5 instant takeaways as Notre Dame falls at Clemson

Despite having two losses by early October, Notre Dame still had plenty ahead of them.  The Irish had a potential 10-win regular season still on the table as well as a chance to earn a major bowl victory for the first time in 30 years.

After Saturday’s 31-23 loss at Clemson, that’s all done.  Notre Dame struggled offensively yet again, a trend that has been the norm for the Fighting Irish against good competition.

What went wrong for Notre Dame in the loss and where do they go from here?  We look to answer those questions and more in our instant takeaways below.

Hartman Struggles Again

Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

There are other factors that we’ll get to but let’s make something perfectly clear.  Sam Hartman again struggled in a major way Saturday as Notre Dame’s offense was rather offensive.

Hartman completed just 13 of 30 passes for 146 yards, an average of fewer than 5 yards per attempt.  He was picked off twice – once early in a return for a touchdown by Clemson that stretched the lead to 24-6 and the other late in what appeared to end the game before a Clemson fumble.

Hartman was brought to Notre Dame from Wake Forest with the hope he’d turn into a Heisman Trophy candidate and the Irish would compete for a College Football Playoff spot.  Instead, in their three losses this year Hartman has struggled.

Regardless of talent around him, specifically at receiver, great quarterbacks overcome this significantly more than Hartman has.

Entire Offensive Issues

Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to single out Sam Hartman’s rough game and put it on the quarterback but Notre Dame’s offense has bigger issues than just the signal caller.  Saturday saw more of what has driven Notre Dame fans crazy in 2023 – hey, another failure to execute a screen pass just happened as I was typing this!

That ultimately falls on the man coordinating the offense, Gerad Parker.  Perhaps expectations were set a bit too high this off-season for this offense, but this has been a unit that has struggled mightily against almost any semi-respectable defense in front of it.

Notre Dame is a team that is built on being more physical than other teams.  So when then in the second half did…

Audric Estime 3 Second Half Carries

Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The passing game wasn’t working whatsoever for Notre Dame on Saturday.  I get that urgency became more of a thing after going down by 18-points, but the majority of the second half was played with Notre Dame being within one score of Clemson.

Why then did Audric Estime only get three carries in the second half?  He’s supposed to be one of the most physical backs in the country and get stronger as the game goes on.  Clemson has a great defensive front, I get and respect that.  However, Estime was again Notre Dame’s best offense in the first half yet almost entirely forgotten about in the second.

Can’t do it.

10 Points Given Away

Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Going on the road to Clemson was going to be hard enough even if the Tigers were just 4-4.  We knew Notre Dame’s offense wasn’t going to be good enough to score anywhere near at will against Clemson’s defense, but it couldn’t give points away itself.

Chris Tyree lost a punt in the sun that wound up being muffed and recovered by Clemson.  That was three points when the Notre Dame defense had already gotten them off the field.

Hartman also threw a pick-six to Jeremiah Trotter that stretched the Clemson lead to 24-6 in the second quarter.  The game certainly wasn’t over at this point but my word did it largely feel like it was.

Felt Like 2015 Game

 Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Falling behind 24-6 it felt a bit like Notre Dame’s last trip to Clemson which occurred back in 2015.  Notre Dame looked lost offensively early, shot themselves in the foot multiple times, and had to spend the entire second half trying to mount a comeback.

It was a day that Notre Dame could have taken a step towards knocking down one of college football’s recent elites and won in a tough road setting.  Instead it ended in a day that again has Notre Dame realizing it’s a lot more than just a quarterback or one or two plays from being anywhere near where it ultimately wants to go.

Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire