SHORT-HANDED NO.1 CLEMSON LOSES DOUBLE-OVERTIME HEARTBREAKER AT NO.4 NOTRE DAME, ENDING HISTORIC WIN STREAKS
- 2020-11-08 11:52:02
No.1 Clemson at No.4 Notre Dame was billed as an epic showdown--the highest-ranked matchup in ACC history--and boy, did the game live up to the hype. The Tigers hadn't played an overtime game since they beat NC State in 2016, and this one would go to double-overtime before it was decided. Dabo and the Tigers have won so many of these epic thrillers that it almost seemed like watching a work of fiction when the final score read 47-40 in Notre Dame's favor. Of course, the Tigers came into the game missing more key players than any other time in the Dabo Swinney era, including former Heisman front-runner Trevor Lawrence, who was recovering from COVID. However, they still overcame several mistakes to lead by 7 with 2 minutes remaining in regulation. The Tigers lost even more starters during the game, including Zanders, Bockhorst and Mascoll, and they just ran out of gas in overtime. The Tigers had to play from behind the entire game for the second straight week, trailing by 13 in the first half. They rallied to score 13 unanswered, tying the game in the 3rd quarter, and then took their first lead of the game on a Travis Etienne touchdown to go ahead 7 points with 3:33 left in regulation. The Tigers' defense forced a turnover on downs, and it looked for all the world that the Tigers would escape with yet another one-score win. They were an astonishing 27-4 in one-score games since 2011! The Tigers had the game all but won with a 7-point lead and the ball with just over 2 minutes left, but they played conservative, trying to run clock, and did a horrendous job of doing so. Just 15 seconds ran off the clock in 3 plays, and Notre Dame was only forced to use one timeout in order to get the ball back with just under 2 minutes left. Despite an outstanding punt by Spiers to the 9-yard line, Ian Book and the Irish had all the time they would need to go 91 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 22 seconds left. The Tigers' defense had simply run out of gas at that point. Give Notre Dame credit for showing a lot of fight and heart, but the Tigers would have won that game by 30 with all their players, or even Trevor and half of the other players they were missing.
I wrote in my preview that I was concerned about the absence of run-stuffers Tyler Davis and James Skalski in the middle of the defense against perhaps the best offensive line in the nation, and they were missed for sure. The Tigers gave up 5 rushes of 12 yards or more, including a 65-yard TD run by Williams on the second play from scrimmage. They allowed 207 rushing yards, and the runs by Notre Dame at the end of the game were critical. I also wrote about Ian Book's ability to scramble, either to run for big gains or find an open receiver, and he did that all night long. It was probably the biggest key to Notre Dame's offensive success. Having said that, bear in mind that with a defense decimated by injuries, Venables and the Tigers still just allowed 19 points on the road (7 points came on Etienne's fumble) until the final 2 minutes of regulation. Actually, it was 16 if you consider that the other fumble gave the Irish the ball in field goal range. That is pretty impressive in my book! In today's era of college football, good offenses are going to score points. Look at Alabama and Georgia, each allowing over 50 points in games this season! It's painful to look at that 47 points, thanks to a TD in the final 2 minutes and 2 TD's in overtime, and it will skew the Tigers' ranking for points allowed. They came into the game allowing just 13 points per game and, again, allowed just 16 with 2 minutes left in regulation. The strip of Book by Jake Venables and recovery by Spector in the end zone looked like it was going to save the game for the Tigers, but they came up just one stop short.
Offensively, DJ showed tremendous poise and talent for the second straight week under enormous pressure. He wasn't Trevor Lawrence, and he missed some big throws, but he also made some sensational plays and gave the Tigers a 7-point lead with 3:33 left. It's hard to ask for more than that from a true freshman making his second start, and he had no control over the way the final possession of regulation was handled. He did take a bad sack on that final possession in double-overtime, but it's hard to hold that against him. Davis Allen also dropped a pass that would have given them a chance on that final 4th down. DJ was 29-44 for 439 yards, and for the second straight game, he had 2 TD passes and a rushing TD. Just as impressively, he continued to protect the football. For the second straight game, Travis gave the opponent 7 points on a fumble, but the true freshman quarterback didn't turn the ball over once. How ironic is that?
Speaking of Travis, it was obviously a rough game for him--probably the worst of his career--and that was one of the most difficult things to swallow about this game. Travis willed his way to a couple big runs and the go-ahead touchdown at the end of regulation, but he finished with just 28 yards on 18 carries. That's 1.6 yards per carry for a guy that averages 7.5 in his career! That's not all on Travis, of course. Notre Dame was run blitzing and loading the box to stop the run just like Boston College did, and the offensive line had a hard time getting push and opening running lanes. The Tigers were outstanding on 3rd and long last week, but they were terrible on 3rd and short against Notre Dame. The Tigers were just 4-15 on 3rd down and 2-6 on 3rd and short! Travis made some plays in the passing game once again, recording 8 catches for 57 yards, but he had 140 reception yards last week and 264 all-purpose.
On the bright side, the Tigers' special teams continued to shine. Potter was a clutch 4-4, including makes from 45 and 46. For the third straight game, he gave the Tigers some much-needed momentum with a field goal right before halftime. For the second straight week, Spiers stuck a punt inside the 10-yard line with less than 2 minutes left, giving the defense a chance to hold the lead for a win.
Considering all the mistakes made by the Tigers and how poorly they played in some areas--let alone all the key starters that were missing--it's remarkable to me that they had a 7-point lead and the ball with 2 minutes left, on the road against the No.4 team in the country! Again, the Tigers would have blown Notre Dame out, just like they did in the 2018 Cotton Bowl, had it not been for all the players missing. In my opinion, the Tigers should remain No.1 after that performance even though I know they won't. I am as confident as ever that Clemson is the best team in the nation, and if the Tigers can get healthy, they will win another national title. Imagine adding to last night's team: Trevor Lawrence, Frank Ladson, Joseph Ngata, Tyler Davis, James Skalski, Mike Jones, Xavier Thomas and (maybe) Justin Foster! Those are all first and second-team All-ACC players, for Pete's sake!
The most frustrating thing to me about last night's fluke loss is that the No.1 ranking and several historic win streaks went out the window. The Tigers' 50-game Saturday win streak, 39-game non-playoff streak and 28-game ACC win streak all come to an end. Their only 2 non-playoff losses since 2016 have come without their starting quarterback, and both were one-score losses on the road! The last, of course, being at Syracuse on Friday the 13th in 2017. The Tigers still haven't lost a non-playoff game with their starting quarterback since 2016! They are now 27-5 in one-score games since 2011.
Thank goodness, the Tigers have a much-needed bye next week so they can get some guys healthy and get Trevor Lawrence back for the FSU game in Tallahassee two weeks from today. Due to the bye, we'll have our teleconference with Dabo on Monday evening instead of Sunday, so be sure to check back for updates on all the injured Tigers. Our post-game interviews and notes are below!
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