5 Things I Didn’t Like in Notre Dame’s Cotton Bowl Loss to Clemson

Where to being on this one.  I thought the 5 things I liked column for this game was tough.  This one turned out to be even tougher just because there was so much that went wrong for Notre Dame that it was challenging to pinpoint just five things.  Notre Dame was outclassed by Clemson on Saturday night in the Cotton Bowl and brought us all back down to reality after a magical run through the regular season that delivered 12 straight wins before coming to a crashing halt in Arlington.

Here’s five of the main things I didn’t like in Notre Dame’s season ending, crushing defeat at the hands of Clemson.

1. The reversed call on the fumbled kickoff

I didn’t like it in the stands when it happened, I didn’t like it last night when I saw it again, and I hate it a day later after having time to think about it.  Clemson’s fumbled kickoff that Notre Dame recovered should never have been reversed.  The replay officials made a judgement call when replay is only supposed to overturn a call when it is overwhelmingly obvious that the call on the field was incorrect.  There simply was not enough evidence for that play to be overturned.

In a 30-3 loss one play didn’t make the difference, but things may have unfolded differently if the Irish had the ball just outside the Clemson 10 in a tie game.  Notre Dame needed every bounce to go their way to pull off the the upset.  Instead the opposite happened and even when the ball might have bounced their way, replay officials decided it did not.

2. Brian Kelly’s decisions on 4th down inside the Clemson 40

There were two calls by Brian Kelly that I really wasn’t a fan off once the Irish got inside the Clemson 40 yard.  Facing a 4th and 3 with the game tied at 3 in the second quarter from the Clemson 34 yard line, Brian Kelly decided to go for it.  Inside a closed environment with perfect conditions, I would have liked to see Kelly give Justin Yoon a chance from 51 yards.  It wouldn’t have been a career long for Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer and if he makes it, Notre Dame has the lead.  Instead, Book misfires on a pass and three plays later Clemson is up 9-3.

On Notre Dame’s first drive of the second half after the Irish defense got a clutch stop, Notre Dame was moving the ball and it looked like they might dent the Clemson lead.  Facing a 4th and 9 from the Clemson 37, Kelly called for a punt.  In that scenario, with Notre Dame finally having a little momentum, I’d have liked to see him roll the dice there.  Tyler Newsome did ultimately pin Clemson down at the 2, but that was the furthest Notre Dame took the ball the rest of the game.

3. Notre Dame’s inability to get the ball downfield

Notre Dame needed Ian Book to have his best game of the season.  Instead, he ended up having one of his worst. The Clemson pass rush clearly rattled him and he was leaving the pocket even when the pressure was not fully there yet.  As a result he also missed a couple plays downfield that could have changed the course of the game.

On the drive that Notre Dame punted on during that first drive of the second half, Book had Boykin for a walk in touchdown from the 41 yard line, but badly under threw him giving Clemson the ability to recover and knock the pass away.  Book doesn’t have a cannon, but that was a throw he had to make.

His inability to stretch the field vertically for Notre Dame allowed Clemson to pin their ears back and send pressure.  Now, part of that was also do to Notre Dame’s lack of speed and athleticism at receiver as well so it was not all on Book.  Never has that deficiency been more apparent than Saturday night.  Clemson had receivers making plays while Notre Dame’s struggled to get open and to hold on to footballs that needed to be caught.

If Notre Dame can’t find an answer for its vertical passing game in the spring, this offense will not take the step forward it needs to be able to compete in these types of games.

4. Lack of creativity on offense from Chip long

Book and the Irish offense didn’t get much help from Chip Long with the offensive game plan either.  Ironically I was worried that Notre Dame would try to do too much new and get too cute against Clemson heading in.  Instead, we didn’t see much creativity at all from the Irish offensive game plan.  The two back sets we were all excited for weren’t used.  Attacking the seam with Cole Kmet who had been hampered by a nagging ankle injury most of the year never materialized.

In a game like this, Long needed to manufacture some offense with his play calling, but he was unable to do so.  He will have better days as a play caller and coordinator for the Irish and his coaching future is still very bright.  In the Cotton Bowl though he went toe to toe with Brent Venables and Clemson’s savvy defensive coordinator came out well on top.  Venables has been doing this a long time and is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country so just remember that in case you are down on Long after this one.

5. Another bowl game meltdown that feeds the haters what they want

There are a ton of other things I could list here.  All of the turnovers Notre Dame committed, Jerry Tillery’s bonehead late hit, Notre Dame’s lack of cornerback depth coming back to haunt them when Love went out, etc.  In general though the biggest thing I didn’t like about this game was just that it was another example of Notre Dame coming up short against an elite opponent which is only going to feed the “Notre Dame doesn’t belong” talk in the future.

We already know that Notre Dame is not getting into the playoffs in the future unless they are undefeated barring some crazy other scenario where there aren’t any undefeateds, but now we will have to worry that there will be more pressure on leaving out a future undefeated Irish team from the playoffs since the last two times they have been 12-0, they have collapsed in the spotlight.

Saturday night could have unfolded differently if a few things didn’t go against them – namely that fumble and losing Julian Love – but Notre Dame needs to get back to a point where it can sustain those hiccups and not have to play absolutely perfect just to have a chance.  Clemson and Alabama are the only two programs in the country at that level right now.  Saturday night in Jerry World we saw just how far Notre Dame is from being there even with all of the improvements the program has undertaken the last two years.

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  1. Interesting story @ SB Nation concerning ND. Scheduling/ conference play and ND getting back to the CFB. Changes
    need to be made going forward otherwise ND may get shut out. Adding a 13th game should be a priority however
    that can get done. Playing a “cupcake” in Nov or scheduling a game in December might help. Alabama,Clemson,Okla
    didn’t come out of the tunnel in a funk. ND looked rusty, out of sync and mistake prone. Other than the 2 bowl
    wins against LSU, ND just doesn’t seem ready to perform at the highest level.

  2. i Agree with what everyone says about the haters. Notre Dame is not generally liked in the NCAA. They try to be the conscience of the NCAA by example and that sets the rest on edge who want sports for sports sake.

    1. What the NCAA “likes” is money.

      And money is the sole reason that today’s ND football gets any consideration for the playoff at all.

      1. This has nothing to do the NCAA; it’s all about ESPN and their preferred match-ups. ESPN, in essence, has much to do with the final four.

      2. Notre Dame would potentially influence the exchange of money, believe it or not.

        The under the table money is 10x what people see. Look at the flow of money into Alabama. Even with that they show a debt that has to be paid by the state of over $250 Million to sustain football. But the donations to the university and facilities probably match or better that. The University will let the tax payers pick up the tab.

        A sports arms race benefits both athletic departments and other parts of the universities near the top. The freedom to use and abuse the best talent makes it easier to do.

      3. Oh, and how did this year’s undefeated record not merit a playoff bid?

        Did you think the Wife Beaters from that school in Ohio deserved to go?

        Georgia got its ass whipped by the 15th ranked team in its bowl. You think them?

      4. Are youy people really this dim?
        Money. Huge money. Put away the bibles, the morality, and the ‘good sportsmanship’ BS….

        It’s money, you putzes. Grow up.

  3. The blocking scheme did nothing to give the offense a chance. Clameson seemed to be inside NDs offensive playbook too. But the blocking scheme did not address the speed of Clemson’s d-line. That affected the offense. And then finally put too much pressure on the defense. Had the coaches prepared better, a more affective O-line would have equalized the game.

  4. Pretty hard to pinpoint any one thing. Watching Ohio St today they looked lackluster beating Wash by 5 points.
    Texas leads Georgia 20-7 at the half. Georgia players had better shut up and take care of their own business before
    spouting off on ND. Definitely the Offense needs to up its game. Too many times this season the O line failed on 3rd and 2.
    The vertical passing needs to happen so ND can stretch the field and prevent stacking the box. ND needs a QB to
    throw downfield 25-30 and hit the receivers IN STRIDE. Maybe Jurkovec is this guy ? We keep waiting for an
    elite QB to emerge who can contend for the Heisman. Until that happens it will be Ala-Clemson for the foreseeable future.

    1. Lackluster only winning by 5? If ohio state and nd played today it would be yet another whoopin. Last nd victory over ohio state was in 1936. They should just join the big ten already and eliminate the possibility of undefeated regular seasons. Let nd go back to playing Hawaii in the Hawaii bowl. They can win that one.

      1. Yes..i meant lackluster because it was. OSU should have BLOWN OUT Washington. Washington beat Utah in the title game
        by 10-3. Ohio St against Northwestern was over before it started. Don’t forget ND beat LSU in 2 bowl games in recent years.
        Also…..Clemson beat ND by 27 points…..Clemson beat Alabama by 28 points. ND played as well against Clemson as Alabama did.

    2. Oklahoma gave Alabama a game….a true rarity.
      Northwestern made halftime adjustments and came roaring back to an epic win in the 2nd half.
      Wash. made halftime adjustments and kept playing hard, bringing the outcome down to the last possession.
      Georgia got beat….but they continued to play hard in the 2nd half and made the final score respectable.


      Coach of the Year Kelly ?
      Medicated into a stupor, he books another signature loss, and ND confirms its ineligibility for ANY consideration for a playoff spot.

    1. I was only counting since the playoffs. I really don’t think Notredame is that far away from Clemson and Alabama on the defensive side of the ball. They just need more depth to overcome injuries transfers suspensions fatigue etc.Notredame is a long way from the elite on the offensive side of the ball. It starts with an elite quarterback explosive speed burning playmakers and a great o coordinator.will all this happen the next 2 or 3 years under Kelly.One can always hope.

  5. In this day of college football you need a great offense to win a national championship. The last 5 champions scoring average was over 45 points a game and they all won a shootout or 2 on the way to a title.Even Nick Saban said recently it’s an offensive era with the rules spread offenses rpo’s up tempo attacks. Kelly needs to really focus on his offense this spring personnel philosophy scheme coaching everything

  6. I’m not necessarily saying the Irish will be left out even if they go undefeated, but up to know it’s been pretty much a guarantee, the Irish win out they’re in (short of their being 4-5 undefeated power 5 conference champions which is probably close to impossible.

    I’m not so sure undefeated will be enough going forward. Certain 1 loss power 5 champions may get in over ND as a consequence of being embarrassed twice. I can see them in the future putting in a 1 loss OSU team for instance at the expense of ND. A 2 loss team, nah, I’d find that highly unlikely, but 1 loss conference champion from some conferences, yeah, absolutely. I mean, Alabama already has a gimmee loss, as does probably Georgia and maybe even Clemson. OSU likely does too depending on who the loss is too. There is some bias there, owing to past success (I mean a 1 loss Alabama team will always get in, even if the loss is to someone like Vanderbilt), a 1 loss Oregon State team, not so easy. Forget a 1 loss ND team unless it’s an end of the world everyone has 2+ losses.

    All I’m saying is the committee will be hypervigilant about ND going forward. They’ll need to go undefeated, look impressive for the most part and get a little help probably.

  7. If they beat Georgia, Michigan and Stanford on the road and go undefeated they will certainly be in the Playoff and will have a better chance of winning it too.

  8. Only thing keeping ND from the next level
    Might be the coach, sad to say. What about embracing the underdog role? If these teams play 10 times, Clemson wins 7 times, and that is Ok. With a month to get ready, the focus should have been on playing mistake free football, and they didn’t. Show me a team that commits penalties and turnovers, and I’ll show you a loser. Clemson went after a new player in the 2nd quarter, and it was the difference in the game. ND quit I’m the 2nd half, Clemson’s backups were making plays.

  9. Not sure how you get depth like schools that don’t emphasize student athletes. Alabama is basically a football factory for the NFL. Norte Dame would have had difficulties beating Clemson’s backups.

  10. I agree with you , but I feel Brian Kelly can’t or doesn’t know how to prep this team for these games , and I wonder if ever can coach at the next level of these colleges games. I love my team , but I go back to Lou Holts time frame. College football has reached a level of money, and lot more then them days. Norte Dame doesn’t seem to want to reach that . Maybe cause it’s a Catholic school. Or maybe I’m not on the right page either. But Norte Dame has lost its luster, and it needs coaches that that bring it back. Not sure if Brian Kelly and coach college football at that level of playing

    1. I believe he can-just the fact that the Irish doesn’t have the amount of depth as Clemson or Alabama yet…it was extremely apparent in that disappointing Cotton Bowl loss.

  11. I wonder, we’re looking at another Clemson-Alabama NC game, and all signs are that they will be playing for one again next year, and probably the year after too.

    Looking at Oklahoma’s performance I’m not sure any other CFB teams are anywhere near Alabama-Clemson. OK did better than ND yes, but Alabama was never really at risk. Does that start to hurt CFB at any point? Fans today aren’t the same as yesterday. Do people start to tire of it and stop paying attention? Do they get apathetic and start thinking, well Alabama’s going to win another one, who cares? Most pundits pretty much penciled Alabama in for another NC before the season started. And already the odds are excellent it will be Alabama-Clemson redux.

    I know me personally I don’t really have any interest in watching the NC game. I frankly couldn’t care less who won it. How does the rest of CFB fans feel?

    1. I actually am looking forward to the game. As a college football fan these are without question the 2 best teams. Until I saw Clemson dismantle the Irish I was convinced Bama blows their doors off. Not so much now. “Rocky Dennis” Lawrence is waaay better than I thought and gives them a decent shot.
      I’m not as upset as many others. I’ll take 12-1 every year and I don’t give a rats a$$ what others think of the Irish. We are in an era of absolute dominance by Bama and Clemson. No shame losing to them but need to work at closing the gap.
      After them, I see Ohio St, Oklahoma and Georgia on a level possibly just above the others but OSU is shaky going forward without Urban. A&M is lurking as another possible program at this level with their money and Jimbo’s ability to recruit.
      Then it’s everyone else and I’d put the Irish at the top of that group. Moving forward ND is closer than they have been in decades and I just hope this trend continues. It will take many years to erase 2 decades of bad ND football and at some point they have to win one of these games. It’s that simple. Not sure they will get all the way to the mountain top in the near future though as Bama and Clemson are not going anywhere for a while. Go Irish!!!

      1. It’s one of the reasons I ask. I’ll admit I’m not in the habit of watching other teams games, unless they have some impact on the Irish, and even then it’s more score checking then actually watching. I’m that way with the pro-teams I follow (NY Giants, Penguins, Celtics and Phillies for the record) so for me personally I probably was never going to watch a NC game without ND anyway.

        I was frankly curious if there were other CFB fans out there that do watch other games and was just wondering if repeats of Clemson-Alabama would eventually get old in people’s minds.

  12. As a longtime ND fan, I can say 3 of your 5 reasons sound like excuses. Apparently, neither Chip Long nor Brian Kelly were prepared for this game. Also, neither Vaughn nor Pride were prepared either.

    1. You are entitled to your opinion BUT don’t agree with your statement-ultimately it was the Irish’s depth that doomed them. It was obvious that Clemson had depth and so did Alabama…why do you think that those teams wins it all every year?

  13. I read the Bleacher Report article and that is exactly my fear. The CFB playoff committee is going to look at ND’s two duds when it counted most and I really think going undefeated may no longer be enough, esp. if ND struggles in any of it’s regular season games. There is a whole legion of CFB fans that want the committee to make it more subjective, ‘which team looks the best’ regardless of record. He said himself he doesn’t care that Purdue beat OSU badly, or LSU smashed Georgia. It’s all how you look in November basically.

    I personally think it’s utterly ridiculous. Your record has to count for something. Maybe OSU shouldn’t have gotten their heads handed to them by Purdue. And I’m not at all convinced they wouldn’t get their heads handed to them either. The article is just basing that on their dominance over Michigan. I suspect had OSU faced Clemson, or Alabama the result would have likely been the same.

    But none of that matters. What matters is the CFB committee was embarrassed by both semifinals. You can bet they will take note of that, after all, it’s all about money and ratings. If next year leaving an undefeated ND team out in favor of a 1 or 2 loss team means more of both, that’s what they will do.

    By laying an egg, they may have given the anti-ND crowd exactly what they want. A reason to leave out future ND teams.

    1. Couldn’t of agreed with you more Damian-I mean, is it so bad that anyone rooting for the Irish are considered out of touch/not dealing with reality? The Irish is good enough to get the playoff spot but nowadays, it seems that the detractors would love nothing more than to grind their foot in the Irish faces, yelling with glee this whole time. What is up with all this misplaced hate?? If their teams were good enough, you be best assured that they would do everything within their power to say that their team should be in the playoffs EVEN if they had lost a game or two OR they were in the Conference Championship. That is of course garbage. I feel for the Irish but here’s what they need to do and everyone seems to agree: MORE DEPTH so if one player goes down there’s another who can step up without any drop off in quality of play. MAKE ADJUSTMENTS when things aren’t going the way they are supposed to. Most important of all, HAVE AN ALTERNATE PLAN so the opposing team doesn’t key in on tendencies the Irish developed during the regular season. It was apparent that the passing game needed more short to medium pass plays to offset the Clemson defense. Come on Irish coaches-you all gotta have to give your players the best opportunity to excel. Now lets go get em next year!!

      1. Yeah, that’s just it. When you look at Georgia for instance, maybe they are one of the best teams in the country. The problem is they LOST to the 2 best teams they faced on their schedule, one of them by 20 points. I’m not seeing their point. They didn’t have a particularly difficult schedule and the 2 games they could have made a statement on they failed.

        Basically they want to go back to the days when it NC’s were much more subjective. This team ‘looks’ good so we’ll put them in, even though they lost 2 games. Frankly, unlike what the article argues, I’d think they would be better with an 8 team playoff. Then that would erase much of the doubt about who’s deserving because it would be decided, you know, by actually playing the game. Then UCF would be in and have to prove it belongs, as would Georgia and OSU. I hate that CFB is the only sport that NC’s still rely largely on other peoples opinions basically.

    2. Damian , anti – Irish fans will not persuade the CFP VOTING IN 2019. Rumor spreading is running amuck — especially with the Buckeye and Dawg fans saying that their teams would have made a better showing in the Semi’s. Adding to their sour grapes of being left out is that the CFP is embarrassed by the lopsided scores of the two semi games. It’s all hog wash. Don’t worry , a mass hysteria like HG Wells “War of The Worlds” ain’t gonna happen.

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