The fans are definitely not socially distancing as they storm the field.
For once, a regular-season matchup between two of the top teams in the country lived up to the hype and then some. No. 4 Notre Dame outlasted No. 1 Clemson 47-40 in a double-overtime thriller on Saturday night in South Bend, Indiana. In doing so, the Fighting Irish handed the Tigers their first regular-season loss since 2017, ending the nation's longest regular-season winning streak.
Notre Dame led throughout nearly the entire game before having to come back in the final seconds to force overtime. Clemson didn't take its first lead of the game until 3:33 remained in the fourth quarter. The Tigers went 74 yards in 12 plays, sucking up a large portion of the fourth quarter before running back Travis Etienne, whom the Irish defense had kept bottled up all night, found the end zone from 3 yards out.
Notre Dame took its first lead of the game on only the second play of the night. That's when RB Kyren Williams broke free for a 65-yard touchdown. The Irish then had a chance to go up two touchdowns when facing a fourth-and-1 from the Clemson 2-yard line. However, a false start backed them up 5 yards, and they settled for a field goal to make it 10-0.
Clemson responded with a touchdown of its own to shrink the advantage to 10-7, but then after its defense held the Irish to another field goal, Etienne bobbled a toss in the backfield. Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was all too happy to pluck it out of the air and return it for a touchdown to make it 20-10 Irish. The Tigers turned the ball over on their next possession with Owusu-Koromoah stripping Amari Rodgers of the ball; however, the Clemson defense held Notre Dame to another field goal.
Those missed opportunities nearly cost the Irish their chance at the upset. Clemson erased the 10-point deficit in the third quarter. Then with a chance to retake the lead late in the third, QB Ian Book fumbled in the red zone, and Clemson jumped on top of the ball in the end zone.
Clemson was finally able to take the lead with 3:33 left, and then after a couple of possessions, Notre Dame found itself with the ball at its 0-yard line and 1:48 to go. Book led the team down the field thanks in large part to a 53-yard connection with Avery Davis to set up a first-and-goal. A few plays later, Book connected with Davis for the game-tying touchdown.
In the first overtime, both teams traded touchdowns, but the Irish broke serve in the second. After Williams scored his third touchdown of the night to give Notre Dame a 47-40 lead, the Irish defense twice sacked Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei twice to set up two long plays that the freshman was unable to complete to end the game as Notre Dame knocked off the No. 1 team in South Bend for the first time since 1993 when it beat Florida State.
Here are five key takeaways from Notre Dame's huge win over Clemson.
1. Would Lawrence have made a difference?
That's not to say he wouldn't have, but it's not as though Uiagalelei was a hindrance for the Tigers on Saturday. He finished the night completing 29 of 44 passes for 439 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a third score in OT. His 439 passing yards are the most any quarterback has ever thrown against Notre Dame, surpassing the 425 yards Carson Palmer amassed in 2002.
Now, might Lawrence have made some throws that Uiagalelei did not? Maybe. You could also argue that Lawrence might have shown more poise under pressure in the second overtime when Uiagalelei took two sacks. But I don't put those sacks on Uiagalelei. On the first play, nobody was open. Clemson's left guard whiffed severely on a block on the second play, and Uiagalelei was hit before he could have even realized he was in trouble. I would argue that the Tigers' injuries at other spots had a much more significant impact on the team than Lawrence's absence.
2. Notre Dame deserves all the credit
That should be clear to everybody. While the Irish didn't play a perfect game, they took the lead on the second play of the night and didn't trail until there were 215 seconds left to play. Then instead of collapsing like so many other teams would have, Book and the Irish offense put together a terrific drive to tie the game before the half.
On the other side of the ball, they were solid as well. Notre Dame had a gameplan of taking Travis Etienne out of the equation and forcing Uiagalelei to beat them consistently. To Uiagalelei's credit, he did a fantastic job and almost beat the Irish. But the Irish were also successful in removing Etienne from the game.
Etienne rushed for only 28 yards on 18 carries and wasn't a major factor in the passing game either, picking up 57 yards on eight receptions. Notre Dame also forced three turnovers, turning one of them directly into a touchdown, and had eight tackles for loss. The Irish only had two sacks on the night, but they came at a critical time!
3. Book it!
This was Book's signature win. He's had an up-and-down career with the Irish and never been an elite quarterback. While that used to be something great teams could win without, in this modern age of elite quarterbacks, Book's limitations have been held against him. Many times unfairly.
But Saturday night, like his team, he could have cratered. Instead, he stepped up. Many QBs would have gone into a shell after fumbling in the red zone as Book did late in the third quarter, but he shook it off. Then after failing to get anything going on Notre Dame's first possession following the Clemson touchdown that gave the Tigers their first lead, he still kept his head up and kept his calm. He maneuvered the Irish out of the shadow of their end zone and then found Davis open down the middle while Clemson blitzers bore down on him. It was a beautiful throw. In fact, it might have been the best throw of Book's career, and it set up the touchdown to tie the game and force overtime.
Book finished with 310 yards passing, 64 yards rushing and only one touchdown, but despite what the box score says, this was his greatest game with the Irish.
4. Clemson's playoff hopes are not dead
Just ask our Jerry Palm. Yes, Clemson's 39-game regular-season win streak is over. As are its streaks of 29 wins in the ACC and 15 straight on the road. But it's probably not even going to fall out of the top four in the top 25 rankings this week. Clemson didn't lose this game because it didn't have Lawrence, but not having Lawrence will keep it from being punished too harshly. Plus, even if Lawrence had played, there'd be no reason to punish Clemson for this loss. There's no shame losing to the No. 4 team in the country in double-overtime, and Clemson will have every chance to push for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
5. This was a great college football game
That's not a deep thought, but it's the truth. In a season that has felt a little off and seen some weird results, it was nice to have two great teams play a great game. I hope we see an encore in the ACC Championship Game next month.