After making mistake after mistake, there was Notre Dame with seven seconds left and a chance to tie Clemson. But it wasn’t to be and for the second year in a row, the first Irish loss of the season was a kick in the gut in an ACC stadium.
Obviously, it was not a good night for Notre Dame. It’s difficult to come back from a 21-3 fourth-quarter deficit in Death Valley, but the Irish almost did. The negatives, though, certainly outweigh the positives and here is a little of both in my five thoughts on Notre Dame.
1. Hold onto the Football
It is shocking that Notre Dame mounted its late comeback despite turning the ball over four times in the second half. Beyond the three fumbles and interception, Notre Dame continuously dropped the ball. Will Fuller dropped a big pass. Torii Hunter dropped one too. Ditto Chris Brown. And Corey Robinson dropped a sure touchdown and missed a catchable ball on the first two-point conversion. It was simple. For all Notre Dame did wrong, if the Irish didn’t drop the ball they’d be 5-0 right now.
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2. The Offensive Line
Right from the start, C.J. Prosise had nowhere to run. While the pass protection improved as the game went on and some of the blame also falls on quarterback DeShone Kizer, Clemson did have four sacks. There were missed assignments and penalties, both forced and unforced. Clemson played very well up front on defense and Shaq Lawson is a monster. But it was not a good performance by an offensive line considered to be one of the best in America.
3. The Coaching Staff
While the majority of the blame should fall on the players, the coaching staff has to assume its share as well. The team was not prepared for the start of the game and seemed to be affected by the environment. While play calling is often a function of play execution, Brian Kelly seemed to stick with the run too long and it was when Kizer started throwing more that ND had success offensively. Many Irish fans did not agree with the play call on the final two-point try. The decision to go for two after the first touchdown could be justified by the score but it turned out to be a little early to chase points. Kelly must be credited with helping ND get back in the game by mixing things up late and defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder did set things right on his side of the ball. But the team not matching Clemson’s intensity out of the gate put them in a hole and some of that must fall on the staff.
4. The Irish Did Not Quit
There is a lot to be said for how this team hung in the game. Oftentimes in bad weather situations, one team gets up and the other team gives up. In some ways, Saturday’s game between Alabama and Georgia is a prime example. But Notre Dame didn’t quit, despite the weather, despite all of its mistakes. The game appeared over when Chris Brown fumbled at the Clemson two-yard line with 2:09 left. But the defense held, the offense got the ball back, and the Irish scored a touchdown. This resiliency could pay dividends later on because...
5. The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow
Notre Dame will now need some help to make the College Football Playoff. But there is still a chance and even if things don’t break right for a final four berth, a major bowl game is still well within reach. Last year, the Irish were sitting pretty until the last-second loss at Florida State. The season went south shortly thereafter, partly because of injuries and partly because of a bad downward spiral that couldn’t be stopped. Notre Dame still has a chance for a huge season and putting the Clemson loss behind it as quickly as possible is best for everyone.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.