The last time Notre Dame made it to the College Football Playoffs two years ago, the Irish kept Clemson relatively at bay in the first quarter but had their doors blown off in the second quarter. By the time the bleeding stopped in the third quarter, the damage was done.
Notre Dame and Clemson were tied at 3 at the end of the first quarter two years ago in AT&T Stadium. Then Julian Love left the game momentarily while being evaluated for a head injury. In the blink of an eye, the Tigers ripped off 21 unanswered points – thanks in part to some ridiculous catches by Clemson’s star receivers.
With 2:00 left in the first half, the Irish trailed by just six points. When Brian Kelly delivered his half-time speech, his team was down 20.
Fast forward to the ACC Championship game a couple of weeks ago. Clemson led the Irish by just four points after the first quarter. That should have been closer, too, had it not been for a botched trip to the redzone that resulted in zero points after a Kyle Hamilton interception.
Clemson poured it on the Irish again in the second quarter, though. They outscored Notre Dame 17-0 to take an insurmountable 24-3 lead.
Two games that were close after the first quarter. Two games that were over by half-time. Clemson outscored Notre Dame a combined 37-0 in the second quarter of Notre Dame’s two lopsided losses to the Tigers.
The second halves of both Notre Dame – Clemson games were closer too. In 2018, Clemson only added one more score while keeping Notre Dame off the scoreboard. Two weeks ago, the second half score was just 10-7 Clemson.
Add all of this up, and the combined score of the two Notre Dame-Clemson games for quarters one, three, and four was 27-13. That’s still not great, but it’s not nearly as lopsided either.
For Notre Dame to have any chance against Alabama, they will need to avoid the 2nd quarter disasters that have been plaguing them in big games. Even last year in Ann Arbor, when the Irish laid an egg against the Wolverines, the second-quarter score was 14-0 Michigan.
Brian Kelly has talked a lot about complementary football this week. That applies to the second quarter as well since neither the Irish offense nor defense has fared well in the second stanza of recent big games. The offense stalled in the ACC Championship Game while lapses in the defense surrendered big plays to the high-powered Clemson offense. Alabama’s offense is just as potent – if not more so.
Offensively, the Irish cannot lay an egg in the second quarter either. They’ve had some success early in big games, even if they only produced a few field goals. The offense has stalled in the second quarter resulting in the Irish falling behind so much that the games got out of reach before half-time.
Notre Dame will, of course, need to play a complete 60 minutes of football on Friday to get to the fourth quarter with the game in reach, but how they play in the second quarter could be the difference if their performances in recent big games are any indication.