I've got very little to offer you tonight, guys. Clemson is a good team. But apart from the first 2 series of the game, they didn't do that much except graciously accept the gifts ND handed them.
Let's run the issues down, because I'm a glutton for punishment.
6 drops, 3 lost fumbles by ND vs. 1 drop, 0 lost fumbles by Clemson
I mean, this is pretty much it right here isn't it? ND dropped six passes. Six. At least one was a touchdown, a perfectly thrown ball from DeShone Kizer to Corey Robinson. Another was a near-perfect dart from Kizer to Will Fuller on a 3rd and 17 that would've been a massive conversion.And on top of that, they fumbled the ball five times, losing three. I'm pretty sure no one fumbled more than once, so if you're the type to get angry at players for mistakes - I try not to be - there's a lot of blame to go around. The thing that makes those mistakes even harder to take is that you could take away almost any one of them and ND would win this game, all else being equal.
I blame myself for Kizer's horrible interception, as I tweeted literally the play before that everyone besides him on the offense was not up to snuff on the evening. He also fumbled on a scramble later, but got away with it as C.J. Prosise fell on the ball.
This is, far and away, the #1 reason ND lost the game, but a 150-word article's not going to be very informative. We move on.
The 2-point fiasco
I was actually on board with going for 2 when coach Kelly decided to do so, following a terrifically executed call that sent Prosise on a wheel route for a long TD. At 21-9, I could see the value in knowing in advance whether you need to go for a touchdown on a hypothetical drive later in the game or if a field goal is ok. I was probably wrong in this mindset, but that's where I was.
That said, once Corey Robinson didn't make it on the field and the play clock was running down, calling a timeout was an absolutely stupid idea. Just take the penalty, kick the PAT, and work the rest out later. There was a 100% chance that timeout was going to be an issue later, and while it didn't technically matter because ND did score the final TD, I would've liked to see how the Irish might have handled things later if they had been able to be a little less rushed. Maybe the 2-point call at the end would have been better.
The second two-point call, of course, was stopped when Kizer took off on an off-tackle run, and instantly drew second guesses. I saw a message board post elsewhere that seemed to indicate that Will Fuller appeared upset when he saw Kizer running the ball, so perhaps it was a run-pass option that Kizer decided to take off on. Whatever it was, it never came close to working, and it was an anticlimactic way to end the game.
The terrible start (or: Kizer impressive again)
I found it odd that Brian Kelly deferred to the second half after the coin toss. I think he did it a couple of times in 2012, but had he done it since? I don't know, but I wasn't sure about it because of the possibility of exactly what happened - Clemson riding the crowd to a fast start. The Tigers did well to land a couple of quick punches, in boxing terms, while ND tried to feel things out. I understand the mindset likely was to hopefully get a stop and get Kizer on the field in a somewhat quieter stadium, but it backfired. Once the ND defense collected themselves, they were mostly terrific, but it was too late.
Not that Kizer was affected by the slow start. Until his terrible interception, Kizer was maybe the best player on the field for ND, even as Prosise was getting stifled. And even that interception wasn't a product of being rattled - just a bad read. Kizer's unflappability all night was something to behold. He's not the game-breaker some other quarterbacks are, but he's a very composed player, and he deserved better here.
Clemson gets away with playing not to lose
One thing that drives me nuts in sports is when coaches get away with poor decision-making, especially repeated poor decision-making. Dabo Swinney coached a pathetic final 12 minutes. Flat-out. He made absolutely zero effort to go for the throat, or do anything besides sit on the ball and take away any chance of turning the ball over (or, frankly, gaining yards). And he did it over and over. When Kizer threw a pick with just under five minutes to play, he sat on the ball (even on a 3rd and 2). When Chris Brown fumbled the ball away inside the 5 with 2 minutes to go, he sat on the ball (even though he was going to be punting into the wind).
Swinney is a good coach. He had his team very prepared for ND, his team shut down Prosise for the most part, and his team made fewer mistakes. But that impossibly risk-averse decision-making down the stretch was reminiscent of John L. Smith in similar circumstances for Michigan State in 2006. And it drives me nuts that he got away with it. It was also annoying that he talked about "bringing your own guts" in a typical Dabo-like postgame interview after executing that ultra-vanilla scared play-calling down the stretch. But whatever, I guess. He won the game.
It's just unfortunate that ND did so much to help him win it.