There would be no Clemsoning on this night.
On a rainy night at Memorial Stadium, the Tigers withstood a furious Notre Dame comeback to hold on to a 24-22 win – barely. No. 6 Notre Dame scored with seven seconds remaining, but Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer was stuffed on a game-tying two-point conversion attempt to seal an enormous victory for the 12th-ranked Tigers.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson didn't have his best game (11-of-22, 97 yards), but the steady sophomore tossed two touchdown passes and racked up 93 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Clemson got off to a fast start, jumping out to a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter, both on Watson touchdown passes – one to Jordan Leggett, another to Artavis Scott. Meanwhile, the Clemson defense would not allow Notre Dame to establish any sort of rhythm offensively.
The Irish could only muster a 46-yard Justin Yoon field goal, and went into halftime trailing 14-3.
Things got worse for Notre Dame to start the second half. C.J. Sanders fumbled the third quarter’s opening kickoff to set up a 21-yard Watson TD run to give the Tigers a commanding 21-3 lead.
Both teams clamped down defensively for the rest of the third, but the Irish were finally able to reel off an explosive play early in the fourth when Kizer hit halfback C.J. Prosise out of the backfield for a 56-yard score.
Irish coach Brian Kelly opted to go for two but failed, making Clemson’s lead 21-9.
Clemson responded on its next drive via a 35-yard field goal from Greg Huegel, but Notre Dame all of a sudden found ways to get the ball to its array of playmakers. It took just four plays and 1:53 for the Irish to reach the end zone once again, this time on a three-yard Kizer run to cut Clemson’s lead to 24-16.
Clemson went into kill-the-clock mode on its next drive, but it went nowhere and the Tigers punted it back to the Irish with plenty of time remaining.
Just when it looked like the Irish were ready to score again, Kizer made a big mistake by throwing a boneheaded interception to B.J. Goodson. But again, the Tigers offense could not do a thing to take time off the clock and Notre Dame regained possession yet again with 4:29 to go.
Notre Dame quickly progressed to the Clemson 12-yard line with Kizer hitting Chris Brown, Torii Hunter Jr. and Will Fuller for big gains, but a turnover doomed the Irish yet again. This time, Kizer hit Brown in stride, but he fumbled on a big hit inside the five-yard line, allowing Clemson to regain possession.
The Tigers’ offense had yet another shot to run out the clock, but the Irish defense stiffened yet again and forced a third straight three-and-out to give Notre Dame one last chance from the Clemson 32 with 1:05 to go.
This time the Irish made Clemson pay as Kizer hit Hunter on a one-yard TD to cut the lead to 24-22 with just seven seconds to play. It all came down to an Irish two-point attempt – an attempt that failed.
The win is one of the biggest in Dabo Swinney’s tenure leading the Clemson program. The Tigers were coming off a lackluster performance against Louisville and had been plagued by inconsistent plays in big games in recent years, but Swinney’s group came to play this time around.
The Tigers came into the game ranked No. 12 – a ranking that will undoubtedly rise after knocking off the sixth-ranked Irish. More importantly, the win is a huge résumé boost for a Tigers team looking for a College Football Playoff berth.
A tricky matchup against a struggling Georgia Tech is next on the schedule for Clemson, but Florida State's Nov. 7 trip to Death Valley looks like it could have enormous playoff implications for the ACC.
And while the loss stings for Notre Dame, it’s too early to write off the team’s CFP chances. ND shook off a poor first half to give itself chances to pull out a win, but it just did not happen. The injury-plagued Irish played a tough game in a raucous environment and have a few more chances (USC, Stanford) to boost their résumé for the committee.
For more Clemson news, visit TigerIllustrated.com.
For more Notre Dame news, visit BlueAndGold.com.
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