three scores.

That’s bad on a couple levels.  One, it means Notre Dame doesn’t have any other corners close to Love right now and does not bode well for 2019 should Love decide to leave for the NFL.  He got a 2nd round evaluation from the NFL with a warning he could go later.  Now, any NFL evaluator could look at those stats above and bump up Love, but assuming he does leave, Notre Dame could be in trouble at corner next year.

Clark Lea will have an entire off-season to potentially figure out how he adapts without Love if he leaves.  Yesterday he had a couple minutes to do so and Notre Dame’s lack of another shutdown corner to plug in for him cost the Irish dearly.

2. Clemson moved on without Dexter Lawrence without missing a beat

On the flip side, Clemson was without their star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence for a failed drug test related to PEDs.  The Tigers did not miss a beat up front because they plugged in another nasty defensive lineman to their rotation and still got pressure on Notre Dame all night long.  The difference here is two fold.  First, Clemson did have over a week to prepare for the possibility of not having Lawrence, they didn’t have to adjust on the fly.  Secondly, and more importantly, they did not have to change what they wanted to do at all by not having one player.

Clemson was able to do that because of how well they recruit defensive linemen.  Up until the last two recruiting cycles, corner was a huge weakness for the Irish on the recruiting trail and it showed this year both when Shaun Crawford was lost for the year and it took Notre Dame all season to stabilize the nickel and then even more so last night.

If Notre Dame wants to get back to this type of game and finally be competitive and have a chance to win one of them, they have to keep recruiting at a high level.

3. Notre Dame’s offensive line got pushed around

This year was always going to be a transition year for the Notre Dame offensive line, but it is concerning that by game 13, the jury is still out.  Obviously having Alex Bars all season long would have been much more ideal, but again, that is one player.  Clemson’s defensive front pushed Notre Dame around from start to finish on Saturday and had Ian Book rattled early.

Even with an All-ACC and future 1st round pick at DT in Lawrence, Clemson did what they wanted to the Notre Dame offensive  line.  The encouraging thing for Notre Dame here is that four of the five linemen who started yesterday will be back next year and this experience should help them in the future.  It did not help them yesterday though.

Notre Dame had to protect Ian Book and give him time to pass if they were going to have a chance.   They did not protect him and thus never had a chance.  Clemson racked up six sacks.

4. Notre Dame actually did a pretty good job of containing the Clemson running game

Travis Etienne’s final stats looked pretty good, but that was in large part to his 62 yard run at the end of the third quarter.  Outside of that run, he ran 13 times for 47 yards (3.6 yards per carry).  That doesn’t take the 62 yarder that was really the final dagger off the scoreboard, but it does show that Notre Dame was able to contain him for almost three quarters of the game.  And if I had told you that Etienne would only run for 109 yards on the night before the game, you probably would have taken that and expected it to mean the Irish had a chance.

That type of effort should have been enough to keep Notre Dame in the ballgame.  It wasn’t primarily because the Irish offense just could not do anything on Clemson.  And when they did, they ended up shooting themselves in the foot.  We knew Clemson was going to score points and run the ball. Again, if I told you before the game Clemson would score 30 points and Etienne would run for 109 you probably would have thought the Irish had a decent chance.

Alohi Gilman set a Notre Dame bowl record with 19 tackles.  Tevon Coney wasn’t far behind with 16.  Drue Tranquill added 11.  All of those tackles unfortunately didn’t put any points on the scoreboard for the offense.

5. There were plays to be made downfield for Notre Dame, they just didn’t make them

Even when Book did have time to throw, the Irish missed plays downfield.  In the 2nd quarter for instance, Miles Boykin got behind the Clemson defense and had an easy touchdown if he got a decent throw.  Book under threw him and Clemson recovered in time to break the pass up.  What could have – and should have – been a touchdown, fell to the turf for another missed opportunity in a game full of missed opportunities for Notre Dame.

For all the talk of getting more speed on the field before the game, we never saw it on Saturday.  If anything, Notre Dame’s lack of speed and athleticism at wide receiver were never more evident this season than they were last night.  When Love went out, the Clemson wide receivers were just too good for the Irish to keep up with.  Notre Dame’s receivers on the other hand struggled to get any separation or make any plays.  Boykin ended the game with 5 catches for 69 yards.  All of Notre Dame’s other wide receivers combined had 4 catches for 32 yards.

Notre Dame is going to need to take a long look at the wide receiver position this off-season.  Young receivers like Michael Young, Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, and Lawrence Keys all offer an upgrade in speed and athleticism at the position, but if all three starters for 2018 return, the staff will either need to get creative to get that speed on the field, or make some difficult decisions.

6. Ultimately it didn’t matter, but the Clemson fumbled kickoff should never have been overturned

In the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter, but Clemson’s fumbled kickoff that Notre Dame recovered should have never been overturned.  There was not indisputable evidence that the ball touched out of bounds before Chase Claypool‘s recovery.  For some reason though, the play was overturned.  What the heck is it with fumbles on kickoffs in Jerry World for my teams going very clearly against my teams?  (See also the Eagles getting robbed of a clear recovery in Jerry World a few weeks back too).

NFL rules expert Mike Pereira agrees.

That play will now live in infamy for Notre Dame fans just like the fumbled punt the Irish should have had in the BCS Title game against Alabama.  Had the Irish kept possession of the ball instead of having it stolen away from them, the game was still 3-3 and they would have been set up just outside the 10 yard line.

Ian Book’s fumble that was reviewed and awarded to Clemson was also a very iffy replay.  Book had clearly fumbled, but the play was blown dead before a clear recovery by Clemson.   Tough to get too worked up over that one though because Book did clearly fumble.

We’ll have more on just how things unraveled yesterday along with more on all that went right this season to get Notre Dame here in the first place.  It probably won’t be much of a comfort to most fans who will be feeling this one for a while, but it shouldn’t be lost that the program did take another step forward this year.  It’s just not on the same playing field as Clemson or Alabama just yet.

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  1. Alohi Gilman had 18 tackles but he also gave up 2 touchdowns:

    First TD: Clemsons’ WR Ross blew by Alohi Gilman and caught a 42 yd Td.

    2nd Td: Alohi bit on a decoy screen and left the area he was suppose to cover, leaving a big hole on the right side of the defense. This cleared the way for Clemson’s RB Etienne who scored on 62 yd TD.

  2. Not a ND fan but you also got screwed on the Book fumble when whistles blew. That was not an immediate and clear recovery

  3. “Notre Dame is a lot like marijuana – it usually gets smoked in bowls” was the text I got right at the end of the game. And what could I say?

    Get ready to hit that dislike button. You’re not going to like this comment.

    * The team got the MVP voting wrong. Love proved he is definitely the ND MVP this year. Without him, they were very vulnerable through the air.
    But before you all continue to dump on #8, if you give Lawrence time, he’ll beat you. Watch! Saban won’t. He’ll send whatever he needs to pressure him. If four won’t do it, he’ll send more.

    interesting first half stats

    *Clemson QB is 18-21 when ND didn’t blitz. 1-7 for 9 yards when ND blitzed. Strategy matters. You can bet Bama will not let Clemson’s QB sit back and pass to his elite receivers. If you’re going to lose, at least lose aggressively. Clemson played aggressively on offense and defense, wasting no time “establishing the run” -letting the pass open up the run- employing an O’ strategy ND didn’t expect. Even with superior talent, Clemson used their extra prep time to keep NDs D’ off balance, running an unpredictable O’ plan throwing the ball, especially on first and third down- like Bama did early vs. OK, like OK did vs. Bama, like Clemson did vs. ND.
    it’s called modern football. Even Knute Rockne recognized how effective using the forward pass can be. ND ought to get with what Rockne showed a century or so ago.
    Maybe the worst thing that happened was Dexter’s opening run for a FD. That made ND think they could run on them. They couldn’t and it showed.
    Kudos to Gilman and Coney; but most games are won in the trenches and by employing unexpected strategies and schemes, and those, and superior speed at WR, were key differences.
    Clemson was the better team undoubtedly but their offense of pass first showed they understand how you can use the pass to set up the run, showing respect for NDs run D’. ND didn’t show the same respect for Clemson’s run D’. That realization ,along with the Clemson lines’ dominance, and some great catches by their WRs, turned this into a rout. When you give the other team’s QB the time he had to throw, sooner or later he’ll connect on some key passes. And we gave him the time; and he connected. They didn’t give Book time, and he didn’t.

    ND did make more mistakes (dropped passes/fumbles/penallties), but not enough to justify losing by 27.
    Four or five huge plays on O’ for Clemson, and too few, if any, for ND, resulted in a rout.

    With extra prep time for bowl games/playoffs, coaching matters. Clemson and Bama better preparing their teams have that figured out. BK, Long and Lea don’t.
    The rout hurts, and diminishes what was an exciting unexpected by me 12 win season.
    I have no fixes or answers for next season when Coney, Tillery, Tranquil. Mustipher (and God forbid, maybe Love) are no longer on the field.
    Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the coaching staff does either.

  4. kelly, never can inspire a team for the big game. his corrections, always come to late, did anyone review the syr. vidio against clemson,did the 1st. quarter blitzing not work, sorry one on the field souldn’t such a dif, the lack of gooood coaching does , sorry , kelly just doesn’t have it.

  5. Agree, a football is not a rectangular object, curvature keeps the ball off the end line.
    Difference between ND and the other playoff teams: ND loses one player (Love) and they become a 10-2 team. Clemson could lose 4 or 5 equivalent players and not miss a beat.
    At the most important position, quarterback, ND is at a 3 star level. Light years from Tua, Kyler and Lawrence from a pure talent comparison. Seems obvious now looking only at the QB position. Book was skittish all game, if first read was covered he panicked. I put at least 2 of the sacks on Book, which was a trend we saw in 2nd half of the year.
    With elevated QB play from Jurkovic, ND is not that far off from competing.

  6. I’m also fed up with the faux ND so-called traditionalists. Did ND sell out when it admitted coeds? Did it sell out when it changed its academic colander to play in bowls? Did it sell out when it allowed red shirts or early enrollment? Did it sell out when it opened a dining table for football players? Did it sell out under Lou when players with marginal but great athleticism were admitted? ND football is fast becoming a relic. Some of you are OK with that. Not me! Never will be until I’m gone. I’m old enough to remember greatness and ND adapting to the times to allow for continued greatness. Can it do it again for the sake of the team we all cheer for? I pray so! GO IRISH!

    1. I’m ok with a lot of that. Adaptations are fine. I supported updating the stadium for instance. I always said retro can be cool, looking old is not. I always point out the turf. It’s modern, but they retained the slashes in the end zone which is retro and traditional. I thought they struck a good balance there.

      My main point is I don’t want them to go too far. What they did under Holtz is another example. They adapted some of their recruiting standards but you were still at ND, you still had to go to school and have a real major. I don’t think they sold their soul with any of those changes, or the changes they’ve made thus far.

      To me, at it’s core ND is an excellent, a top of the line education. People laugh sometimes, but ND should be proud most of it’s athletes graduate with a degree. It’s one of the reasons I’m a fan. But I also agree ND does not need to be static. Sticking to it’s ideals does not equal status quo, I agree with you there.

      And the thing is, ND competes with elite schools for recruits a lot of times. We have some great players. We’ve beaten some top teams in the regular season. For some reason, when it comes to the big bowl games they lay down and play dead. You’d think with weeks to get ready we’d be better prepared. Instead they end up like deer in headlights. What I can’t get past is I’ve watched this team all year and they are better than 30-3.

  7. That fumble at sideline that was overturned irks me. The refs should have recreated that scene and seen that the curvature of the ball never touched the white stripe. Wouldn’t have mattered anyway. We would have settled for a Yoon FG.
    Everybody knew especially Clemson that Donte Vaughan can’t cover.

    1. Agree, a football is not a rectangular object, curvature keeps the ball off the end line.
      Difference between ND and the other playoff teams: ND loses one player (Love) and they become a 10-2 team. Clemson could lose 4 or 5 equivalent players and not miss a beat.
      At the most important position, quarterback, ND is at a 3 star level. Light years from Tua, Kyler and Lawrence from a pure talent comparison. Seems obvious now looking only at the QB position. Book was skittish all game, if first read was covered he panicked. I put at least 2 of the sacks on Book, which was a trend we saw in 2nd half of the year.
      With elevated QB play from Jurkovic, ND is not that far off from competing.

  8. BK is a solid coach and recruiter who will win a lot more than not. He just isn’t elite. What ND can do for BK or the next HC is do what they did for Lou and allow some marginal recruits to be admitted. Lou recruited size, power, and speed. Not a lot of Rhodes scholars in that bunch but a lot of great players that brought ND football back from the dead. Did ND sell out or become a football factory under Lou?! So what would be different now? To me the turning point was in the second. The game is tied and ND is driving. If you have an inkling you are going on fourth why not run on third? Two incompletions later Clemson got the ball and on cue scored a TD. At that point I told my guests we were in deep you know what. Sure enough the rout was on! That’s just not playing smart. ND was running OK up to that point. Run on third to get an easier fourth down and have more options open. So be it. I just knew then ND blew an opportunity. Also not quick snapping on Book’s clear fumble was lame and poor in game management. I saw it was a fumble live when it happened and thought we were going to get away with it. No such luck! ND will not get back to the top until it does some real soul searching about its football future with or without BK.

  9. In 2012, the game was over in 8 minutes. This game was over st the half. Here’s what I
    wrote before the half to my alumni buddies:

    We simply don’t have the players to compete at the
    Upper level of college football and haven’t for 30 years.
    Notre Dame’s “Commitment to Excellence” does not apply to football.
    We won’t take in, help, tutor and educate those kids whose goal is to play in the NFL.
    The Academic Review Board – or whatever it’s called – will judge and VETO those players, and Notre Dame has not come close to a national championship since.
    Notre Dame used to have the most players in the NFL year after year.
    Not in the last 30…

    1. I like how you cleverly inserted “alumni” into the post because simply referring to them as buddies wouldn’t work.

  10. I wonder, has ND hit a wall? Have they gone as far as they can and just can’t get over the final hump? Frank makes great points, but yes, Bars is just one player…he alone can’t protect Book. Love is just one cornerback. He can’t do everything himself.

    I really believe ND can compete and beat about 95% of the teams out there in CFB land on most days. But there seems to be that upper echelon of elite teams that ND just can’t seem to break into. You have a teams like Alabama this year that’s way up in the stratosphere. And a very small contingent of 3 or 4 teams that maybe are somewhere in the neighborhood. Then you have the rest of the CFB world, of which ND is probably near the top of that group.

    I’m starting to really think ND is never going to win number 12, at least not without changing what ND is and just making it an NFL development factory (which is never going to happen, and not something I could personally support anyway). I’m not even convinced changing the coach would really help. Who out there is going to take us that final step, AND is willing to coach at ND and not make ND an NFL development team? Here’s a question I’d ask….if Nick Saban came to ND (I know never going to happen but just for argument’s sake) could he coach ND to a NC without turning ND into an football factory?

    One thing that does boggle my mind though at the same time is it’s not like we’re getting nothing but 2 star recruits. We field plenty of 3 and 4 star recruits, and even the occasional 5 star….and we know sometimes 3 stars end up playing far better and 5 stars sometimes flounder and aren’t worth their 5 stars. Our players should be better than 30-3. That is just unacceptable. I mean, we scored more against Alabama in the title game, and Alabama was playing for a shutout and we still managed to score a touchdown. We have a better offense than the 2012 team and we couldn’t score more than 3 against a defense that I would argue while excellent, was not 2012 Alabama. We should have been closer.

    Instead we were embarrassed. We have most of the world outside ND saying, see, they didn’t belong, ND plays Navy every year, they don’t play in a conference, they couldn’t beat Little SIsters of the Poor (a lot of nonsense but we did nothing to help the brand last night). What’s more concerning I think for the future is I can very well see scenarios that a 12-0 ND team gets left out for 1 loss conference champions in the future.

  11. I don’t think ND took another step forward this season. I think they hit their ceiling. I think going 12-0 ever five years or so and getting a shot while graduating 95% is a win. That’s what the program is now. No reason to be disappointed. They will never be true contenders year in and year out again.

    Not until they truly get real about recruiting speed and top level QBs. We saw the discrepancy in both on the field last night.

  12. No game on offense. To throw deep you have to be able to protect the QB…no matter how fast your receivers are.
    Three “drives” ended before they started with false start penalties.
    Passes dropped at a rate more like last season than this season.
    Turnovers and wanna-be turnovers. The “O” was not mentally ready for the game and never adjusted to the speed and coverage of Clemson’s secondary…maybe they couldn’t.
    The “O” line has a lot of work to do.
    The end did not do justice to the season, which was the best for ND since Holtz was here.
    The road schedule for 2019 is formidable. If we make the final step forward, expect it in 2020; we will not likely get a good shot at the playoffs in 2019.

    As for the “fire the coach” crowd, your silence on who to hire after the “firing” speaks louder than words.
    4-8 to 10-3 to 12-1 and a playoff spot…then “you’re fired.”
    Who you’all gonna call to fill that vacancy? Criticism is fine…answers are scarce.

    My answer is work as hard or harder in the off season, notch up recruiting, and prep better for the bowl.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. The thing is Bruce that this isn’t year 3 of the BK regime. If it were, I’d think going from 4-8 to 10-3 to 12-1 would be great. I’d be hugely disappointed with the result of last night and the miscues, but I’d think, yeah, we have some more road to cover but we’re getting there. But this is year 9 of BK. It’s just not going to happen under BK. And you’re right, I can’t name a coach that could get us a NC that would be willing to coach at ND without turning ND into an NFL development team. And I don’t want to go backwards. I don’t want to fire BK and end up with something like the D/W/W years.

      It’s sad to think, but I just feel like I’m never going to see ND win a championship in football. I started following ND as a full time fan back in 2002 (I was sort of a fair weather fan since the late 90’s) and I really wanted to see ND win a championship game in football. But after last night, I just feel like we’ve hit an insurmountable wall that we’re just can’t overcome anymore.

      1. Exactly Damian. Where is that pyramid going down after 2012? It’s the not showing up in big games which is the MAIN problem. ND will be UCF going forward unless it goes to 8 teams. The only way we get in next year going 12-0 is a win at GA and GA being GA of late.

      2. What I am saying is this: Who in hell (other than Garry Faust) is going to work for an administration that fires a guy after a 12-1 season with a playoff appearance? What happens if that new guy goes 12-1 too. Do we fire him? Why not, if winning a NC is the only measure of success? Why not? Shoot ALL the generals if they can’t take St. Petersburg. Replace them with someone who will. Simple, right? Who wants der jobben?

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. TRUE B G C the IRISH are headed in the right direction!! GREAT season , but disappointing loss to Clemson!! Nothing against BOOK but JUROVEC will be the QB next year, LENZY, KEYS, AND YOUNG will provide the speed to play the top teams and the O-LINE will be very good!! Step by step this team is improving, cmon you had to know Clemson was a quicker and more experienced team!! Look ahead not back, ND will be a better team next year!!

  13. The kickoff return fumble would’ve been a footnote in this game anyway. ND did not get cheated by the refs, but by their coaches.

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