Sometimes this column is tough to write, and when it is, it’s fantastic. It’s hard to write when Notre Dame plays really well or does something really extraordinary. Last weekend, Notre Dame did both in upsetting #1 ranked Clemson in the House that Rockne built. There was so much to like in it that I renamed this week’s post to 10 things I loved about the game. In that same spirit, I’m not calling this one things I didn’t like but instead just things I didn’t love about the epic win.
Red zone offense
The biggest problem for the Notre Dame offense on Saturday was not maximizing their trips into the redzone. The Irish were 5 of 6 in their trips inside the Clemson 20, but six total trips resulted in a total of 27 points (three TDs, two FGs). That left 15 potential points on the field and could have been the difference in the game had it not been for Ian Book’s late-game heroics.
The most frustrating aspect of those redzone failures was they were almost all exclusively self-inflicted wounds.
- A false start in 4th and goal from the one forced a field goal attempt
- A dropped pass forced another field goal instead of a touchdown
- A fumble into the endzone resulted in zero points for one of those trips.
Those are all mistakes that Notre Dame was fortunate to overcome against an opponent like Clemson. Generally, in a game like this, this is where we bemoan all the missed opportunities as the reason for a loss. Not this time, though. Luckily for Notre Dame, Clemson also had to settle for field goals on two of their trips into the red-zone.
The redzone has given Notre Dame issues this year, which is surprising since Notre Dame’s tall receivers should allow them to maximize their redzone trips. If there is one area of improvement needed from the offense out of this game, it’s here.
Officials picking up that pass interference because Dabo whined about it
I still can’t believe that the referees picked up that pass interference penalty on Clemson late in the game. The Clemson defender blatantly went through the back of Bennett Skowronek early, and the official nearby immediately threw the flag. But then Dabo Swinney threw a fit as the play happened in front of him. Dabo’s tantrum was effective in getting the ACC officials to pick up the flag.
Some bad calls went against both teams on Saturday – this crew was absolutely brutal. But they actually got this call right on the field – one of the few times they did – and then they picked it up big Swinney threw a fit.
Kudos to Brian Kelly’s subtle troll on Monday when asked about them picking up the flag. Kelly made a comment about someone with a better view overturning the call.
Still incredible that that picked up that flag in that moment.
Big plays from the Clemson passing attack
Clemson’s wide receivers made several big plays on Saturday night, and they weren’t doing it with double moves or exotic route concepts. They were simply running past the Irish secondary with standard routes and getting the Notre Dame corners twisted and turned around.
D.J. Uiagalelei uncorked a couple of deep passes to his talented receivers after they burnt the Irish secondary. Cornell Powell had a pair of 50+ yard gains, and Amari Rodgers added a 35 yarder. And Powell was considered to be more of Clemson’s “possession” receiver.
Clemson ended up passing for 439 yards on the night. Luckily it didn’t bite Notre Dame in the rear too much since the Irish defense was so strong against the run. Clemson ran for a paltry 34 yards as a team. That stat still amazes me from Saturday night.
Lack of a pass rush with the front four
Notre Dame couldn’t generate much pressure with the front four on Saturday, and they couldn’t blitz much since the secondary was getting burnt, and they couldn’t risk more big plays. It wasn’t a great combination, but it is a scenario that could have been avoided if the front four was able to generate more pressure on the night.
Thankfully the pass rush came alive right when it was needed most – double overtime – but until that point, it was relatively non-existent. Notre Dame had 0 sacks in regulation and the first OT. Then they got back to back sacks to start 2OT.
With the talent and depth Notre Dame has along the defensive line, it was surprising to see them get so little pressure – even against a front as talented as Clemson’s. The front four needs to generate more pressure this weekend to prevent Phil Jurkovec from having a game similar to Uiagalelei.
Notre Dame’s 3rd quarter
Notre Dame held a 13 point lead at one point in the second quarter, but the game was tied by the end of the third. Clemson came out and kicked a field on the opening drive of the half, which the Irish followed up with a three and out. Clemson got the ball back and ended up tying the game. The exact scenario that Notre Dame needed to avoid happened.
Compounding matters was Ian Book’s fumble into the endzone after Clemson tied it. The Notre Dame defense stepped up big time and forced a three and out on Clemson’s ensuing drive, but that stretch could have lost the game for Notre Dame.
And that’s it. That’s all I could come up with this week since it’s pretty damn awesome that Notre Dame beat the #1 team in the country last weekend. It has been a long time coming for Notre Dame and is well derived for their entire staff and roster.