After struggling in the first half against Notre Dame’s offense, Clemson’s defense made adjustments and played better for the most part in the second half of Saturday night’s top-five matchup in South Bend despite being banged up and missing a handful of starters due to injury.
However, the defense was unable to get the stop it needed late in regulation, and the top-ranked Tigers failed to keep No. 4 Notre Dame off the scoreboard in the extra periods as the Fighting Irish pulled out a 47-40 double-overtime victory at Notre Dame Stadium.
After scoring 23 points and compiling 245 yards of offense in the first two quarters, Notre Dame managed only a field goal on its first five possessions of the second half. But the Irish offense stepped up down the stretch, going on a long touchdown drive to tie the game in the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter before scoring touchdowns on both of their possessions in overtime.
“First of all, congrats to Notre Dame. They played a heck of a game,” said Clemson linebacker Baylon Spector, who led the Clemson defense with seven total tackles, two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. “They made some plays. It comes down to a couple big plays there in the game, and right there at the end they made more plays than we did. So, congrats to them for a big win.”
Down by seven points at the 1:48 mark of the fourth quarter, Notre Dame gained possession of the ball at its own 9-yard line and then proceeded to march 91 yards down the field on eight plays for the game-tying touchdown with just 22 seconds left – a 4-yard pass from quarterback Ian Book to wide receiver Avery Davis on third-and-goal that evened the score at 33.
The score was set up by a 53-yard pass from Book to Davis that put Notre Dame at Clemson’s 4-yard line three plays earlier.
“Just lost leverage on the post (route),” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said of the explosive play. “Just a spot that you can’t lose leverage on. They stemmed us out and came back inside.”
Notre Dame found the end zone on each of its possessions in the two overtime periods courtesy of a pair of 3-yard touchdown rushes from running back Kyren Williams, the second of which served as the go-ahead score to start the second overtime.
Book completed all three of his passing attempts in overtime for 30 yards and finished the game 22-of-39 passing for 310 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for 64 yards on 14 carries in the contest.
“He’s very elusive, he’s a great player,” Spector said. “He made some plays with his feet tonight. We had trouble getting him down. But he’s a great player. Can move in the pocket, can make the throws that he needs to make.”
All told, Notre Dame racked up 519 total yards of offense and 22 first downs. The Irish converted 10 of their 19 third-down attempts, rushed for 209 yards and averaged 14.1 yards per completion.
Clemson’s defense was already without starting defensive tackle Tyler Davis and starting linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones entering Saturday’s game – and was especially thin in the secondary after losing starting safeties Nolan Turner and Lannden Zanders, as well as cornerback Andrew Booth, due to injuries at various junctures of the contest.
While the absence of several key players undoubtedly contributed to Clemson’s struggles on defense, especially on the long 53-yard pass that preceeded the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation, Swinney isn’t using that as an excuse for why his team lost.
“We were down. We lost Booth, we lost Nolan, we lost Zanders. So, we were pretty thin, and they made a nice play. You give them credit,” Swinney said. “We don’t have any excuses. We had every opportunity to win the game. The next guy’s got to be ready. But it was a great play by them.”
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