Clemson Put Notre Dame In Their Place In Rematch

The first time these two teams met in November, it was Notre Dame who set the standard of play. They scored on the first snap, they followed with another scoring drive, and then another and then another. They matched Clemson’s run of good play in the first half, taking a 23-13 halftime lead. (One less point than Clemson took to halftime yesterday.) One thing they did not do, which they had the chance to do, was bury the Tigers. They kicked field goals when they could have scored touchdowns. This kept Clemson in touch, and the Tigers, as they do, came around to matching Notre Dame and eventually took the lead.

Yesterday started in a similar way. The Irish took the lead again, this time with a field goal, and after a Kyle Hamilton interception, drove the ball to the Clemson five yard line, with a chance to go up 10-0 once again. Then they blinked. They couldn’t get the ball into the end zone, and compounded the issue by missing the field goal. Then after a long strike to Amari Rodgers, Notre Dame was driving again, but on 4th and 3 from the Clemson 28, they threw incomplete to a wide open Avery Davis. They blinked again. And Clemson, as they did in 2018, smelled blood in the water. They had a chance to bury Notre Dame and they took it. 17 unanswered points later, it was 24-3, and the Irish were dead in the water.

That’s the difference between Notre Dame and Clemson. Clemson can crush you in a blink, take your hopes and your dreams and squash them, and tell you about it along the way. Notre Dame does not have that level, not against a team like Clemson. (And let’s be clear, when I say like Clemson, I mean one of the two most dominant programs in college football over the last decade.) That’s currently Notre Dame’s place, as the Tigers reminded them in the ACC title game.

Explosiveness vs Execution

These two things aren’t mutually exclusive of course, football is by nature a game based on execution. But, Notre Dame is not, and has not been an overly explosive team offensively in 2020, which means the execution piece for them has to be on point. So, things like dropped passes, busts on first down runs, bad snaps that lead to five yard losses, and not maximizing red zone opportunities are magnified.

And yesterday showed why being explosive is a very good thing. Clemson scored four touchdowns yesterday, all outside of the red zone. Notre Dame reached the Clemson 30 four times, came away with one touchdown. They scored from areas of the field we reached, but could not score from. This is what makes them “elite” and what makes us a notch below. Relying on execution in games where you’ve got to score to win, against the best of the best defensive coordinators, is the toughest of roads.

Look at how Notre Dame scored the two regulation offensive touchdowns in the first matchup. A 65 yard touchdown run by Kyren Williams and a 53 yard pass to Avery Davis down to the Clemson four. Makes scoring a lot easier!

How To Solve This Problem

I’m not really into the “bridging the gap” question or state of the program stuff. Notre Dame beat the team it was said they could not beat, so that’s how close they are. If you want to use caveats about players who didn’t play, I’m not going to try and change your mind, feel how you want. (Vegas had them at six point favorites the first time, they still thought that Clemson team was pretty good.)

Part of this is luck. Kevin Austin broke his foot, Braden Lenzy kept pulling his hamstring. The explosive guys weren’t available, it is what it is. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact. They are forced to win these games without the explosive element you need to win these games.

Part of this is also using and developing the explosiveness they have that’s available to them. Chris Tyree is very fast, we saw this yesterday. He scored from just outside the red zone, and would have from much further away if he had to. He didn’t get a touch till the fourth quarter, when Notre Dame was down three scores. Not ok! Tyree has gotten work since the opener, 100 years ago. If he wasn’t ready enough to be trusted in a game like this, whose fault is that? That trigger has to be pulled.

In the end, we learned what we suspected before the season and wished wasn’t true. There are three elite football programs in college football, and Notre Dame doesn’t appear to be one of them, at least not when trophies are on the line. They surprised us once this year, maybe they will again against a tsunami of five star cyborgs, but for now, they’ve been shown their place, one more time.

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  1. Clemson “put ND in its place” alright.
    And then the committee put them in the playoff anyway.
    Because college football is a corrupt, billion dollar, tax-free, corrupt business.
    Did I mention it’s corrupt?

  2. I am an Irish fan. Back in the day, Notre Dame got the type of recruits we see going to Alabama, Clemson. Georgia. Notre Dame beat Clemson in November and failed yo do the same in December. Georgia has been trying for years, with an elite team to beat Bama and though beat Notre Dame, it wasn’t a walk in the park. For years, the complaint was ND needs to join a conference. COVID19 made that happen. They won all the games they played. Clemson didn’t. Stop hating. These are people’s children you guys are trying to demean and belittle. Nobody wants to play Alabama, but they can be beat. We will not know until the game is played.
    From an Alabama girl and Troy State undergraduate alumni and a UAB graduate and post graduate alumni

  3. Ian Book can’t hold the ball; that is his biggest weakness. He never once tried to throw it up or deep to outside receivers with huge height advantages & man to man coverage all night. Against great defenses you have to take what they give you & the only thing they were giving ND was that matchup as they stacked the box all game. I’ll take my chances as a QB all night long again with the outside height advantage & man to man coverage until they make the adjustment. ND plays right into the elite teams defensive schemes by trying to win in the trenches but it’s never going to happen when they bring more than you can block. The answer is in the passing game to loosen the defense up & it absolutely amazes me that Brian Kelly hasn’t figured it out yet!

  4. I’m a huge ND fan. Huge. But they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs and I won’t be watching when Alabama embarrasses them.

  5. Clemson down the best player in the country and three defensive starters, including Skalski who was freakin everywhere Saturday evening is how we were able to barely win. Lawrence’s running ability opened up everything on their offense and that’s the difference between the other kid that played and a huge difference it was. Etienne was able to run because of Lawrence being a threat. And defensively, three starters out is huge and clearly made the world of difference as we were shut the f down.

    Last but not least, coaching. Nobody would ever say Kelly, Lea, and Rees would even come close to matching up with Dabo, Venables, and whoever their O Coordinator is who is pretty damn good (see OSU game last year). No creativity on offense. Where were all the crossing routes last night that have been so effective all season, especially against a blitz happy LB group like Clemson. Would have been perfect. Rees is still new to this but my goodness man. Take what the defense gives ya.

  6. Xactly, Greg
    So what’s ur prediction when ND plays Alabama next in Texas? My issue is ND didn’t maximize their opportunities with O’ scheme. ND is not dominant vs. the Big 3 mentioned to be predictable. To me, the O’ game plan looked like “see if Book can escape the pressure!”
    Look for Bama to have the same D’ game plan as Clemson.

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