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Notre Dame-Clemson an Epic Win for Irish

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The game found the time. Notre Dame found the way.

It was a matchup of the nation's top-ranked team, the modern standard for success with 50 consecutive Saturday wins, versus the most storied program in history, all in a timeless venue where the echoes of generations still ring. In a contest filled with history and tradition, storylines and stars, the game ultimately didn't meet expectations; it somehow surpassed them. Fittingly, regulation wasn't enough to separate the two unbeatens. Neither was one overtime period. College football wanted more. College Football needed more.

The game found the time. Notre Dame found the way.

After the Fighting Irish opened the second overtime with a short touchdown run from Kyren Williams, the Notre Dame defense, having allowed just 16 points in the three games prior to Saturday night, delivered. Consecutive sacks of D.J. Uiagalelei forced Clemson into a game-deciding 4th-and-24, with the defense stopping a completion and lateral attempt in clinching the dramatic victory. The Fighting Irish ended the nation's longest winning streak and started their own conversation about the College Football Playoff with the win.

It takes a lot to make memories in South Bend. Notre Dame did and also made history.

Though the Fighting Irish got off to a fast start Saturday night, there were times where it looked like they would run out of steam. From late in the second quarter to late in the fourth quarter, Clemson outscored the Fighting Irish 23-3. A Travis Etienne rushing touchdown, coming not long after an Ian Book fumble into the endzone, gave the Tigers a 33-26 lead with 3:33 remaining. From there, Book, Williams and Avery Davis penned their names in the record books. Williams burst for 15 yards on a critical 3rd-and-short. Book struck gold with Avery for 53 yards on the very next play.

Moments later, on a 3rd-and-goal, it was Book to Avery again. This time to force extra time.

Two snaps into overtime, with Uiagalelei immediately finding Cornell Powell on a pass right to the goaline, Clemson took the lead once more. Ready for the moment and the pressure that came with it, Book and Williams promptly responded. The momentum of a quick answer energized Notre Dame's defense as sacks then came on the Tigers' next two plays. Even Uiagalelei, who was absolutely brilliant with 439 yards passing and three total touchdowns, couldn't overcome the lost yardage.

Not long after it appeared Clemson would add another comeback win to its resume, Book and Notre Dame added another chapter to the program's storied history, instead.

The Fighting Irish won an absolutely spectacular college football game, one worthy of the gratitude of the game. It was one of the best back-and-forths, especially with the brands at play and the setting on display, in recent memory. Notre Dame 47, Clemson 40 is a contest that will be talked about for generations to come. What is interesting is that the instant classic may be the first of two, see the ACC Championship Game, or maybe even three, see the College Football Playoff, pairings between the Fighting Irish and Tigers this season.

The post-game scene was surreal and unsettling. In a scenario that Brian Kelly anticipated and predicted beforehand, fans rushed the field immediately following the upset, overwhelming social distancing guidelines in place due to covid-19. Though the Memorial Stadium public address announcer asked fans to leave the field, the emotion of the moment simply proved too much. In a era of critcally-important distancing, college football chaos, in the minutes that followed, was the concerning end result.

Both teams were moved to the locker rooms quickly in a situation, once more, that Kelly saw coming and previously discussed with his players.

Start to finish, it was an absolutely unbelievable football game on Saturday night in South Bend. Williams ran for a 65-yard touchdown on the first official play from scrimmage. Book found Avery for a game-tying score on the final forward play of regulation. The two overtimes were proverbial halves of their own. There was Book's heroics, Avery's showcase and the gritty performance of Williams, who made an immeasurable impact in pass protection in addition to his box score production. Uiagalelei was exceptional, throwing for 295 yards to Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers alone.

Notre Dame's defensive effort against Etienne was truly incredible. The Fighting Irish held one of the best running backs of all-time to just 28 yards on 18 carries; for point of reference, Etienne, who had just become the ACC's career rushing leader the week prior, entered the weekend averaging 7.5 yards per rush attempt in his three-plus seasons at Clemson. Facing one of the most productive players the game has ever seen, Notre Dame did the best job of any defense to have ever faced Etienne.

The standouts, when it came to stopping Etienne, were many for the Fighting Irish, punter and holder Jay Bramblett included. When kicker Jonathan Doerer was short on a 57-yard field goal try at the end of the first half, it was Etienne who caught it, turned upfield and was on the verge of kick-six. Only Bramblett had the angle as Etienne as sprinted down the sidelines and he tackled the Clemson speedster before he broke out into the open field. From Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, 2.5 tackles for loss and a defensive touchdown, to Bramblett, it was a team effort in slowing Etienne.

It was also a team effort in toppling the number one team in the country. After multiple missteps on the big stage against top five opponents in recent years, it was Notre Dame who proved comfortable and clutch under the brightests of lights. That poise translated to an upset for the ages. Brian Kelly got his first-ever win over an AP-ranked top five team. He may have positioned his team for a return to the College Football Playoff along the way. Behind only Alabama, the Fighting Irish are now slotted second in the national polls.

Going back well over 100 years, Notre Dame has been home to many of college football's most iconic moments. A historic win over numebr one Clemson adds to the legend of the Fighting irish, who may very well now be readying for a championship run themselves. Notre Dame's triumph, and how the Fighting Irish battled back after the tried-and-true Tigers had rallied to take the lead, is both a game-changer for this program and an extension of all that makes Notre Dame so special. Consider the echoes awakened.

Who knows where the Fighting Irish go from here? Perhaps, should they win out, this victory gives Notre Dame a free pass to the College Football Playoff regardless of what happens in a potential ACC Championship Game rematch with Clemson? It looks like upcoming wins over Boston College, North Carolina, Syracuse and Wake Forest alone might be enough to clinch the Fighting Irish a spot in the coveted final four. Resumes will have to be compared and contrasted and seeding scenarios will have to be considered amidst imperfect data and wide-ranging results.

One thing, however, is certain: Notre Dame is a leading part of the national narrative, a distinction that clearly has been earned.

The Fighting Irish have long been a defining name in college football. After beating Clemson, the process continues.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports