Despite playing without team leaders on both sides of the ball, Clemson entered the game’s final minutes holding a slim lead at 4th-ranked Notre Dame. But the injuries continued to mount as the night wore on and the Irish leaned on the Tigers’ short-handed defense until it finally broke in the second session of overtime as Notre Dame knocked off top-ranked Clemson 47-40, Saturday in South Bend.
The Tigers entered the game without several starters: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, defensive tackle Tyler Davis and linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones, Jr. But Clemson endured more injuries throughout the course of Saturday’s game as safeties Landenn Zanders and Nolan Turner, defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, defensive end Justin Mascoll, cornerback Andrew Booth and offensive guard Matt Bockhorst all missed parts of the game.
Clemson (7-1) still found itself in a position to win in regulation, needing just one more stop in the final minute to clinch a 37th straight regular season victory. Instead, it was Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book that came up with a big play, hitting receiver Avery Davis on a 53-yard post pattern that led to the tying score. On the night, Book completed 22 of 39 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown. As much as Book hurt the Tigers, running back Kyren Williams may have inflicted more damage. Williams rushed for 140 yards and 3 touchdowns, including what turned out to be the deciding score in the second overtime period. In all, the Irish put 519 yards up on the Clemson defense, a far cry from the 274.5 yards/game the unit had surrendered through the first seven games.
Notre Dame also bested the Tigers on third down. Clemson entered the game giving up just 27% on third down attempts, but the Irish came up with crucial plays to move the chains, converting 10 of 19 opportunities.
Whatever factors that came together to lead to the Tigers’ first conference loss since 2017 (Syracuse), it’s hard to pin any blame on freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. Uiagalelei completed 29 of 44 passes for 439 yards and two touchdowns. The 439 yards passing is the most ever against a Notre Dame defense, breaking a record set by Southern Cal’s Carson Palmer (425) in 2002. Uiagalelei has had stellar performances in Lawrence’s stead, but head coach Dabo Swinney indicated to the media that the starting quarterback will be ready to return to practice Monday.
It’s also hard to find fault in the performances of receivers Amari Rodgers (8 catches, 134 yards) or Cornell Powell (6 catches, 161 yards, touchdown). While the passing game survived the absence of Lawrence, Notre Dame limited Clemson’s rushing attack to just 34 yards on 33 carries. Travis Etienne, the ACC’s all-time leading rusher, was not a major factor with just 28 yards on 18 attempts.
The Tigers will look to heal up and regroup during the bye week before paying a visit to Tallahassee for a matchup with Florida State on November 22nd.