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Let’s Talk Rationally About Notre Dame’s 30-3 Loss To Clemson In The Cotton Bowl

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Here’s your chance to not be either a jerk or a fanboy.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Cotton Bowl-Notre Dame vs Clemson Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no other way to put it... that Cotton Bowl sucked. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish lose another big bowl game in a blowout, and what was a great season all of a sudden feels less than the 12-1 record might suggest.

Rather than start going crazy af macro on the Irish and the football program, let’s set aside this space to simply talk rationally about losing to the Clemson Tigers in the college football playoff semi-final.

This is more or less a stream of consciousness and is not intended to be in any order whatsoever. Before I begin, however, I want to give all credit due to Clemson. Clearly they are a great football team and deserved to win the game tonight. This isn’t a post to suggest otherwise.

FIRST QUARTER FIST PUMPING

I was pretty damn excited in the first quarter. In no way at all was I throwing a fit (unlike some on Twitter) about Kelly deciding to kick the FG to tie the game at 3 a piece. That’s a no-brainer. I thought the offense would start to come along a bit as the game unfolded, and I loved what the defense was doing to Clemson.

WAS THE BALL GREASED?

Seriously though... was it? The fumble situation was ridiculous. Credit to Clemson for punching and ripping at the ball though — that’s just great coaching.

THE REPLAYS

As excited as I was in the first quarter, I was equally frustrated. There were two “fumble plays” that went Notre Dame’s way on the field, but then were overturned. Both, I felt, were complete bullshit and worthy of hearings by Congress.

  • The Book fumble: Yes, Ian Book clearly fumbled the ball, but there was NO quick and clear recovery by Clemson. In fact, the whistle had been blowing and seconds ripped off before Clemson picked up the ball. The whistles would cause no ND player (especially Book) to make a mad scramble for the ball. Kind of nitpicky — but bullshit nonetheless.
  • The kickoff fumble: This was ridiculous. There was nothing in the replay that showed the ball being inconclusively out of bounds. Was the nose over the line? Yes, but the ball is oblong and oval in shape. It can have the nose poke over the line without actually touching the line on the ground. BULLSHIT.

The Book fumble resulted in Clemson’s first points (FG) and the ensuing drive by Clemson after the overturned fumble call resulted in a punt, but there was a ton of momentum points lost in those plays. Notre Dame needed some breaks to go their way in this game to have a chance to win, and basically they got none — which is a tough break.

NO LOVE

They say elite teams are deep in talent, so no Virginia... Notre Dame is not an elite team. This was never more evident than the loss of Julian Love to a head injury for most of the 1st half. Love’s replacement, Donte Vaughn, was no match for Clemson’s talented receivers — especially Justyn Ross.

This is your ball game folks:

Love, a Thorpe finalist, was the clear difference in the 20 point Clemson 2nd quarter that buried the Irish. The Irish just didn’t have enough in its back pocket to make up for that loss. Clemson, on the other hand, didn’t miss a beat with the loss of Dexter Lawrence.

CLOSE THE BOOK

Ian Book played horribly, and there are good reasons for that:

  • He’s not ready.
  • The offensive line was overrated (except by most Irish fans than scratched their heads at all of the praise thrown their way this season). They got WORKED repeatedly throughout the game — like WHOOPED.
  • The game plan got away from him, and there was zero comfort in the pocket.

One of the things that came out of fall camp was that Ian Book actually beat Brandon Wimbush for the job. Kelly was unconvinced that Book would be able to beat Michigan’s front seven, and went with Wimbush for that reason. They stuck with Brandon (because it’s hard to bench a winner) until they felt that the offense needed more of a steady passing game. Was all of that because they saw Book against a good Irish front 7 in practice and how jittery he gets under pressure? It makes me wonder that in a game like this, if Wimbush would have been a better option. I’m definitely NOT saying they should have gone this route, but the facts start to add up a bit, and it’s stuck in my head now.

PLAYCALLING

Of course playcalling looked horrible... because the execution was horrible. I’m not sure what they could have called that would have resulted with more points. Sure, there were obvious head-scratchers, but when the offensive line gets owned like that, there is very little that would work. Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Isaiah Simmons, and a handful of others were 4 handfuls too much.

THE ONE THING I GOT RIGHT

I said the game would be won and lost in the battles between the quarterbacks versus the opposing secondary. I also thought both Dexter Williams and Travis Etienne would mostly be non-factors. Both were pretty much true (one big run by Etienne aside).

Yay me. These things happened, but not the way I wanted.

ROUGH NIGHT

It really was just a rough night. Like I said... tough breaks, mental errors (special shout out to Jerry Tillery and his late hit), getting outplayed physically, and nothing to hang a hat on for the future. Clemson is awesome, and there’s no shame in losing to a team that is better — but this was more than just that. This was a reality check.

I don’t buy for a second the bullshit being thrown around about Notre Dame not “belonging in the playoff.” Unfortunately though, that’s the narrative until they change it. A 12-1 season that ended with a rough night... sounds familiar enough, but I don’t feel like this is like that other game people point to all the time.

But that’s for another post

BE RATIONAL

Comment all you want below (or not) but I implore you to only use THIS game as a basis of your comments. There should be a place to rationally talk about a loss without clouding it all up with macro conversations (there are plenty of other posts here where you can do that).