It’s a great day to be a Notre Dame football fan.
Remove the Clemson Tigers as the opponent. Remove the roller past that’s been the 2022 season. Remove the rankings, CFP and bowl projections.
What we got to experience last night was that euphoria and excitement that comes when all the aspects of the Irish football program are clicking, and I was so wrapped up in that that I didn’t factor in any of these other external factors.
A November game (one that doesn’t leave fans defrosting for 24 hours) under the Notre Dame stadium lights. Golden helmets that seemed to be shining extra bright and a packed student section seemingly bursting at the seams with energy. A crazy post game scene on the field where we got to see all parts of the program, players, staff, students and fans all blend together in celebration
An ND sideline on fire from the opening whistle to the last snap. A flavor of brotherhood amongst the team that is particularly unique to Notre Dame football that you could feel through the TV screen. A bunch of individuals showing out and putting themselves on the line to get the job done. These ingredients alone are the makings of legendary college football games.
Once you factor in an 8-0, #4 ranked Clemson as the opponent and the vicious cycle of give and take that this season has gifted us with and this game will undoubtedly be talked about for years to come.
This weekend we got to see the Irish team that we spent a ton of the preseason projecting. And while I get the urge to fantasize about what the world would’ve been like if the team had come into this form earlier, I’m not positive I would’ve traded it for what we got to experience on Saturday. The manner in which this Notre Dame football squad beat Clemson after going through what it’s been through this season gives us our most complete glimpse so far about the identity of the program, both on the field and in relation to the students and fan base during the Marcus Freeman era. And it’s a picture that I’m ecstatic about.
So let’s see what the what the data tells us about the big night.
A Low(er) Scoring Affair
The game’s final score ended up being 35-14. Clemson came into the game on a downward trend of overall scoring and Notre Dame was on a bit of an uptick (helped out a lot by defense and special teams).
Even with some of these breadcrumbs, I doubt any of us expected what we saw.
Throughout the season Clemson’s offense had been able to go score for score in some dogfights of a game but all 14 of their points came in more junk time during the 2nd half. ND’s offense did what it needed to, putting up two rushing TDs and one passing TD but the defense and special teams once again stepped up in a big scoring way.
The blocked punt for a touchdown in the first quarter and the pick-6 in the fourth quarter tallied up 14 total points for the Irish. Those touchdowns had a big impact on not just the aggregate scoring situation but came at pivotal moments that changed the feeling of the came in really non quantifiable ways.
A Special Night for the Irish Offense
Notre Dame’s offense had its undoubtedly most special night of the 2022 season against Clemson. While the stats may not paint the picture of a juggernaut offensive performance, we got a chance to see an ND offense that was obviously in sync with itself on the field and fun to watch.
ND won the total yardage battle, 348-241.
The rushing game took center stage, with the Irish accounting for 75% (263) of the game’s total yards on the ground. Notre Dame only put up 85 yards through the air but those pass plays were schemed well and their output helped push the team forward during important moments.
Rough Passing Night
Neither team’s quarterbacks came into the game with a lot of positive momentum throwing the ball and that didn’t change for the most part. ND’s Pyne went 53% on 17 attempts for 85 yards. The Tiger’s Uiagalelei completed 69% of his 39 attempts for 191 yards, the bulk of which came during long, sustained touchdown drives late in the game. While the data tells a not so great story about Pyne, it’s misleading. He was what he needed to be for the team that night and was a major part of their ultimate success even if the passer stats don’t agree.
Another Night to Shine for Notre Dame’s Rushers
The Irish rushing collective had another tremendous night. The unit put up 263 total yards, an output that’s only surpassed by the 287 yards they put up against UNC in Week 4. They’ve got the rushing side of the offense humming and it shows on the field, sidelines and all over the stat sheet.
The total number of rushing attempts was down to 47 from a season high of 60 last week against Syracuse. And man did they look good and get the most out of those carries.
As a collective, Notre Dame tied its season high of 5.6 yards averaged per carry.
The team’s rushing success was a real group effort, with Audric Estime and Logan Diggs being the headliners. Estime averaged 5.7 yards on 18 attempts and one touchdown, most of which came in a punishing manner for the Clemson defense. Diggs averaged 6.7 yards on 17 carries and tallied up 43% (114) of the team’s total rushing yards. Drew Pyne even got in the mix, racking up a five yard rushing touchdown late in the second quarter.
Quiet but Good Night for Irish Receivers
The receiving corps didn’t play a big role if you’re just reading the data tables. There was a grand total of 9 receptions, spread over three players. Michael Mayer led with four receptions, accounting for 53% (44) of the team’s receiving yards. Chris Tyree and Jayden Thomas rounded out the remainder of the Irish’s receiving attack against the Tigers.
Ball Movement Details
The data story around Notre Dame’s ball movement is complicated by the success of the defense and special teams in taking the ball away from Clemson. Clemson ended up having 12 total drives, compared with ND’s ten. The teams were about what and what in terms of total first downs but the Irish converted 50% of their 3rd down conversion attempts, compared with 36% for the Tigers.
A Clean Turnover Game for Notre Dame
Turnovers haven’t been the biggest issue for Notre Dame this season and that didn’t change this weekend. The team didn’t lose any fumbles or throw any interceptions (though there were some scares).
A Physical Night for the Irish Defense
Another area of the game that the data tells an incomplete story about is the defense. The manner in which ND’s defense dominated Clemson in terms of physicality and how that snuffed out the Tiger’s attack is largely understated by the spreadsheets.
The defense allowed a total of 281 yards, most of which came late in the game through the air. The Irish defense gave Clemson fits enough for Dabo to swap out Uiagalelei for Klubnik who threw an interception on his first and only pass of the game. By the Tigers’ next drive, DJ was back on the field and after having some success moving the ball threw an interception that turned into a 96 yard pick-6 for Benjamin Morrison.
The data captures a slightly more accurate story of the defense’s job in battling upfront and halting Clemson’s rushing attack. The Irish allowed only 90 total yards of rushing offense from Clemson. In total, the defense had 4 sacks, 7 tackles for loss and 4 QB hurries.
It was a really special night across the board for the Notre Dame football program.
While the data doesn’t do what we all got to experience any real justice, it does provide some added context about the identity of the team rounding out the rest of the season and hopefully going into next year.
It’s a full package that I think we should all be excited about but for now I’m going to let myself enjoy the moment and I hope you all do too.
Cheers and Go Irish!!