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Bad weather, turnovers prove too much for Irish to overcome

| Monday, October 5, 2015

CLEMSON, South Carolina — For three quarters, it looked like Notre Dame’s undefeated season was unquestionably over.

Trailing 21-3, the No. 15 Irish (4-1) had looked like anything but a team that was capable of handling No. 6 Clemson’s stout rush defense, Death Valley and Hurricane Joaquin’s unrelenting deluge.

20151003, 201501003, at Clemson, Chris Collins, Death Valley, football vs. Clemson-7Chris Collins | The Observer

That’s when sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer found senior running back C.J. Prosise along the sideline for a 56-yard touchdown pass. After a failed two-point conversion, the deficit was 21-9, with 14:13 remaining in the game.

The Irish defense held Clemson (4-0) to a field goal: 24-9, 10:56 left.

Kizer found senior wide receiver Chris Brown for 33 yards on a drag route to penetrate deep into Clemson territory, and the quarterback finished the four-play drive with a three-yard keeper off the right edge.

The score was 24-16, and the clock read 9:03, plenty of time to finish the comeback.

Notre Dame’s defense forced the Tiger offense into a three-and-out and got the ball back to the offense with more than six minutes left, down only one possession

Despite an interception and a fumble by Brown on Clemson’s two-yard line on the ensuing two drives, Notre Dame still found itself with a chance to tie the game with 1:05 on the clock and the ball at Clemson’s 32-yard line. Kizer first found senior receiver Amir Carlisle for 20 yards on third-and-16 to move the ball to the 18-yard line, then Prosise for 16 yards to the two.

Kizer then connected with junior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. just inside the right edge of the end zone, and the Irish needed just a two-point conversion to complete the comeback.

Instead, Notre Dame watched its hopes of an undefeated season run into an orange wall, a single yard short.

Kizer, who finished the game 19-of-34 for 321 yards, two touchdowns and an interception through the air while tacking on another 60 yards and a score with his legs, chose to run the ball on a play similar to the same one he scored on earlier in the quarter.

Clemson’s defense, which had dominated the Irish offense for three quarters but suddenly turned porous in the final stanza, came up with the biggest play of the game when it mattered most, stuffing Kizer at the one-yard line and preserving its 24-22 lead.

“Run-pass option. The run option was there. At that point in time it’s man vs. man, heart vs. heart,” Kizer said of the decision to keep the ball on the conversion attempt. “And we got there, and we blocked it the way we were supposed to block it, just didn’t get the drive that we were supposed to get, and I didn’t lower my shoulder when I should have, and we didn’t get in the end zone. Didn’t get the three yards we needed.”

“[Kizer] has the option to throw it or run it, depending on what the numbers are,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “He had fair numbers. He’s reading it at the line of scrimmage.

“And it was the right call.”

The run ended a long day for Notre Dame’s offensive line, which spearheaded a rushing attack that averaged more than 250 yards per game this season entering Saturday night but failed to establish any push against Clemson’s front seven. Prosise, who was averaging 150 yards per game, could not find any room to operate against the Tigers, finishing with just 50 yards on 15 carries. The Notre Dame offense as a whole had 116 yards on the ground.

“We got behind there and really couldn’t come back,” Kelly said when asked about the performance of the offensive line. “I thought the second half of the game was closer. We were probably going to get the things we needed in the running game, but we had to throw it way too much. We couldn’t be balanced when we needed to be.”

Notre Dame fell behind early after Clemson sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson jumped-started his squad on the game’s opening drive. On the very first play from the ling of scrimmage, he called his own number on a quarterback draw that went for 38 yards and put the Tigers in Irish territory, where Clemson would run its next ten plays spanning two drives.

Watson capped the drive by rolling left to find junior tight end Jordan Leggert at the 10-yard line, who turned upfield and dove into the end zone to put the Tigers up, 7-0.

The Clemson defensive line dominated Notre Dame’s first possession, forcing a three-and-out. Irish sophomore Tyler Newsome then shanked a 15-yard punt off the side of his foot.

Watson marched the Tigers from the Irish 40-yard line to the end zone in four plays, culminating in a pass to sophomore receiver Artavis Scott. Scott bounced off two Irish defenders and walked across the goal line to increase Notre Dame’s deficit to 14-0.

The Irish did manage to strike back on the next drive. On the kickoff, freshman receiver C.J. Sanders broke free to the Irish 49-yard line. Freshman kicker Justin Yoon drilled a 46-yard field goal to put the Irish on the board with 5:32 remaining in the first quarter.

Notre Dame’s defense settled in following Yoon’s field goal, stymieing the Tiger offense on four consecutive drives to end the first half.

Notre Dame’s offense, however, failed to find the same groove. Five penalties for 30 yards — including a delay of game-false start-delay of game sequence that changed a second-and-seven situation to second-and-22 after the Irish had picked up a first down — killed any momentum the offense mustered.

Irish graduate student linebacker Joe Schmidt said he was especially disappointed by how slowly the team started.

“We just didn’t execute. I didn’t execute,” Schmidt said. “We need to be better at executing the game plan. We need to tackle the ball carrier, take grass and get them on the ground. Eliminate big plays.

“We need to be better across the board.”

Kelly also said the Irish came out flat.

“We started poorly defensively,” Kelly said. “ … There are no moral victories, and we can’t go on the road and be tentative defensively to start a game. We didn’t get off to a good start.

“We’re not here for moral victories. We’re too far along in our program. We’ve got to come down here and beat Clemson. You can’t beat Clemson turning the ball over four times and starting tentative on defense. No room for moral victories.”

The Irish now turn their attention to Navy and its triple-option attack that visits Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday.

“We have to look forward. We have to move on to the next game,” Schmidt said. “Obviously we have to look back at this game and learn from it. But there isn’t a guy in there with a smile on his face, and we’re not going to smile for the next week.

“We’ve got to get back to work. We have a big challenge ahead of us this next week with Navy. I can guarantee that we’re going to be better.”

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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