Back Hot Read: Irish Upset Clemson, Get Signature Win

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Hot Read: Irish Upset Clemson, Get Signature Win

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Holcomb recaps Notre Dame's dramatic double overtime win over Clemson.

Top 5 matchups in college football don’t always live up to the hype, but on Saturday night in South Bend, the Clemson-Notre Dame showdown was everything the sport could have wanted and more.

The Tigers erased a 13-point halftime deficit to take a lead with minutes remaining, but the Fighting Irish stormed back with a touchdown to force overtime. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Notre Dame scored two touchdowns in overtime to end Clemson’s 36-game regular season winning streak with a 47-40 double overtime win.

There’s so much to dissect from this game that it was hard to pick only five things. But here are five observations from the huge Notre Dame victory which will surely go down as a classic:

Notre Dame keeps pace with elite offense
In recent years, Notre Dame has been criticised as one of college football’s blue bloods stuck in the past. The Irish always have an elite running attack behind one of the best offensive lines in the country. Under coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame has also often laid claim to being one of the elite defensive teams in the nation too.

But as far as the passing game goes, the Irish have often struggled, and that’s been the main reason why Notre Dame hasn’t been able to do better against ranked opponents, especially teams in the Top 10.

That reputation for Kelly’s program should end Saturday once and for all, as Irish quarterback Ian Book threw for 310 yards and a touchdown. Book drove the Irish 91 yards in 1:26 to score the game-tying touchdown with 22 seconds left in regulation. He also completed all of his passes in overtime.

Notre Dame is still going to be a ground-and-pound team, but if Book plays like he did Saturday, the Irish are truly national contenders.

Irish defensive line shuts down Travis Etienne
While Book averaging 7.9 yards per pass was a huge reason why Notre Dame knocked off Clemson, so was the Irish defensive front. Notre Dame did not allow Tigers running back Travis Etienne to find much open space. He posted just 85 yards from scrimmage and averaged only 1.6 yards per carry.

Behind that stout defensive performance, the Irish outgained the Tigers on the ground, 209-34. Notre Dame also recovered three fumbles, one of which it returned for a touchdown. One of the other fumble recoveries led to a field goal.

Admittedly, Notre Dame had a lot of trouble slowing down freshman signal caller D.J. Uiagalelei and the Clemson passing attack. But the Irish made the Tigers one-dimensional, which was enough to win in double overtime.

D.J. Uiagalelei Is already living up to the hype
Saturday’s game lived up to the hype in large part because Uiagalelei has been everything Clemson could have hoped for and more through two college starts. The Tigers again started slowly, but he led them back from a 13-point deficit and did more than enough for Clemson to win.

Uiagalelei finished with 439 passing yards while completing 29 of 44 passes. He also threw two touchdowns and rushed for another without throwing an interception on the road.

It was an absolutely amazing performance from the freshman. If -- God forbid -- Trevor Lawrence experiences any issues with COVID-19, the Tigers are still a championship-caliber team with Uiagalelei behind center.

Clemson finds new star in Cornell Powell
In his first start last Saturday, Uiagalelei relied heavily upon Etienne to help him find his rhythm. With Notre Dame suffocating the space around Etienne on Saturday night, Uiagalelei needed to find other receivers.

He did so in Cornell Powell. The senior receiver hauled in six catches for a team-high 161 yards, including a 53-yard reception. This is the second straight week Powell has led Clemson’s wideouts in receiving.

Prior to last week, he hadn’t eclipsed the 50-yard receiving mark this season. Now in two starts with Uiagalelei, Powell has two 100-yard games.

Imagine if the ACC gave college football this matchup every year
There’s plenty of reasons why the ACC should welcome Irish football as a permanent member. After Saturday’s exciting contest, it’s hard to think of a better reason than the possibility of seeing Clemson and Notre Dame square off every year.

Early in Clemson’s reign, Florida State challenged the Tigers, and then for a brief moment, it looked as though the Miami Hurricanes were ready to emerge as a national contender in the Coastal division. But the Seminoles have fallen on some hard times, and the Hurricanes still have building to do before becoming a powerhouse. This leaves Clemson without true competition in the ACC.

Notre Dame -- if it can continue to develop its passing attack -- would be that other national championship challenger. With the Irish in the ACC, each November, all of college football could circle the Clemson-Notre Dame showdown as it used to with the Tigers and Seminoles.

Even if the Irish don’t actually join the ACC in football (it’s still highly unlikely), college football fans will probably get Clemson-Notre Dame one more time in the conference championship game this December. If the Tigers win that battle, then maybe they could even square off a third time in the College Football Playoffs.