FLATLINING IN THE FIRST
Eight of Notre Dame’s 17 first quarter plays resulted in a gain of one yard, zero yards, or loss – a whopping six were rushes by C.J. Prosise. Those struggles, coupled with two poor series to open the contest by the Irish defense put the visitors in a 14-0 bind before
“We started poorly defensively,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “We were tentative, poor tackling, we weren’t triggering. We can’t go on the road and be tentative defensively to start a game.”
Impotent in the first, the Irish offense wasn’t much better in the second quarter, earning just 72 yards on 19 snaps with a head-shaking six penalties (five accepted) on the team’s offensive line intermixed.
Notre Dame believes as a program its best unit is Harry Hiestand’s offensive line. Clemson feels the same about its active, aggressive defensive front. When it mattered most Saturday – first early, then late when the tough yards were needed – the Tigers front wall won by knockout.
“The play is called, we have to execute it. Block your man, we’re in overtime,” said fifth-year senior center Nick Martin of the team’s failed extra point near the final gun.
IRISH D REBOUNDS; OFFENSE CAN’T FINISH
The final four series of the first half concluded in a trio of three-and-outs for the host Tigers, and after scoring on a short field to open the second stanza it was more of the same, with Notre Dame’s defense winning up front.
“After (the poor start), however, we played the kind of defense that we expect to play here,” said Kelly. “Played well enough defensively after that first quarter.”
Four of Clemson’s six second-half drives resulted in just 33 yards on 17 snaps. The Tigers dented the scoreboard with crucial 35-yard field goal on a six-play, 50-yard drive early in the fourth. Though Notre Dame failed on its chance to tie late, the game was lost early.
“We just came out too flat,” said senior defensive tackle Sheldon Day. “Coach Kelly tells us to start fast and hit them in the mouth and we just didn’t do that today. It’s very frustrating especially because we could have come out fast and altered the game.”
The defense provided Kelly’s offense with three chances to tie the contest in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame threw an interception, fumbled, and ultimately came up short on two-point conversion attempt as a result.
“Two of our best players, two of our most decorated players, C.J. (Prosise) and Chris Brown – they know how to hold onto a ball. They turned it over,” Kelly said. “And DeShone tried to force a ball in there. He had no right throwing it in there. He had CJ open to the field.
“But those are our guys. Those are our guys. We’re counting on them next week. But if you turn it over, you’re not going to win the game.”
KIZER FOCUSES, RALLIES
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you…”
During one second quarter stretch, Kizer’s offensive front committed three consecutive pre-snap penalties. A holding call (declined because the play resulted in loss, regardless), a false start, and another hold – the latter pair on third down – followed one drive later to force Irish punts.
Well-stocked with veterans outside of the quarterback position, Notre Dame collectively did not play like men Saturday night. Their redshirt freshman triggerman did.
Kizer’s19 for 34 passing performance included five point-blank dropped passes by his receivers (among them a would-be leaping touchdown for Corey Robinson).
He was sacked four times and forced into an interception (plus a fumble recovered by the Irish) but rebounded for 321 passing yards (225 in the second stanza) while leading the squad in rushing as well (15-60-1).
“As a team, we’re always going to be proud of the way we play,” said Kizer. “We have a grit and fire. We play hard. At the end of the day, we want to be a championship team. Champions don’t lose.”
“It sucks that we ended the game the way we did after we fought back.”
Chris Brown: 10 (1 drop, 1 lost fumble)
Will Fuller: 6 (1 drop)
Torii Hunter: 6 (1 drop)
Corey Robinson: 3 (2 drops)
C.J. Prosise: 3
Amir Carlisle: 3
Nic Weishar: 2 (1 drop)
Aliz’e Jones: 1 (drew pass interference penalty)
SLOT, OLD AND NEW
Notre Dame executed 68 snaps Saturday night; 18 ended in gains of two yards or fewer including eight on handoffs to C.J. Prosise. But just one of those eight occurred after intermission, as Prosise fought his way for six first downs (after producing none in the first half) including the first five of the second stanza for the desperate Irish.
Prosise scored on a 56-yard catch-and-run early in the fourth quarter, the play marking his third career touchdown reception with each in excess of 50 yards.
-- Junior slot receiver Torii Hunter enjoyed his best game as a collegian, producing five first downs (four via the pass) while collecting five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown catch at the 0:07 mark that cut Clemson’s lead to 24-22.