Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Captain’s Corner with Ned Bolcar

Bolcar credited Brian VanGorder and the Irish defense for bouncing back from a slow start in which Clemson jumped to a 14-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game.

Coach Kelly talked all week about the weather, the crowd noise, and how you take the crowd out by making plays. Then you come out, you’re down 14-0 and that place is going wild. Suddenly all the momentum is going against you.

We turned the tide a little before halftime, and when you receive the kickoff to start the third quarter, you’re still optimistic. Then you fumble the kickoff. It felt like we did everything to lose the game. Even down to the last play, I felt we had a chance to win the game. But throughout the game, I didn’t feel like we deserved to win.

I know we’ve got a lot of young guys playing, but our offensive and defensive lines are veteran and we played sloppy, terribly sloppy. The turnovers…We gave Clemson every chance to put the game away and somehow they let us stay in the game.

My general opinion when the game was over was that I was disappointed. That was an ugly game. While I felt we still had a chance to win it, I didn’t think we’d win it because we couldn’t stop making critical mistakes.

We had two delay of game penalties, a couple false starts by veteran guys on the offensive line…I get the noise, I get the sloppy conditions, but we fumble the ball on a kickoff, we fumble the ball on the goal line…The fact that we still had a chance to win the game after all of that was amazing and a testament to Coach Kelly and the staff.

I’ve got to give the defense some credit because they were put in a bad position a couple times. We had bad field position most of the game. Clemson had one real drive against us, but obviously, when you start the second half with a fumbled kickoff, you make it difficult to win. The defense really stepped up after those first two scores and played a very solid game for three quarters.

But the defense came out and wasn’t ready to stop Deshaun Watson. They knew he was a running weapon. This guy came out mobile as all heck running the football. He definitely caught us off guard a couple times. We were blitzing up the middle and he took the ball to the edge for big gains. We came out flat defensively, and after the first two scores, you’re thinking, ‘Wow, this is going to get ugly.’

After that, Coach VanGorder tightened things down and started to make plays while Clemson got a little more conservative But really, the defense started to figure them out better.

I was disappointed that our offensive line did not control the line of scrimmage. But in saying that, for three quarters, we kept trying to run the ball on first down.

Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler were doing the best they could to not say, ‘Notre Dame is still in this game, but they’ve got to stop running the ball on first down.’ Everybody in the country knew that C.J. Prosise was going to get the ball and Clemson was putting eight men in the box every single time. They blitzed linebackers; they blitzed everybody. I don’t know why we didn’t throw the ball.

I love the running game. But if they’re going to stack the box and blitz the linebackers, you’re got to throw the ball on first down. By the third quarter, I was frustrated. Throw the ball! Open it up! Run it on second down!

Prosise was basically shut down the whole game. Can you blame the offensive line? You can only block so many guys. There were times when there were eight defenders and five offensive linemen. Clemson has a good defensive front and they have a good secondary.

Early on, we dropped a lot of balls. I’ll take in the fact the weather conditions were bad. Kizer still threw for more than 300 yards. Corey Robinson dropped two balls. Maybe his knee is still bothering him. Fuller dropped one. There were a lot of dropped passes that were pretty costly.

Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you have a red-shirt freshman at quarterback, and some young guys in other places. We weren’t playing UMass, we weren’t playing Virginia, and we weren’t playing Texas, which just got beat by 50 points by TCU. We were playing a 4-0, pretty good Clemson team. The fact we were in the game at the end bodes well for us.

I like the way Kizer hangs in the pocket. He throws the ball decently on the run. He throws the ball high at times, which sounds like it comes down to footwork. He had a couple of throws that could have been picked. He throws the ball dangerously at times, but that could have been a function of the weather, too. He didn’t see (Ben) Boulware sitting in the middle of the field, and he didn’t see some open receivers right down the middle of the field.

He’s young and he lacks experience, but I think he’s getting better. He’s got a good arm and he can run the football. He makes good choices as to when to run the ball. We dropped four, five, six passes. We need a tight end that Kizer can consistently rely on.

I was surprised about the play call on the last two-point conversion, just because of the lack of success we had running the ball all night. I thought they should roll Kizer out and give him a chance to find somebody because he really ignited the offense through the passing game. When I saw he was running, I immediately didn’t think he’d score.

Maybe I’m being over critical, but I just see this loss as a missed opportunity. The strength of our team is our offensive line and I thought we’d out-man them. On the defensive line, I thought Notre Dame would have a real advantage over Clemson’s young offensive line. I didn’t anticipate those two early scores. I thought we would have the advantage there and it certainly didn’t look like that in the first half.

The fact we were still in the game at the end says something about our confidence and talent. We were in a beautiful position by the time the game rolled around because several top-rated teams got knocked off. UCLA, Mississippi, Georgia…

To be completely honest with you, I didn’t think Notre Dame was a No. 6 team, although No. 15 is quite a drop. Considering what Texas and Virginia and Georgia Tech have done, it’s not like we’ve had a lot of quality wins. This was a key game on the road against an undefeated Clemson team that has a quality program.

We’ve got a tough schedule, but we still should win a lot of games. USC is going to be a challenge. The Clemson game was going to be a tough one to win for a lot of reasons. Everything fell into place with a lot of big teams being knocked off, but we just couldn’t take advantage.

It’s going to be one of those years where there will be a lot of teams with one loss. There are quite a few already. There’s no margin for error now.


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