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.