Clemson finally got a big win this season against 15th-ranked Notre Dame. The 31-24 victory was the Tigers’ first win against a ranked opponent this season. It was not perfect, but it was the most complete game for Clemson to this point in the season. A game like this was much needed after a frustrating week for the program. Many people were starting to question the state of the program with the 4-4 start. For at least the next week, Dabo Swinney’s team may have put some of those questions to rest.
Defense Makes It Difficult
The Clemson defense made a ton of plays all game long. The Tiger defense racked up six tackles for loss and three takeaways against Notre Dame’s offense. To start the game Audric Estime tried to get things going for the Irish offense. He ran the ball hard and did give the Tigers a bit of trouble on the ground. As the game got to the second half though, the Irish were down 24-9, causing them to go away from Estime and to the air more. Estime started the game with 14 rushes for 82 yards in the first half. By the end of the game he only had 17 rushes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Clemson’s defense gave Sam Hartman nothing in the passing game. Even with a few veteran players out, the Tigers’ defensive back group stepped up. They made it hard for the Notre Dame receivers to create any kind of space. The leading receiver for the Irish was Estime with four receptions for 33 yards. Chris Tyree also had four catches for 29 yards but had a rough day on both offense and special teams. Hartman would finish completing 13 of his 30 pass attempts for 146 yards and gave up two interceptions. His only touchdown of the day was a 26-yard touchdown run on a scramble play.
Someone who did have a great day was Jeremiah Trotter Jr. The linebacker was a game-wrecker on defense all day. Whenever Clemson needed a big stop Trotter was the one to make it happen. The best part was that he did it all over the field. He made stops in both the run and pass game. Trotter finished the game with 11 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and one interception which he returned for a touchdown. Trotter plays very well every week, but this game showed why he’s a highly-rated defensive draft prospect this year.
Ground Game Gets Going
This week the offensive play calling finally leaned more on the run game for the Tigers. Part of this could have been because Cade Klubnik came into the game banged up a bit. Regardless, it worked tremendously. Taking some of the control out of Klubnik’s hands and allowing Phil Mafah to go to work proved to be what the offense might have needed. Mafah, besides the fumble in the fourth quarter, had a career day. He ran the ball 36 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns. The Notre Dame defense could not stop Mafah.
The strong running game also helped to improve the passing game for the Tigers as well. Whenever the Irish started committing more heavily to the run game, the passing windows opened up wide. When Klubnik found them, he put the ball in the right spots making some great throws. Klubnik finished completing 13 of his 26 passes for 109 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The young quarterback showed a tremendous amount of heart as he played this game in which he was clearly not at 100 percent.
Sigh of Relief
After what was the best performance from his team this season thus far Swinney was fired up. It makes sense when he had to deal with people coming after his job and salary because of how the season has been going. It also had to be relieving for Swinney to see many of the problems that have worked against the Tigers this season go in their favor for once. Especially with the turnovers.
While they did still give a couple away, the Tigers did win the turnover battle. They took the ball away three times and gave it up twice. This game showed once again that when the Tigers are not the ones beating themselves in a game, they can still compete with the best teams in the country. They beat a top-15 team with about 10 key players out due to injury including Will Shipley. If the Tigers can build off of this game, they can silence some of the critics and give their fans something to look forward to in the years to come.