Notre Dame dealt a crushing blow to No. 4 Clemson by angering the Tigers 35-14 in a major victory for first-year coach Marcus Freeman. The Fighting Irish used stifling defense and elite special teams to thwart Clemson, limiting the visitors to just 281 yards of total attack and keeping the Tigers untouched until the fourth quarter when the game was essentially out of reach.
The Fighting Irish offense had struggles of its own, but Logan Diggs and Audric Esteem went over 100 yards on the floor as Notre Dame imposed their will in key positions while averaging 5.6 yards per lunge. Initially it was Jordan Botelho from the penalty spot as Prince Cooley came back for relegation in the first quarter giving the home side an early advantage.
The defense took over from there as Clemson midfielder DJ Oyagalelli struggled to motivate the Tigers offensively. In the end, he was replaced by a real new five-man student Kadi Klopnik late in the third quarter to no avail. Kloppnik’s second pass was intercepted, relegating Estime making the score 21-0 with 14:37 remaining.
Markus Freeman’s remarkable victory
After an embarrassing home loss to Marshall and Stanford earlier in the season, Freeman needed a special win. This definitely qualifies. Clemson has always been among the top sports programs for the past decade, and the Tigers entered this week as one of only six unbeaten teams in the sport.
His recruitment work has been excellent. Fighting Irish is currently ranked No. 3 in the 2023 tournament, for all 247 sports. But in his first season as head coach, Freeman needed some accolades on the field to pair with his work on the career path. He’s got it now, and the Irish fight probably isn’t over yet. They were hot favorites in the next two weeks against the Navy and Boston College before the end of the big season in ninth place USC. Depending on where the Trojans were in the national scene at that point, Notre Dame could have another chance to play a spoiler on the national stage.
Clemson Effects CFP
The loss doesn’t completely eliminate Clemson from the CFP odds, but it does make the Tigers’ path to the playoff all the more difficult. By beating the infamous North Carolina team in the ACC Championship game, Clemson could still make the CFP field as one losing team, according to CBS sports expert Jerry Palm. But they may need to win that game convincingly over Tar Heel No. 17, who improved to 8-1 with a 31-28 win over Virginia on Saturday.
Clemson still has three regular season games to win as well, although the Tigers should be the favorites in all three competitions. In first place was Louisville next week, followed by Miami and South Carolina to finish the season. All three are home games.
Situation Clemson quarterback
The Clemson quarterback’s position remains precarious, as evidenced by the fact that coach Dabo Sweeney turned to Klopnik to spark a second-half spark once again. But unlike the 27-21 win over Syracuse two weeks ago, the move backfired. Sweeney quickly pulled Klopnick back and put Oyagalele back into the game after Klopnik’s first pass was intercepted.
It would be great to see where Sweeney goes from here. Although Uiagalelei has improved visibly since last season, the Tigers do not frighten opponents offensively and Klubnik appears to be the program’s future quarterback. With CFP’s hopes of Clemson on shaky ground, Swinney’s insistence on holding on to Uiagalelei’s numbers is being tested again in the remaining weeks of the season.
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