Notre Dame Plays Like Champions In Victory Over Clemson

There was so much analysis into the lead up of the game everyone has been thinking and writing about for the better part of 11 months, it seemed futile to even try to take it all in. It wasn’t that it wasn’t useful or sound; it’s standard to point out the weaknesses and strengths of the two teams, but that’s not really what these games are about. It’s about playing like champions.

Naturally, I haven’t spent much of my waking hours thinking about anything else since the game ended. It was stunning, it was frustrating, it was exhausting. I’ve been filled with pride for the team and the way they played, without the ability to actually pin point why I felt that those emotions. And then it dawned on me a couple of hours ago: Notre Dame welcomed the #1 team in the nation into their stadium, the best overall program of the last five seasons, and they set the standard of play. They scored on their first official play from scrimmage. They scored on their first three possessions against the #7 defense in SP+. They got stops on defense while they weren’t being stopped on defense. The message was sent, “you’re not going to beat us without a great a performance.”

And then Clemson, the great program that they are, met the challenge. They battled back from being down 13 in the third quarter to tie it. They began to show their championship mettle. They made play after play, finally taking a seven point lead late in the fourth quarter. They met the standard of play and then raised it another level. This is when it has fallen apart time after time for Notre Dame. They haven’t had that extra gear. Until last night. They raised their game to that level, to that championship level, and made every play they needed to make in order to emerge victorious.

Since 1993, we’ve been waiting for it. Don’t just be competitive, win. Win the game when the stakes and level are the highest. On Saturday, November 7th, 2020, they did it.

Ian Book Re-Writes His Story

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Ian Book, calling him a fighter. No matter what anyone thinks about his talent or level of play, he will fight with you, and we won’t shrink. He may miss throws, he may miss reads, but he’ll keep coming. When he fumbled the ball inside the five yard line in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead, it felt like a back breaker. And it was a shame because Book had played so well to that point. But, it was a crucial mistake. Mike Tirico said on the following drive his teammates would have to pick him up, he was sure to be down on himself. My first thought was “no, not Ian. He doesn’t feel that, he’ll just keep playing.” And keep playing he did.

There is some talk about where Book ranks amongst all-time Notre Dame quarterbacks now. It’s a discussion that’s sure to be lively, and it ultimately causes us to put down some quarterbacks to lift up others, so I try not to engage too much. What I do know is Book just put up 375 yards of total offense against the #1 team with the best defensive coordinator in the sport, while going 91 yards in under two minutes with the game on the line. It’s the sort of thing people write books about. It hasn’t been done since Tony Rice and Kevin McDougal, when we were all much younger, and some reading this piece weren’t even alive.

This can’t be minimized and it can’t be taken away, Ian Book is now a Notre Dame legend and at place built on legends.

The Stars On Defense Show Up

Great players make great plays in big games. We’ve heard it over and over again. Notre Dame’s great players on defense are Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah and Kyle Hamilton. Their task was to reign in star tailback Travis Etienne, and whoever won that matchup was likely to win the game. JOK responded with big play after big play, returning Etienne’s fumble for a touchdown, forcing another fumble, leading the team in tackles (9) and tackles for loss (2.5). He got off to a slow start and then took the game over.

Hamilton had less of an impact from a big play stand point, but preventing big plays is just as important. Hamilton was second on the team in tackles (8) had another tackle for loss on Etienne, and had a couple of touchdown saving stops. In a game where points are at a premium, making tackles that are available to you is key. And if you don’t believe me, ask Clemson if it would have wanted Hamilton one on one against Kyren Williams on the games first play.

The Offensive Line Makes Their Statement

Notre Dame has fielded a lot of good offensive lines in recent years who have put up big numbers in all games except for the marquee matchups. Think of a batting lineup who crushes starters 2-5, but just can’t hit the ace. That’s been the line for the most part of years past. While Clemson was without it’s best interior player, he was replaced by two five star freshman who take a back seat to no one. They also had the challenge of dealing with the exotic pressures defensive coordinator Brent Venables likes to feature, and any line facing this crew is going to have its hands full.

They responded with 209 rushing yards and tremendous protection throughout the night for Ian Book. It had to be a bit of vindication for line coach Jeff Quinn, who has spent the better part of the last two seasons being compared to the departed Harry Hiestand. Quinn was able to get his group to accomplish what Hiestand was not, an elite performance against an elite defense.

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  1. Player of the game hands down Kyren Williams. The O-line as a unit did pretty amazing as well but Kyren and his blitz pickups allowed Book to have time to throw basically the entire night which was huge. Not only did he block like a madman but he ran for over 100 and scored three times. And you can just see his intensity in the way that he plays the game. He might not be the fastest or biggest back but my goodness does he go 100% every single play. He’s been fun to watch and it was also good to see him outrun everyone on the big run too which I didn’t think he had the breakaway speed so maybe he does.

    Kudos to Book for getting the job done at the end of the game. The 2nd to last drive he made great throws as well. Skowronek, are you serious man on missing that pass on the post? I thought he blew the game dropping that pass. Then Book gets another opportunity and delivers a 91 yard drive. Book really needed this to build his confidence going forward. He has benefitted from trash schedules and has played poorly in big games in the past. Saturday night, he delivered when he needed to against the #1 team in the nation with the playoffs on the line. Good for him.

    I’ve heard some posts saying Lawrence couldn’t have done much better. This is nonsense. Their freshman played well but he left a lot of throws out there that Lawrence typically makes. And experience cannot be understated in a game like that. In the 2nd overtime, I feel Lawrence recognizes the pressure better and escapes that instead of taking sacks. Lawrence also brings the type of leadership at a championship caliber level so instead of their guys looking at Lawrence in the huddle, they are looking and following a freshman. So yes, Lawrence being out was a HUGE benefit to us. Also, I guess three of their starting defenders were out as well. So while this victory feels good and all, we did not play a Clemson team at full strength with the best player in the country and we barely beat them. I’m just being realistic with the expectations and we will probably find out in the ACC championship game when everyone is available.

    1. A true freshman, in just his 2nd goddamn game, went to OT at ND stadium, against the 4th ranked team in the country, in a VERY high-scoring game. Passed for 439 yds.

      Call the paramedics. You aren’t just high, you OD’d.

      1. LOL David!!! OD’d on logic I guess!

        You ever thought our secondary might not be as good as we all thought since we’ve literally played nobody up to this point? Everyone thought Bracy was our best corner. He gets burned once and then doesn’t see the field the rest of the game and we give up over 400 yards passing. Hmmm….

        Lawrence would have shredded us even more than this kid did, no doubt. Not only would he have shredded us through the air but he is a lot more mobile than the freshman QB too. Look at what he did to Ohio State on the ground in the playoffs last year.

        Emotions over logic. Just like the rest of the media driven country operates. Glad to see you joined that club David.

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