With the biting wind howling throughout the early November evening and the goal posts swaying forebodingly – as if to say they just might be toppled down by the wind or a field-storming – the Irish’s three-headed dragon, as another Irish site called the Notre Dame running back combination of Audric Estime, Logan Diggs, and Chris Tyree, burned the Clemson defense Saturday.
Notre Dame was the more physical team, and the Irish dominated in the trenches. The offensive line repeatedly pushed Clemson’s NFL-bound defensive line off the line of scrimmage by several yards and opened up large holes for the Irish running back trio.
Estime, Diggs, and Tyree combined for 242 rushing yards against the nation’s #7 rush defense. Quarterback Drew Pyne also ran for 21 yards. Clemson defense had given up 89.7 rushing yards per game prior to Saturday’s domination by the Irish. However, that average rose by 19 due to Notre Dame’s performance.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was blunt in assessing the Irish versus his team:
“That was an ass-kicking. Period,” Swinney said. “I mean, that’s what it is. Just flat-out got our tails handed to us.
“They absolutely dominated us in every facet of football, starting with coaching, blocking, tackling, you name it,” he said. “It is what it is. Defensively, we couldn’t stop the run, period. Field position was a real battle all night. At the end of the day, they were the more physical team. They were the more disciplined team. We had stupid penalties. As a result, they were a better-coached team.”
Irish head coach Marcus Freeman preached the need to exude confidence, all week leading up to the Clemson matchup, as the leader of the Irish. He has preached that wins will yield even more confidence for his team, but even he was surprised by how much the Irish were able to dominate the country’s #4 team, a team with the longest winning streak in the country at 14 games.
“We didn’t foresee this game going this way,” Freeman said. ’“I’m happy the kids continue to believe in what we’re doing. Today was one of those special moments.”
Freeman enjoyed the victory on the field with his players and fans, who stormed the field for the second time in three years against a top 5 Clemson squad, though this time, the crowd on the field was much larger compared to 2020’s covid year. The entire field was covered with fans standing and jumping shoulder-to-shoulder. Yet, Freeman admitted he would have liked to celebrate a bit longer before security led him away, up the tunnel, through a throng of students and supporters.
Freeman pumped his fist three times, then high-fived fans before heading to the locker room.
NBC tried to interview freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison, one of the game’s heroes, with his two picks; one returned 96 yards for a touchdown. Still, the crowd on the field was so loud and tight against the makeshift studio that the reporters had to wait for the excitement to calm down.
Throughout all the mayhem, Morrison looked his usual calm, cool, and collected. In the postgame interview, he corrected a reporter that he wasn’t cocky but confident.
“Personally, I wouldn’t say cocky. I’d say very confident, because I know the player that I can be and who God has called me to be,” Morrison said.
The kid is 18 years old, playing beyond his years and wiser and more humble beyond that.
In a game that featured a Jordan Botelho blocked punt returned for a touchdown by Prince Kollie and a 17-yard touchdown catch by tight end Michael Mayer to break Notre Dame’s all-time touchdown reception career record for a tight end, in a game where special teams and defense dominated (the Irish had four sacks of Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei), perhaps no unit was more dominant than the Irish offensive line or the three-headed dragon it sprang to dominance.
“They [the offensive line] were unbelievable tonight. Kudos to them, kudos to coach Harry [Hiestand],” Diggs said.
“They know how much is on the line this weekend… They went out and proved they’re one of the best offensive lines in the country.”
When asked when he knew they could dominate Clemson, Diggs said:
“I would say maybe after my third or fourth carry. When you get the ball, and you see them pushing them back, and you see them holes open, a lot of holes… we ran through untouched.”
The Irish have moved to #20 in the AP poll. In his post-game comments, Freeman noted the importance of savoring this victory yet in learning the sweetness of victory and what victory requires the Irish to learn from it just as his team learns from losses.
“This is a game that I’ll never forget,” he said. “This is a special win for me and for this football program.”
Why tonight for this group, he was asked.
“I wish I could explain exactly how this season has gone. You can’t. It’s never how you foresee it going on the front end. I’m happy that the kids continued to believe in what we’re doing. Today was one of those special moments. We’re going to have difficult moments. That’s part of this growth that we’re trying to achieve. Today was a day it all came together,” Freeman said.
“I think the thing I’ve learned is that it’s never how we foresee it on the front end. You can paint a beautiful picture. You can make this thing the way you want as long as you continue. This is a spiritual school. We can’t just pray that things are magically going to change. We pray. But you have to put in the work, and you have to be very intentional in saying we’re not just trusting the process. We have to fix it. We have to attach the deficiencies that we have, and that’s going to be the challenge, even after today.”
As the Irish try to grow from this season-defining win and to build on it, Freeman says they must raise their standards for themselves and their expectations.
“Are we still willing to take a hard look at ourselves and say how can I improve as an individual, after a win against a top 5 program, can we still be selfless?” he asked.
“We have a bunch of kids that want to be national champions and first-round picks, but they’re selfless. They understand the bigger picture.”
This resilient 2022 Irish team is still painting that bigger picture, but as Freeman said, the Irish can paint it.