The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won their third straight game by delivering a rousing 35-14 victory over the fourth-ranked Clemson Tigers on Saturday night. Using a potent running game on offense and delivering solid defense throughout the contest, the final score wasn’t indicative of how the Irish dominated the contest.
From the outset, it was clear that the Irish held the upper hand. Clemson, which entered the game averaging 37.1 points per game, was unable to get anything going and ended up paying for their mistakes. The victory marks the first time this season that Notre Dame has a winning record at home, with one more chance to improve on that mark when the Irish host Boston College in two weeks.
Some of the key aspects of the win included:
Special Teams Magic
The first Notre Dame score of the night came courtesy of a unit that’s thrived this season under Irish Special Teams Coordinator Brian Mason. With Clemson backed up near their own end zone, Jordan Botelho broke through the Tigers’ line and tipped a Clemson punt into the waiting hands of Prince Kollie who romped into the end zone for the early 7-0 advantage.
Representing the sixth blocked punt for Notre Dame this season, the effort delivered a huge jolt of momentum that went on the sustain the Irish over the rest of the game. One indication of how well this department did is that the only time they came up short was on Blake Grupe’s missed 42-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter.
Defensive Squeeze Play
Unlike the shootout these two schools engaged in two years ago at Notre Dame, Saturday night’s clash emphasized defense. Most notably, the Irish set the tone in the first half by holding the Tigers scoreless and stopping them on all six of their drives. One of those drives stopped Clemson on downs, with four others forcing them to punt and the other ending the half.
The Tigers delivered some self-inflicted wounds on their first drive that quickly led to their ill-fated punt. Two holding penalties pushed them back to their own nine-yard line and saddled them with a second-and-26 that only ended up getting them to the 21-yard line. Though they ended the night with 281 yards of offense, 160 of that amount came after the Irish had taken a 28-0 lead.
Doing It on the Run
In all four of Notre Dame’s previous wins, the running game has been prioritized. That philosophy continued against Clemson and paid off handsomely as the Irish racked up 263 yards on the ground. The Tigers have been vulnerable to solid running games and Notre Dame exploited that flaw all evening.
The bulk of that work was offered by the sophomore tandem of Audric Estime and Logan Diggs. Estime once again showed his ability to bounce off blockers, finishing with 104 yards, second to Diggs’ 114 on the evening. On their final scoring drive of the night, the Irish ran 10 straight running plays to eat up nearly six minutes of clock and ironically capped it with a Drew Pyne scoring toss to Michael Mayer.
More of Benjamin Morrison
Entering this matchup, Notre Dame had a mere three interceptions for the entire season. That inability to come up with big plays had been an aggravating problem all year long. However, by the time they had this win, the Irish nearly matched that with two pickoffs, both of them by standout freshman defensive back Benjamin Morrison.
Morrison’s performance continued what’s been an outstanding first season and has laid the groundwork for a storied career with the Irish. His first pick came after a heavy rush by Isaiah Foskey forced Clemson reserve quarterback Cade Klubnick to rush a throw that was caught by Morrison. That led to a quick score and was the precursor to an even more dramatic interception when Morrison snagged a Tiger pass and raced 96 yards to give the Irish a 28-0 lead.
Notre Dame’s thriving running game allowed the Irish to chew up plenty of clock after the first quarter. Yet, Mother Nature pretty much pre-ordained that approach, due to the windy conditions for the game. As a result, Pyne threw the ball only 17 times, completing nine of those tosses for 85 yards and the touchdown pass to Mayer.
Such factors are part of the reality of November football and may come into play over Notre Dame’s next two contests. The Irish’s regular-season finale at Southern Cal on Nov. 26 may allow for Pyne to open things up again or perhaps not if the running game keeps rolling.
Notre Dame heads to Baltimore to renew its longstanding rivalry with Navy. This is ostensibly a home matchup for the Midshipmen since the contest will be played in Baltimore for the first time since 2008. However, the reality is that home or away, the Irish have dominated in this series,.with a record of 80-13-1. That includes nine victories in their last 10 meetings, including Notre Dame’s 34-6 win at home last season.