Overreactions from Notre Dame’s Biggest Win in Almost 30 Years

Notre Dame finally delivered on a big stage last night. The narrative surrounding Notre Dame for years has been that the Irish are good, but not in the same class as Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, et al. Well, last night the Irish took the #1 team in the country to double overtime and pulled off the upset despite being a near touchdown home underdog. The Irish are now 7-0 on the season and in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the ACC this year.

Ian Book delivered a career-defining drive

Ian Book started the fourth quarter with a brutal fumble in the endzone that could have defined this game and, ultimately, his career. He ended the fourth quarter with a drive that many will remember for years to come when thinking of Book that will define his career at Notre Dame.

With just 1:41 left on the clock and the ball at the 9-yard line, Book marched the Irish down the field for the game-tying touchdown with an eight-play drive where he utilized his legs and arm. Book had a key 9-yard run early in the drive where he got out of bounds to stop the clock. On the night, he had 68 yards on 15 yards.

Book could have let that fumble be the last image of him from that game. Instead, he overcame adversity and led the Irish back to force overtime and ultimately pull off the upset—what a drive and what a moment for Ian Book.

Avery Davis’s huge catch has been a long time coming

On that final drive in regulation, the big play was Avery Davis’s 53-yard catch down the seam that set up the Irish with a first and goal. The play was a long time coming. That play has been there for Notre Dame a few times this year – including last week against with Lawrence Keys – but they haven’t hit it, or Ian Book hasn’t seen it. Well, he saw it last night, and boy did he hit it.

Davis capped off his big night by catching the game-tying touchdown on 3rd and goal a few plays later. Like Book, Davis had an opportunity to make a big play earlier in the game that he couldn’t come up with.

For Davis, he couldn’t haul in a touchdown earlier in the 4th quarter before the Irish settled for a field goal. It would have been a tough catch, no doubt, but one that he also had in his hands. Point being, it was great to see Davis be the one to step up and make two huge plays when needed.

Notre Dame’s defense completely shut down one of the best running backs in the country

Clark Lea decided that if Clemson was going to beat Notre Dame, it would not be because of Travis Etienne. Clemson’s star running back – who is likely going to be a 1st round pick next spring – ran the ball 18 times for a total of 28 yards. That’s an average of a mere 1.6 yards per carry for those keeping track at home.

Clemson ran for just 34 yards on 33 carries (including lost yardage on sacks). That is as impressive of a run defense performance as we’ve seen in a while. I was worried that D.J. Uiagalelei was going to burn Notre Dame on a zone-read keeper with the way Notre Dame was crashing on Etienne so much, but he never did.

By comparison, Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams ran for more yards than the entire Clemson team did on his first carry of the ball game. Williams ended the night with 140 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns.

Notre Dame’s coaches, players, and fans deserved that win

This win was a long time coming for Notre Dame and its fans. Too many times over the years, Notre Dame has come up short in these situations. Georgia 2017, Clemson 2018, Michigan 2019, Georgia 2019. And those are just the last three seasons.

When Book’s fumble went into the endzone, Notre Dame fans had a sick feeling in the pits of their stomachs. We had been there too many times. Notre Dame getting oh so close but just not being good enough to pull it off.

Notre Dame flipped the script this time, though. They marched the ball down the field to tie the game and force overtime and then pulled it off. We just haven’t seen Notre Dame make those drives in the past.

Welcome to the party Shayne Simon

Notre Dame fans and media have been critical of junior linebacker Shayne Simon this season. Up until last night, he had not played that well. Simon flipped the script on his season, though with the best game of his career. He only was credited with four tackles on the night, but they all were big stops, and Simon was solid in coverage.

Tommy Rees more than held his own against Brent Venables

Tommy Rees held his own in his first real test against an elite defense with an elite defensive coordinator. He determined to reverse some tendencies and was not afraid to take his shots downfield against the Clemson defense. The stats are padded by double overtime a bit, but Ian Book had over 300 yards, the Irish as a team ran for over 200 yards, and Notre Dame scored 47 points on Brent Venables defense.

Rees has had his moments this year where his playcalling could justifiably be questioned, but Rees passed with flying colors in his first big test. His offense has now scored 47 points on Brent Venables and 45 points on Pat Narduzzi.

The fact that Notre Dame was able to move the ball as they did and that most of their failed drives were a result of self-inflicted wounds is a huge takeaway from this game. These two teams will meet again, most likely, and the offense knows it can score points on Clemson. That’s huge.

In the not ideal department: Notre Dame’s pass defense

Ok, for all of the good in this game, the one negative was the pass defense. The Irish let a freshman quarterback light them up for over 400 yards. D.J. Uiagalelei was unbelievable last night and didn’t look at all like a freshman, but it was shocking to see Clark Lea’s defense give up 439 yards through the air.

Clemson found a new big-play receiver in Cornell Powell, who had 161 yards on 8 catches on the night, including a pair of 50-yarders.

Notre Dame’s pass rush could not generate any pressure all night long until the very end of the game (when it did matter most), and it let Uiagalelei have himself a night. When the Irish did blitz, Uiagalelei picked them apart. When they didn’t, the front four didn’t get home.

The next time these two teams meet, it will be fascinating to see how both Lea and Brent Venables adjust their strategies.

Holy cow, were the officials incompetent

The ACC crew working last night was awful for both sides. There were bad calls that went both ways – JOK’s knee was down short of the endzone, Dabo whined his way out of a clear pass interference penalty after the officials seemingly forgot they were allowed to ever call PI on Clemson for much of the game, and so on and so on. The bad calls went both ways, so this is more of an observation of just how bad they were.

Perhaps the biggest indictment of how bad they were was the sheer number of replays needed because of plays they missed in real-time. Thankfully the officials didn’t decide the game because both teams played well, but they were dreadful all night long.

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  1. Re: from the article: “…Dabo whined his way out of a clear pass interference penalty…..”
    Yes, It sure looked like he did.
    Great job by a great, engaged head coach.
    For those here who would not recognize this, that’s what a winner sometimes does.

    I remember when ND used to have guys like that. Lou Holtz comes to mind. He knew that working the refs was part of the game, that it could be a decisive factor in buying the team a break in a nailbiter.

    Kelly is a checked out zombie.
    He only ever used to flip out at his players, but then he got the meds.

  2. I have never seen a more poorly officiated game. Good thing neither team was trying to go tempo because the officials constantly interrupted the flow! Hats off to the Irish!

      1. Yep couldn’t agree more. How many times over the last several years have we seen video review take place in college and NFL football games where the talking heads in the booth bring in their so called expert to explain why the call on the field should stand or be reversed. Then the decision comes in from the replay booth and makes the so called expert look foolish. Mckinley’s catch last night was a perfect example

  3. In my best movie voiceover: If you’re going to watch one ND football game, let it be this one!
    Top notch entertainment. No one can be more happy and relieved than NBC, though the video review delays were bordering on ratings sabotage.

    I feel good for Ian Book, notching not only a lifetime memory, but more impressively overcoming that brutal fumble at the end of Q3. One tough, gritty SOB. He threw the ball accurately, and took some real hits. Running him is not the best idea without an experienced backup, but it worked out last night.

    Also happy for Tommy Rees. Always respected him for never quitting after all the shi+ he’s been through at ND.

    I hope no one tests for ‘rona, after the field rush. Jeez Louise.

    Kelly still looked like sideline zombie, especially in OT. Swinney looked and acted like a coach.

    BC next week now has all the makings of a trap.

    1. All well put, “david.” But are we eating crow together for dinner tonight? We both were pretty skeptical ND could hang with Clemson, much less beat them.

      What surprises me is that they were far from flawless and somehow still won.

      I agree Dabo is heads and shoulders above BK. So, in any possible re-match I expect Dabo and his staff to make all the needed adjustments and use this loss to get his troops fired up. BK will continue his un-Rockne speeches.

      I don’t have any confidence BK will have his guys focused for BC. Smells like a trap game (again against BC!).

      GO IRISH!

      1. On the contrary, “david,” I’m less than convinced BK can stand success. We’ll have to see.

        But I’d love for ND to win a NC, regardless of the coach. I’m not a BK fan but I am a ND fan and he’s the coach. So if he succeeds the team succeeds.

        GO IRISH!

        BEAT BC!

  4. Have you seen an explanation for the picking up of the PI flag? Was that overturned on review? Do they even do that? It looked blatant to me and to Dungy, Tirico and the official in the booth.

  5. OK, “david,” it’s brunch-/ lunch time and I’m still waiting for you to join me for my hot sauce crow fricassee. It’s delicious, believe me, if you’re a true ND fan!

    Now, don’t pull a Trump and refuse to take defeat like a man, “david.” Just concede you lost already!

    As for the refs, they sucked. At the start of the game it was said this was the ACC’s best crew. That’s scary. I counted numerous Clemson O linemen with clear hands to the face against especially Hinish on the pass rush. What about the blatant facemask on K. Williams in OT? Didn’t end up hurting but it was egregious. Now, go back and watch the last snap of the game. After the Clemson QB throws the ball the on rushing ND DE takes two steps and just hits the passer. I was shocked and delighted no late hit or roughing the passer was called! That would’ve been a killer penalty. If someone knows how to get a hold of Lea or BK to have them warn their players to be more disciplined in clutch moments that would be great! Do that again in the POs or NC game and it could devastate an entire season. It was just bush league.

    While no one will be able to take away that last drive away from Book, we shouldn’t forget that his deficiencies in the red zone made it necessary in the first place. Thanks to Book alone, ND left anywhere from 11 to 14 points off the scoreboard. Since he doesn’t have Claypool to lob passes to anymore, his passes and reads inside the 10 are iffy at best.

    Kudos to Doerer. If he misses just one of those long FGs (not counting the 58-yarder), the Irish probably lose.

    Bramblett was once again inconsistent punting, but made a TD saving tackle on Doerer’s long miss against Etienne. If that goes back to the house, things could’ve gotten really ugly in the second half!


    BEAT BC!

    1. Reality check: I want ND to win. Win due to reliable, predictable excellence.
      By my book, Kelly now has signature 2 wins to his credit: Stanford 2012, and this.
      Two big wins….8 years apart.
      He was just given a 5 year extension on the strength of just ONE. 8 years ago. On a list with several brutal, vexxing, bonehead clunkers.

      There are several more big games standing in the way of a championship. We’ll talk.

      1. You might be too generous, “david,” since I don’t consider any win in 2012 a signature win.

        Time will tell what this win actually represents, but I’ll go with you and call it a signature win.

  6. The way I see it is Notredame is going to need 35 to 40 points or more to beat North Carolina, Clemson or if they win those games they will need that many points against most likely Alabama Ohio State. Not convinced they can beat Clemson again or Ohio State,Alabama in the playoffs if they get there but after watching Notredame last night I am somewhat more confident. I think a big key maybe if Notredame can get Lenzy healthy playing the way he did the second half of last year. Also would like to see Jordan Johnson ,Xaviar Watts get some touches. Even if its 5 to 7 times a game they may break a few big plays.

  7. That “backup” QB would be starting for most programs in college football. Like I have read many of places what more could Trevor Lawrence have done last night. The only play I can remember him missing was the wide open slant late in the fourth qtr. The game of football has changed some much with these elite QB’s, it doesn’t matter that they are 18, they have prepared for that moment and many are ready to excel the second they get on that college field. Huge win last night for the Irish.

  8. This divisional play has been enjoyable. I still think we go back to being an independent, but instead of going back too soon, maybe we could win the SEC next year and then become independent again. Might be fun.

  9. It’s hard to inmagine Lawerence putting up better numbers than his “backup” if ND and Clemson meet in the ACC title game.

    1. The difference between Lawrence and Uiagalelei is Lawrence will beat you with his legs. Many times last night where Uiagalelei was unable to take off and run because of his lack of speed. Clemson will be much tougher to beat in ACC title game with Lawrence at QB.

      1. Yes Jeff. I agree it will be tougher if Notredame makes it to the a cc championship game and have to play Clemson. Still a lot of football left to be played. It wont be easy. Boston College, North Carolina are good teams. One game at a time. Covid 19 is still out there and could change a lot of things see Trevor Lawrence. Notre Dame needs a healthy Braden Lenzy and if I’m Kelly I would give Jordan Johnson a look at playing time.

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