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irish insider

What a win over No. 1 Clemson means for Brian Kelly, seniors’ legacy

| Monday, November 9, 2020

In 2015 a lot of leaders on this 2020 roster had either just committed or had just been recruited by Notre Dame. That same year the No. 12 ranked Clemson Tigers, led by Dabo Swinney, defeated the sixth ranked Irish in a nailbiter dubbed the “BYOG” game — “bring your own guts,” as Swinney put it in his mayhem-filled postgame interview. 

A recruit today would look at that game and say to himself, “Hey, I might be more successful if I went to a different school, a school more accustomed to winning in big games.” But this group decided to stick with their gut decision, and after putting in the work for four or five years, these seniors and graduates have physically manifested some of these goals they laid when they arrived on campus.

Some of these players would have a role in the 2018 Cotton Bowl loss. Senior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah for one knows all about it

“In reference to what [this win] means to our senior class, we worked so hard. You know, especially in 2018, I had to sit through that, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and I, we had to sit through that and watch that game,” he said. “And it was a painful game. So we always say that it is for the brotherhood, you know what I mean? And not just the brotherhood that is playing with us. It’s a brotherhood that came before, so we just wanted to do it for them, do it for us and do our community and our fans. That’s what we did. So it’s a great one.”

Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics

Irish graduate student wide receiver Javon McKinley dives to make a fingertip catch during Notre Dame’s double-overtime, 47-40 win over Clemson on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

If 2015 was the BYOG game, then this one could be the bring your own soul game. Notre Dame’s leaders and captains all had rollercoasters of a night individually, but they would bend and not break. They poured their heart and soul and every ounce of their being into this game. Ian Book coughed up the ball after rushing for what would have been a first down and looked down for the count. But if there is one thing that is certain about this class and about Notre Dame in general, it is that they face adversity and overcome it. Their head coach is no different. 

“As a coach, you commit your vocation to this because you love seeing your players overcome what amounts to sometimes difficult odds. That was fun to watch those guys,” head coach Brian Kelly.

Kelly said that he was not phased at all by Book’s fumble and he kept his head straight and would lead his team to a huge upset. 

“I went up to him right away. I said, “Listen, we’re going to need you to win this game for us.  It will come down on your shoulders, and you’re going to win the game.” I just stayed positive with him. Obviously he’s struggling to get in the end zone, and it was a big play, but I knew there would be other opportunities for him.  He’s shown it before, that he makes big plays down the stretch to win games.”

Another veteran member of this team that made a defining play was graduate student defensive lineman Daelin Hayes. Hayes sealed the game for the Irish after a huge sack that set up a third and 24 in double overtime for Clemson. He sealed that game up for the Irish, and for Kelly, it gave him a much-needed signature victory, as Kelly has long been criticized for not being able to win big games. Kelly has now silenced the haters but will now need to keep the pace with a new and improved target on his team’s back. 

It is difficult to quantify or even describe what this win means for this Notre Dame football team and Brian Kelly. Ian Book probably put it best. 

“So fun, a night I’ll never forget. No matter how old I am, I know I’ll remember this game forever. So just a special moment. And just the fans involved in it, and just watching the defense just do what they did,” Kelly said. “And just sitting on the sideline, knowing that they were going to stop them. It was just unbelievable, and I just started screaming and ran out there and threw my helmet. And it’s just a night I’m never going forget. And when the fans stormed the field, it was actually pretty cool. It was really fun.”

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