Notre Dame’s offense gained more than 500 yards and the defense delivered a stand in the second overtime to beat No. 1 Clemson 47-40 and take control of the race in the ACC and for the College Football Playoff.
One of the biggest games of the regular season delivered one of the most memorable wins of the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame, handing Clemson its first regular-season loss in 36 tries and painting the Irish as a legitimate contender to win the program’s first national championship since 1988.
“No matter how old I am, I’ll remember this one forever,” Notre Dame senior quarterback Ian Book said.
With Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19 and true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei in as his replacement, the No. 4 Fighting Irish keyed on stopping the Tigers’ running game.
Borrowing the same blueprint used last Saturday by Boston College, which pushed Clemson to the brink before losing 34-28, the Irish largely bottled up senior Travis Etienne and put pressure on Uiagalelei, who once again delivered a fantastic performance in his first career road start.
Uiagalelei threw for 439 yards, the most ever allowed by Notre Dame in a single game, and accounted for three touchdowns, one on the ground. In attendance but unable to play while still in COVID-19 protocols mandated by the ACC, Lawrence is expected to be available for Clemson’s next game, against Florida State on Nov. 21.
“I’d like to have Dabo’s problems with those two guys,” Notre Dame’s Kelly said postgame. “D.J. was just outstanding.”
The Irish scored on the game’s first series on a 65-yard touchdown run by Kyren Williams, who finished with 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. While largely unable to push the ball downfield until a crucial throw late in the fourth quarter, Book completed 22 of 39 attempts for 310 yards and one score without an interception.
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Ranked 12th nationally in yards allowed per play heading into Saturday, the Irish held Clemson to 473 yards on 77 plays and just 34 yards on 33 carries.
The win alters the perception of the ACC race, widens Notre Dame’s path to the playoff and might even create a plausible scenario where the ACC puts two teams in the national semifinals.
While Clemson can still win the ACC title by beating Notre Dame in a rematch in December, even in a loss the Irish would still have a great case for the playoff by running the table in advance of the conference championship game.
With Ohio State and Alabama seemingly set to occupy half of the four-team field, one-loss Clemson and one-loss Notre Dame would be ready to round out the field.
Contributing: Associated Press