This one was a tough one to write. Every week I write about 5 things I liked and didn’t like from that week’s game in separate columns. Today it was tough to find five things I liked in Notre Dame’s blowout loss to Clemson yesterday afternoon in the Cotton Bowl, but as they say, the show must go on. Despite the disappointing end to the season, there are always some positives that can be found so here are some from yesterday.
1. The tailgate thrown by NDTex of Her Loyal Sons
The first and most obvious was the tailgate thrown by @ndtex of Her Loyal Sons. Ryan put together a world class tailgate that just so happened to be right next to the tailgate of Mike Golic Jr. There was so much food and beverages there that I am pretty sure Tex has his beer for the NFL playoffs all set already.
Fans from all over came out to the tailgate and it was awesome getting a chance to meet so many new Notre Dame fans. Like a lot of trips for big Notre Dame games, the tailgate really was the highlight of the day unfortunately. It also got me thinking that it is about time we do another UHND tailgate. It’s been far too many years since we last tried to organize anything official. We’ll try to get something set up for next season.
2. Alohi Gilman’s 19 tackles
The Notre Dame defense was exploited in the 2nd quarter when it lost Julian Love. Clemson scored three touchdowns with Love on the sidelines as the Irish scrambled to adjust without their All-American corner. That span which ripped open the game clouded the performance of some on defense including safety Alohi Gilman.
Gilman racked up an insane 19 tackles on Saturday afternoon. He was victimized for one of those Clemson touchdowns but he was also tasked with covering Justyn Ross one on one in the slot on that play. That is an assignment that few, if any safeties in college football will come out on top off.
Gilman helped solidify the safety position for Notre Dame along with Jalen Elliott who went from a guy that everyone thought would be replaced to a guy known for making big plays this year. It will be interesting to see what Notre Dame does at safety next year with Gilman and Coleman with so much really good young talent behind them with Derrik Allen, Houston Griffith, and Kyle Hamilton. Yesterday though, Gilman left everything on the field for the Irish defense.
3. Plays made by Notre Dame’s reserve defensive lineman
A couple reserve defensive linemen made some big plays for Notre Dame yesterday too and that is a great sign for the future. Ade Ogundeji recorded a big sack when the game was still close and Jayson Ademilola contributed a tackle for loss in a reserve role as well. If Notre Dame wants to get back to this game and put up a better showing, they are going to need a deeper defensive line to do it.
Ogundeji is a really interesting player for 2019 since he still has two years of eligibility left. His sack yesterday was the first full sack of his career (he had 0.5 against Wake Forest). When he committed to Notre Dame he was extremely raw and still learning football. It is very possible that his best football is still very much ahead of him and that he could be a really key kog in the Notre Dame defensive line rotation next year.
Ademilola is likely going to be a starter for the Irish next year, taking over for Jerry Tillery. He flashed at times throughout the season and was solid as his backup yesterday.
4. Jonathan Bonner had maybe the best game of his career
While the reserve linemen flashed for the Irish, the starters were actually pretty quiet. Not Jonathan Bonner though. When Notre Dame had success early in containing the Clemson run game, a lot of it had to do with Bonner plugging away at the nose tackle position and being disruptive.
Earlier this year I wrote that Notre Dame needed some more out of Bonner after a slow start to his 5th year and he certainly ended his career on a high note for Notre Dame. Julian Okwara had a couple good plays, Khalid Kareem too. Jerry Tillery was largely ineffective in the last game of his career and added a boneheaded late hit. Bonner though quietly made plays for the Irish throughout the contest. If the entire defensive line played like Bonner did on Saturday, Clemson would not have scored 30 points.
5. The progress made by this team over the last year
It’s really hard to look to positively on a blowout loss like yesterday’s but more progress has been made in the rebuilding of Notre Dame under Brian Kelly in his “second stint”. Undefeated regular seasons are not common in college football. Yes, it was abundantly clear that there still is a large gap between Notre Dame and the Clemson and Alabamas of the world, but guess what? That gap exists between them and almost every other team as well.
Notre Dame was 4-8 two years ago but competed in the College Football Playoffs yesterday. A lot of work still has to be done. Notre Dame absolutely needs better play from the quarterback and has to upgrade its athleticism at wide receiver, but the gap in defensive talent is not near what it was six years ago when the Irish got shell-shocked in Miami in the Title game.
The Irish have a lot to figure out this off-season if they want to build on this year and improve in 2019, but the progress made this year should not be lost on anyone – even after an embarrassing 30-3 performance that only feeds the narrative of Notre Dame not belonging in the playoffs in the first place.