SOUTH BEND, Ind. — This time, Notre Dame got to feel what it’s like to celebrate a victory over Clemson with a stadium full of fans.
“I couldn’t get out of there,” tight end Michael Mayer said. “That was a way more drastic field rush than the last one.”
Two years ago, only 11,071 fans, mostly students and university employees, were on hand when Notre Dame upset top-ranked Clemson 47-40 in double overtime because of COVID-19 restrictions. On Saturday night, 77,622 people were on hand to witness the Irish beat the No. 5 Tigers 35-14, and a lot rushed the field and danced in celebration.
“It’s special” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said. “You can hear the fans, the students. I really didn’t want to leave the field. … This is a game that I’ll never forget.”
Neither will Dabo Swinney.
“They just physically kicked our butt. Period. The end,” Swinney said. “They absolutely dominated us in every aspect of football and it starts with coaching, tackling, blocking, you name it. It is what it is.”
Prince Kollie scored on a blocked punt, Benjamin Morrison returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown and had another interception to set up another score as Notre Dame earned its second straight win over a ranked opponent.
It was just the third win over a top-10 opponent for Notre Dame (6-3) in its past 10 games since 2018. The other wins were against No. 8 Stanford in 2018 and the 2020 win over Clemson.
Freeman admitted being surprised by how much the Irish dominated.
“We didn’t foresee this game going this way,” Freeman said. ’“I’m happy the kids continue to believe in what we’re doing. Today was one of those special moments.”
The loss ended a 14-game winning streak by the Tigers (8-1), the longest active streak among FBS teams. It was Clemson’s fifth road loss since 2015.
Swinney said it was one of his most disappointing games in his 14 years as head coach.
“We gave up a score on offense, a score on special teams and a score on defense and that’s the first time that’s happened since I was a head coach,” he said “We just got outcoached in every aspect of football. I wish I could say I saw it coming, but we had a great week of practice, a great week of preparation. But football’s a crazy game.”
Swinney pulled DJ Uiagalelei for a second straight game, even though he had completed 13 of 19 passes for 78 yards when he was replaced by Cade Klubnik late in the third quarter. This time it backfired, though, as Klubnik was pressured by Justin Ademilola and his pass was intercepted by Morrison at the 14-yard line. The Irish scored three plays later on Audric Estime’s 2-yard run to make it 21-0.
Uiagabele returned in the next series and drove the Tigers to the Irish 19-yard line before Morrison intercepted the pass to Joseph Ngata at the 4-yard line and returned it for a TD.
With winds of 20 mph, and Drew Pyne struggling in recent games, the Irish leaned heavily on their run game, even though Clemson entered the game ranked seventh nationally against the run, giving up 87.9 yards a game. Logan Diggs rushed for 114 yards on 17 carries, Estime had 104 yards on 18 carries and the Irish compiled 263 yards rushing, the most rushing yards allowed by Clemson this season. The previous high was 206 yards by Florida State.
“They were clearly the more physical team. It’s going to be a painful tape to watch for everybody,” Swinney said.
It was the second-highest rushing game for the Irish this season. The Irish improved to 5-0 when they rush for more than 200 yards.
Pyne was 9 of 17 passing for 85 yards and added a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
Uiagalelei finished the game 27 of 39 yards for 191 yards. Clemson was held to 90 yards rushing.
Linebacker Jordan Botelho got the Irish going when broke through the line and got two hands on the punt and Kollie caught it and returned it 17 yards for a TD on Clemson’s first possession. The Irish opened a 14-0 lead 38 seconds before halftime when they drove 78 yards on 11 plays, with all but one of the plays being on runs. Estime had six runs for 35 yards, Chris Tyree had three runs for 17 yards and Pyne threw an 11-yard pass to Michael Mayer and ran twice, scoring on a 5-yard run.
Tempers flared as the teams headed to the locker room at halftime after Clemson right guard Walker Parks pushed down Notre Dame defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola. Several players pushed before the teams were separated and headed to their separate tunnels.
Swinney said he will continue to “evaluate everything” at quarterback.
“I thought DJ finished well, which was good to see. I hate that the play happened to Cade,” Swinney said.
Clemson will likely drop out of the top 10 after losing to a three-loss team. The Irish, who beat then-No. 16 Syracuse 41-24 a week earlier, might receive some consideration.
Clemson: The Tigers appear unlikely to earn their seventh playoff appearance in eight years after a lopsided defeat to a three-loss team and no games left against ranked teams.
Notre Dame: The high point for the Irish in coach Marcus Freeman’s first year as coach up to this point was playing No. 2 Ohio State tough for three quarters. This is Notre Dame’s biggest victory since students stormed the field following a 47-40 double overtime victory over top-ranked Clemson two years ago.
Clemson: Finishes the season with three home games, starting against Louisville on Saturday.
Notre Dame: Travels to Baltimore to face Navy in its annual game against the Midshipmen on Saturday.