Clemson hangs on after late fumble for 31-23 win over No. 15 Notre Dame

Notre Dame got three first downs over its final six possessions

Clemson got the big win it’s been looking for all season on Saturday.

The Tigers jumped out to a 24-9 halftime lead on No. 15 Notre Dame and then stifled the Notre Dame offense in the second half after the Irish cut the lead to eight for a 31-23 win.

It looked like Clemson was going to simply run out the clock after Sam Hartman airmailed a pass over the middle that was intercepted with 1:58 to go.

However, RB Phil Mafah fumbled the ball on second down and gave the ball back to the Irish for another chance at a game-tying TD and two-point conversion. But Notre Dame couldn’t get past midfield and fourth-down pressure on Hartman caused an incomplete pass that gave the ball back to Clemson.

Notre Dame got back into the game with two touchdowns over the first nine minutes of the third quarter. A bad third-down interception by Clemson QB Cade Klubnik was returned by Notre Dame safety Xavier Watts to the 2 yard-line and the Irish got a TD a play later from Audric Estime.

Clemson (5-4, 2-4 ACC) responded with a TD drive of its own to get the lead back to 15, but Notre Dame took just 2:03 to score when Sam Hartman rushed for a 26-yard TD.

The game became a punt fest after that. The teams traded punts on nine consecutive drives after Hartman’s TD before Hartman's interception.

“They were awesome all day," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told ESPN of his team's defense after the game. "I think [Notre Dame] had like four or five punts in a row."

Swinney then went on to make a bold statement after a week where he vociferously defended himself and what Clemson has done in his tenure to a caller during his weekly radio show.

“I know we’re down and everybody’s throwing dirt on us but if Clemson’s a stock you better buy all you freaking can buy right now," Swinney said during his on-field interview.

CLEMSON, SOUTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 4: Phil Mafah #7 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates with Beaux Collins #80 of the Clemson Tigers after scoring a touchdown against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Memorial Stadium on November 4, 2023 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)
Clemson held Notre Dame to just three first downs over the Irish's last six possessions. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)

Clemson relies on run game

The fumble ran the risk of ruining what had been a stellar day for Mafah as he took over lead rusher duties for the sidelined Will Shipley. Clemson gave the ball to Mafah 36 times and he rushed for 186 yards and two scores. The Tigers clearly saw something they liked against Notre Dame’s front seven as the Tigers rushed 43 times to just 26 passes.

QB Cade Klubnik completed just 13 of his passing attempts for 109 yards and threw a TD and an interception. The Tigers were not called for a penalty at all during the game. It was the first time Clemson made it through an entire game without being penalized since the 1952 Gator Bowl.

The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Tigers as they prepare to face Georgia Tech in Week 11 before a big game against North Carolina in Week 12.

Notre Dame likely falls out of New Year’s Six picture

The loss drops Notre Dame to 7-3 overall ahead of a bye week and games remaining against Wake Forest and Stanford. While the Irish will be heavily favored to finish the season at 9-3, that may not be enough for Notre Dame to be in the New Year’s Six mix.

The Irish will probably fall five spots or so in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings and simply have too much ground to make up on the teams ahead of them to get to a New Year’s Six Bowl thanks to the lack of a signature victory. Notre Dame’s losses have been to Clemson, Ohio State and Louisville, while the team’s best wins have been over USC and Duke.