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‘One thing we know about Navy is that they will never quit’: Irish hold on 35-32, despite aggressive Navy comeback attempt 

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, No. 20 Notre Dame met Navy for their 95th time. Naval festivities welcomed the 62,124 fans to M&T Bank Stadium, as a Midshipmen procession, fighter jet flyover and parachute display occurred before play commenced. The Irish have had a history of victories against Navy, with the Midshipmen only winning 13 of the 94 (now 95) previous meetings. Notre Dame was able to extend their four-year win streak, though their offensive dominance in the first half quickly crumbled in the second. It was as though there were two different Notre Dame offenses playing between the first and the second halves, but nonetheless it was just enough for a win. 

Pyne dominates first half, points abound for the Irish (35-13)

After Navy won the coin toss and deferred, Notre Dame started off with the ball and junior quarterback Drew Pyne came in hot. The first quarter saw a stellar performance by Pyne and the rest of the offense. On the first drive of the game alone, Pyne completed for 58 yards, over half of the 85 yards he threw throughout the entirety of the Clemson game last week. By the end of the first half, Pyne had more than quadrupled that number, coming in at 234 passing yards. 

Pyne had some nice looks to the outside in order to get the Irish on the board early. A 30-yard pass completed to wide open sophomore running back Audric Estime gave the Irish their first touchdown early in the game. On Notre Dame’s next possession, sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy received Pyne’s 38 yard catch in a snag behind his defender’s back to grant the Irish another touchdown. The crowd went wild for this catch of the year contender. 

However, Navy had something to say about this 14-0 score. Fullback Daba Fofana snuck in a touchdown for the Midshipmen in the final minutes of the first quarter to bring the game to 14-6 after a missed extra point. A touchdown run at the beginning of the second quarter by Navy quarterback Xavier Arline made it 21-13. It is obvious Notre Dame missed senior J.D. Bertrand, who missed the game with an injury, as gaps in the defense allowed Navy to show some ownership of the run game throughout the second quarter. That is, until junior cornerback Clarence Lewis had something to say about it. 

A crucial midfield interception by Lewis in the final three minutes of the second quarter changed the tide for the Irish, and was arguably the kiss of death for the Midshipmen. The Irish went to work quickly, and a big run from Estime allowed Pyne to run it in for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 28-13. Momentum continued, and a blocked punt by Jack Kiser marked the fifth straight game that the Irish have blocked a punt. In addition, this was the first blocked punt against Navy since their season opener against Marshall last year. 

In yet another touchdown play, a stellar 37 yard catch by wide receiver Jayden Thomas in the final minute of the second quarter brought the Irish to 24-13. Though it was less than three minutes on the clock, the Irish were able to get some serious work done, and spirits were high heading into the second half with a 35-13 advantage. 

Slow play in quarter three leads to crumbling Irish performance in the fourth (35-32)

The second half play got off to a slow start with the Midshipmen draining 10 minutes off the clock in a 16 play, 72 yard drive. Though missed tackles and penalties abounded for the Irish and allowed the Midshipmen to keep moving, Navy eventually settled for a field goal. The kick was good to bring the score to Notre Dame 35, Navy 16. The Irish appeared to have lost steam as they only gained three yards in the third quarter. On the other side of things, Navy was attempting an aggressive comeback. Head coach Marcus Freeman commented on Navy’s resiliency. 

“One thing we know about Navy is that they will never quit,” Freeman said. 

And quit they did not. Any of the sluggishness in the third quarter was made up right away by the Midshipmen right in the final period. Pyne’s first pass of the quarter was intercepted by Navy’s John Marshall, and Arline quickly passed it up the middle for a touchdown. After a successful two point conversion, the score rose to 35-24. Pyne two plays apart as Notre Dame’s drive sputtered. Later, Pyne was sacked again as he was under constant pressure in the second half.  

The Irish offense generated next to nothing in the second half, as they only gained a total of 12 yards in its entirety. Injury of Navy’s quarterback Xavier Arline brought in backup quarterback Maasai Maynor to the stage. This did not seem to particularly hinder Navy, as the Midshipmen were able to make some plays downfield and eventually amass a touchdown in the final minute of the game. A successful two-point conversion brought the Midshipmen dangerously close with a score of 35-32. Nevertheless, the Irish fell on the Navy onside kick to seal up the game. Freeman commented on the lack of urgency present among the Irish in the second half. 

“We had to match [Navy’s] urgency throughout the entirety of the game. We did it in the first half, but we did not have the urgency or execution in the second,” Freeman said.

Continuing a longstanding tradition, the Notre Dame and Navy alma maters rang out as Irish and Midshipmen players stood alongside one another in solidarity. Junior linebacker Prince Kollie described it as “a great thing to see” and a moment that he cherishes. 

With a final score of 35-32, Notre Dame leaves Baltimore victorious, but with lots to review. The Irish ended the game with 269 passing and 66 rush yards, for a total of 335. Navy edged them out at 363, on 108 pass and 255 rush. The Irish move down their docket of rivalry matchups as they face Boston College next week.

“We’ve got to a point now where we can win these close games, and we are going to be better because of it. It’s going to be a hungry group as we head into our last home game,” Freeman said.

Contact Maddie Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

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Five key moments from Notre Dame’s 35-32 victory over Navy

Notre Dame defeated Navy by a score of 35-32 Saturday afternoon at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium for their fourth consecutive win. Here are five key moments from the victory. 

Offense turns to Pyne early as quarterback has career first half

A week after Notre Dame ran roughshod over the vaunted Clemson defense, many expected more of the same Saturday. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne completed just nine passes for 85 yards a week ago. Yet on the first drive of the game, he picked apart the Midshipmen defense, completing all four of his passes for 58 yards, including a 30-yard catch and run to sophomore running back Audric Estime to open the scoring. 

He also completed a key fourth down on a quarterback sneak to keep the drive alive, as Notre Dame raced out to a 7-0 lead in less than five minutes. The first drive was merely a precursor to what was to come as the offense continued to count on Pyne throughout the rest of the first half. He would finish the first half with an impressive statline of 14-16 for 234 yards and five total touchdowns. 

Lenzy hauls in circus catch 

Towards the end of opening the quarter, with the Irish already leading by a touchdown, Pyne evaded pressure, scrambled to his right and heaved the ball towards the end zone. It looked like a sure incompletion, or worse, with a defender draped all over his intended receiver, senior Braden Lenzy. Instead, Lenzy somehow turned it into his second touchdown of the season, pinning the ball against his defender’s back for one of the best catches in college football this year. It was a 38 yard score which pushed Pyne over the 100-yard mark, and seemed to galvanize the offense even further.

Pyne, who in past weeks seemed hesitant to take a shot down the field, was able to get several different targets involved early, particularly on third down. Deion Colzie had a big, 27-yard gain to convert on 3rd and 12 and Jayden Thomas had a 38 yard gain on 3rd and 10, which set up Pyne’s third touchdown. In total, Pyne completed a pass to seven different receivers. Interestingly, junior tight end Michael Mayer, typically Pyne’s most reliable target, was relatively quiet, finishing with just three receptions for 23 yards.  

As Notre Dame struggled slightly on the ground, gaining 89 yards on 19 carries in the first half, Pyne’s success proved all the more critical, and proved Notre Dame could win in multiple ways after last week’s dominant rushing performance against Clemson. 

Navy’s trickery backfires 

After the Midshipmen scored their second touchdown of the game to make the score 21-13, they looked poised to climb back into the contest. They attempted to catch the Irish off guard on the ensuing kickoff with a surprise onside kick, but Notre Dame was prepared. Sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie fell on the ball at midfield, and the Irish started the drive with great field position. 

The Midshipmen defense bailed out their coaching staff’s unconventional decision, forcing the Irish to attempt a long field goal. Blake Grupe’s 45-yard try went wide right, and Navy had another chance. But on the very first play of the subsequent drive, they returned to the trickery. A reverse went to slotback Kai Puailoa-Rojas, who attempted to find a receiver downfield. His poor attempt at a pass fell directly into the arms of junior cornerback Clarence Lewis, and the Irish got the ball right back at the Navy 41. 

This time, they needed just three plays to take advantage. After Estime broke off a 28-yard run, Pyne scrambled in from 11 yards out for his fourth total touchdown of the game. 

Special teams blocks another punt as Irish build insurmountable lead

On the next drive, the special teams unit once again came through for Notre Dame by blocking a punt. This time, it was junior linebacker Jack Kiser who got a hand on it with just 1:27 left in the first half. The Irish took over at the Navy 37, and Pyne wasted no time, finding Thomas in the end zone on the first play of the drive with one of his best throws of the afternoon. 

It was Notre Dame’s seventh blocked punt of the year, which leads the nation, and the fifth consecutive game in which they have blocked at least one. Thomas’ touchdown gave the Irish an seemingly insurmountable lead 35-13 at the break. Even as Navy continued to battle and the Irish offense struggled in the second half, it was inconsequential. 

Irish offense held to 12 yards in second half, Midshipmen mount furious comeback

Despite Notre Dame’s big lead at halftime, Navy came out of the locker room with another level of play, especially on defense. The Midshipmen held Notre Dame to just three yards of offense in the third quarter and nine in the fourth, a remarkable turnaround after being torched for 323 yards in the opening half. 

Pyne was routinely under pressure — he was sacked three times in the second half, and Navy’s defense line refused to give the Irish running backs anything to work with. On offense, meanwhile, the Midshipmen scored 19 points to mount a furious late comeback, including a 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 left in the game. Yet Notre Dame’s defense bent but didn’t break, and despite the abysmal offensive performance in the second half, Pyne’s play in the first half was enough to carry the Irish to a win.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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Observer staff predicts Notre Dame vs. Navy

After Notre Dame garnered their biggest win in recent memory — a 35-14 drubbing over previously unbeaten Clemson — The Observer staff give their picks for the Irish’s battle with Navy.

Aidan Thomas – Sports Editor

My heart rate hasn’t settled down from what was the most electric Notre Dame Stadium environment I’ve personally experienced in my four years. And now, it’s time for the Irish to do something else they haven’t done: perform well after a big game. So far, the Marshall and Stanford atrocities have followed up a tight loss to Ohio State and then a big win over BYU.

Notre Dame is going to be prepared for the triple option. I don’t anticipate Navy doing much offensively, especially with their starting quarterback out. I would anticipate more of the same for the Irish on offense. There’ll be some great moments and great drives, coupled with some frustrating missed opportunities. The key is getting locked in for a noon game coming off a pair of ranked wins against a 3-6 Navy team. This game might be a little closer than desired early. But ultimately, Notre Dame should handle the Midshipmen.

Notre Dame 34, Navy 10

Nate Moller – Senior Sports Writer

For the first time this season, the performance by the Irish last weekend was stunning in a good way. I truly did not anticipate the Irish being able to run the ball effectively against a seemingly elite Clemson run defense. But I was very wrong in that respect, as sophomore running backs Logan Diggs and Audric Estime were able to both rush for over 100 yards. The Irish will now face a 3-6 Navy team as heavy favorites. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, they haven’t played well as heavy favorites this year, as their losses against Marshall and Stanford seemingly came out of nowhere.

To make matters worse for the Irish, the Midshipmen are starting to play better football. They kept the score close against a solid Cincinnati team last week. The Irish will need to take advantage of every offensive possession they have on Saturday. And I don’t think the Irish offense is efficient enough to do that. I expect Navy to eat away at the clock with their triple-option attack and find a way to hang in the game long enough to stun the Irish with a late touchdown drive. In classic Notre Dame fashion, the Irish will follow up one of their best performances in recent memory with a disappointing letdown at the hands of the Midshipmen.

Notre Dame 20, Navy 21

Mannion McGinley – Assistant Managing Editor

The Irish have fallen twice after better-than-expected performances against top teams. Both the Marshall and Stanford losses seemed completely out of character in light of the weeks before them. That being said, the Irish had yet to look like they did last weekend. Freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison had the game of his life, and the Irish defense shut down two quarterbacks and star running back Will Shipley. For the third time this season, the Irish seemed to be living outside their pay grade. But for the first time, they looked comfortable doing it.

So, are positive and negative performances infinitely linked? Do the Irish have to succumb to an insane loss after a massive win? No. This is the weekend to break that streak. But regardless of Navy’s record, it won’t be a cakewalk. The same defense that shut down the Clemson offense will have to shut down the triple option. And time will fly in this game as both run-oriented offenses attempt to stomp downfield. The Irish will have to come out of the gate ready to go, since they’ll get no extra time from the Midshipmen. After a slight first-quarter lull from the offense, a once again stellar defense will propel this victory.

Notre Dame 24, Navy 17

Liam Coolican – Associate Sports Editor

What was most impressive in Notre Dame’s victory over Clemson was that the Irish were dominant in the trenches. Not only did they shred Clemson’s star-studded defensive line, but they also held the Tigers to 90 yards on the ground, their lowest output of the season. The Irish will need more of the same against Navy this weekend. Navy is having a down year, but the triple option is always difficult to defend. Coming directly after the biggest game of the season, my concern is the Irish may not have had enough time to devote to this unique style of play.

On the other side of the ball, Navy’s run defense is stout, allowing opponents just 88 yards on the ground per contest. But as Marcus Freeman said after the Clemson victory, the Irish can’t shy away from their strength. It clearly worked last week. And after a season of searching, I believe Notre Dame has finally found their offensive identity. In this strength versus strength matchup, I’ll take the Irish. 

Notre Dame 27, Navy 13

Emily DeFazio – Associate Sports Editor

If I thought the 2020 Clemson game was electric, I didn’t know what electric meant. That was defined Saturday night against the Tigers. I think I’ve been feeling the after effects of the adrenaline rush this entire week. I doubt it’ll go away if the Irish keep playing the way they did Saturday.

While Navy is a respectful rival of Notre Dame, I don’t feel too nervous heading into Saturday’s matchup. The Irish should walk in confident knowing that they have what it takes to notch a definitive win. The only caveat is that, in this inexplicable season, the games with less pressure are the games they have fallen short in. If they can keep the momentum going, maybe even going so far as to experiment a little on offense against a milder opponent, the Irish should have this one.

Notre Dame 38, Navy 14

Madeline Ladd – Associate Sports Editor

Last weekend was spectacular, but this is an entirely new week with an entirely new opponent. Notre Dame must avoid the hangover from the big upset over Clemson. I said after the monumental BYU, and I will say it again — now is not the time to rest. Navy’s talent isn’t great, especially since Navy QB Xavier Arline only threw the ball six times in two games combined as the starter. However, Navy has choices. They utilize QB Maasai Maynobu as a passing option and have demonstrated the ability to control the clock. Stopping their offense will require the Notre Dame defense to be especially disciplined.

The Navy defense is nothing to shrug over, and they have the ability to stop Notre Dame if they play down to their opponent, as shown previously with Marshall and Stanford. Freeman’s team has turned the corner and finally figured out their identity as a team. I predict a big game from junior quarterback Drew Pyne with 300 yards passing, with Estime, Diggs and junior running back Chris Tyree going all out on the Midshipmen. Notre Dame has this win — at least, they should.

Notre Dame: 42, Navy 10 

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Moller: Irish must build on momentum from Clemson win

The last time I wrote a column on the football team, the Irish were coming off of a stunning 16-14 home loss at the hands of a one-win Stanford team. Since I wrote that piece, the mentality surrounding Notre Dame football has completely changed after the Irish pulled off one of their best victories in recent memory last weekend against then-No. 4 Clemson.

With the newfound momentum, the Irish must focus on continuing to play good football against two subpar opponents in Navy and Boston College before they finish the season against top-10 USC. Although the Irish will likely enter the Navy and Boston College games as heavy favorites, the Irish were also heavy favorites in their losses to Stanford and Marshall earlier this year. If they overlook either of these opponents, they could be in danger of being upset again.

So how do the Irish continue to dominate going forward? They need to keep running the football. Against Clemson and Syracuse, the Irish stuck to the run game consistently, running the ball 47 and 56 times, respectively. In games where the Irish have run the ball well, they have won. Against Marshall and Stanford, the Irish failed to establish the run game early. And that cost them as the game endured.

Sophomore running backs Audric Estime and Logan Diggs have been the two biggest contributors in the run game. It certainly seems that the Irish have found their two-headed monster going forward. Both running backs have shown a great amount of physicality and ability to find the holes, and this has led to their overwhelming success over the last few games.

I am still not completely sold on junior quarterback Drew Pyne. But he has been solid as of late and avoided making too many mistakes. But this is in part because of Notre Dame’s strong run game over the last couple of contests. The Irish must keep running the ball going forward. When Pyne has had to pass in third and long situations, it typically hasn’t gone too well. So establishing the run game and getting into third and manageable will be essential for Pyne and the offense’s effectiveness.

Another issue the Irish have addressed in their last couple of games is getting off to a slow start. In their first six games of the season, the Irish failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter. Over the last three games, however, the Irish have changed the narrative, outscoring their opponents 37-14 in the first quarter. Getting off to a good start has allowed the Irish to settle in and run the ball, rather than trying to play catch up and having to throw the ball. It has also taken some of the pressure off of the Irish players. The early leads have allowed them to settle in and stick to their game plan from start to finish.

The Irish have also seemingly turned the script in the turnover battle over the last two games of the season. After getting only a handful of turnovers across the first six games of the season, the Irish have now recorded four interceptions in the last two games. Two of those interceptions were pick-sixes that changed the flow of the game. In the Syracuse game, graduate student safety Brandon Joseph’s pick-six gave the Irish the lead on the opening play. And against Clemson, freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison’s 96-yard interception return virtually sealed the game for the Irish.

It truly seemed that in some of the early games like Stanford, the ball just wasn’t falling in favor of the Irish defense. And it was starting to cause frustration. Lately, that has changed. And the Irish deserve credit for successfully translating those momentum swings to better play on both sides of the football.

In my previous column, I told the Irish to have some pride after their abysmal home loss to Stanford. It was evident against Clemson that the Irish were by no means lacking any pride or confidence in their identity. That energy and excitement around the team last weekend showed that the foundation has been laid for the Freeman era at Notre Dame. That Clemson win showed that the program is heading in the right direction. There might be some bumps along the way, head coach. But Marcus Freeman has proved he has the ability to coach an elite football team going forward.

I would not be surprised if the Irish struggle in another game this season like they did against Stanford or Marshall. However, everyone has now seen Marcus Freeman’s potential as a coach. And I am confident that Notre Dame is going to be a really good football team in a couple of years down the road. I said in my previous article that the Irish had to prove the doubters the rest of the season. They did just that against Clemson last Saturday. Now, it’s time to build off of that and end the season on a high note.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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‘One of those special moments’: Irish knock off No. 4 Clemson 35-14

For the second time in three years, the Irish faithful found themselves celebrating on the field as Notre Dame knocked off an undefeated Clemson squad. When junior quarterback Drew Pyne lined up in victory formation and the clock ticked toward zero, fans and students alike spilled onto the field in jubilation. 

“I really didn’t want to leave that field,” head coach Marcus Freeman said after the game. “Just [to] spend some time with those students, and, man, this is a game that I’ll never forget.” 

Unlike in 2020, when the crowd was limited to mostly students, a sellout crowd got to experience the Irish victory. Also unlike 2020 — a 47-40 double overtime victory — the outcome wasn’t in doubt for nearly as long. 

Notre Dame was the far superior team on both sides of the ball, particularly in the trenches. The Irish rushed for 263 yards while limiting Clemson to just 90 yards on the ground. Prior to the game, Clemson’s defensive line–which has multiple projected first-round picks–had limited opponents to under 90 yards rushing per game. 

“We knew going into it that we had to run the ball,” Freeman said. “You look at every game that we have won, I think we rushed the ball 40 plus times. That’s been our backbone. We knew this defensive line was special, but we couldn’t shy away from our strength.” 

The weather was expected to play a significant factor, with winds gusting upwards of 40 miles per hour throughout the day on Saturday. It may have been the weather, or the quality of each team’s defense, but both offenses struggled to gain any traction early on. 

It was the special teams unit that provided the early breakthrough for Notre Dame. Thanks to two holding penalties on the Tigers, the Irish forced a three and out on Clemson’s first drive of the game. 

Clemson lined up to punt, but junior linebacker Jordan Botelho blocked the kick, and it was recovered in the air and returned for a touchdown by sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie to open the scoring. It was Notre Dame’s sixth blocked punt of the season, which leads the nation and broke the modern-day school record. 

“I challenged that group yesterday. I said, listen, you won’t surprise anybody,” Freeman said.   “Everybody in the country knows you’re coming after a punt. When you find ways to execute and you find ways to play with relentless effort, it doesn’t matter if a team knows you’re coming after a punt or not.” 

Junior quarterback Drew Pyne struggled mightily in the first half, completing just 4 of 10 passes for 41 yards. However, Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei was not much more effective. He completed 9 of his 12 attempts but ended up with an identical 41 yards. 

Uiagalelei was seemingly under pressure every time he dropped back to pass. Notre Dame dialed up the blitz early and often, tallying four sacks in addition to four quarterback hurries. Senior JD Bertrand was particularly effective, tallying 12 total tackles and 2 sacks. 

It was a far cry from Uiagalelei’s performance the last time he played in Notre Dame Stadium when he passed for 439 yards, the most ever by an opposing quarterback. 

Neither team entered the red zone until late in the second quarter. Sophomore running back Audric Estime took over on Notre Dame’s final drive of the half, rushing for 35 yards and picking up three first downs. Pyne capped the drive with a five-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 for the Irish at the break. 

Estime and fellow sophomore running back Logan Diggs both gashed the Tiger’s defense time and time again. Diggs would finish with 17 rushes for 114 yards, while Estime added 104 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts. 

Diggs praised the performance of the offensive line. “They were one of the best o-lines in the country this week,” he said, adding that “a lot of holes that we had tonight we ran through untouched.”

Pyne attempted just seven passes in the second half as Notre Dame called run play after run play, to great success. According to Diggs, the offensive line (was) probably more excited than everybody else.

“They like having the game in their hands, and we always tell them, we’re only going to go as far as you guys go,” he said.

The second half was more of the same for the Notre Dame defense as well. The Tigers continued to struggle to get anything going offensively. After their first two drives of the third quarter stalled out, Uiagalelei was sent to the sidelines to start the next drive in favor of freshman Cade Klubnik — a consensus five-star recruit and the top quarterback in his class — who was immediately intercepted by freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison. 

The interception gave the Irish great field position. It took them just three plays to march into the end zone from 14 yards out, giving Notre Dame a commanding 21-0 lead. Klubnik did not see the field again, but that didn’t stop Morrison.

With Clemson threatening deep into Notre Dame territory to open the fourth quarter on their next drive, Morrison stepped in front of Uiagalelei’s pass and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown, sending an already raucous Notre Dame stadium into pandemonium. 

“He’s an ultimate competitor that doesn’t get shaken,” Freeman said of Morrison. “It’s really uncommon for a freshman to be like that.” 

Despite the sizable advantage, Notre Dame wasn’t done celebrating. After Clemson finally got on the board with just over ten minutes remaining, the Irish put together yet another clinical drive, which culminated in a 17-yard touchdown reception by junior tight end Michael Mayer. 

It was Mayer’s 16th career touchdown, breaking Ken MacAfee’s record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in Notre Dame history. Mayer had a crowd of family and friends in attendance to celebrate the momentous occasion, including his brother, A.J., a quarterback at Arkansas State. 

“For him to be able to come to this game, I think (it) is his second game of my career here he’s been able to come to. Very, very special,” Mayer said. 

Clemson would score another touchdown before the game ended, making the final score 35-14, but it did nothing to dampen the jubilant mood throughout the stadium.  

“I wish I could explain exactly how this season has gone. You can’t,” Freeman said, adding, “But you know what?  I’m happy that the kids continued to believe in what we’re doing, and today was one of those special moments.” 

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5 key moments in Notre Dame’s Tiger thrashing

Two years ago, Notre Dame shocked the world by defeating Clemson in South Bend, causing Irish fans to storm the field in celebration. On Saturday, they had that chance again and took it, as the Irish knocked off No. 4 Clemson 35-14 in decisive fashion behind a dominant run game and a strong defensive performance. Here are five of the most important moments that led to an unpredictable Irish team’s biggest win of the season. 

Botelho blocks punt, Kollie takes it to the house

Notre Dame entered the game having blocked five punts on the year, tied for first in the nation. It did not take the Irish long to block their sixth. Notre Dame received the opening kickoff, and the Irish offense picked up one first down before punting in a short first drive. On offense for the first time, Clemson looked to get the ball to the edge with a series of screens and toss plays, but a pair of holding penalties forced the Tigers into a three-and-out.

With Clemson set to punt from their own 21-yard line, Notre Dame junior linebacker Jordan Botelho ran untouched through two rows of Tiger punt protection and blocked the attempt straight into the air. It fell into the waiting hands of Notre Dame sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie, who raced into the endzone, aided by a huge block from Botelho at the goal line. The play set a Notre Dame record for most blocked punts in a single season and gave the Irish a 7-0 advantage early in the first quarter as Notre Dame’s punt block unit continues to be a difference maker for the team.

Estime takes over to close out the first half

With Notre Dame’s first touchdown having come from special teams, the Irish offense did not draw blood for the majority of the first half. After a Clemson punt put Notre Dame at their own 22-yard line midway through the second quarter, the Irish leaned on sophomore running back Audric Estime to double their lead. Estime entered the game coming off a 123-yard, two-touchdown performance against Syracuse but carried the ball just four times in Notre Dame’s first several possessions.

On the first play of the drive, junior quarterback Drew Pyne handed it off to Estime, who picked up 13 yards. After three rushes from junior running back Chris Tyree that picked up 17 yards, Estime provided a spark again. On a crucial third down, Estime broke several tackles to pick up 11 yards. He followed that up with three straight carries that gained another 11 yards. With the Clemson defense on their heels, Pyne used a scramble, a completion to junior tight end Michael Mayer and a designed quarterback keeper to put the Irish in the endzone again in the final seconds of the half. Estime’s 35 rushing yards on the drive got the Irish offense rolling and helped Notre Dame take a two-possession lead into halftime.

Irish defense dominant to start second half

Despite Notre Dame’s strong first half, Clemson entered the third quarter with a chance to cut the Irish lead to just seven in their opening possession. The Notre Dame defense, though, had no intention of letting that happen. After a Notre Dame facemask on the first play of the half gave Clemson a first down on their own 44-yard line, an incompletion and short gain from running back Will Shipley left the Tigers with a key third and five. With Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei dropping back to pass, Notre Dame senior linebacker J.D. Bertrand picked up his second sack of the season to force a Clemson punt.

Following the punt, the Irish picked up three first downs, but eventually punted around midfield, pinning Clemson on their own goal line. The Tigers gained over 40 yards on the drive, but with Uiagalelei looking to pass on third down, Notre Dame freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison swooped in to break up the pass and force another Clemson punt. The Irish offense’s quiet start to the half gave Clemson an opportunity to get back in the game but timely defensive plays from the veteran Bertrand and freshman Morrison held off the Tigers’ attack.

Morrison interceptions provide insurance for the Irish

After Notre Dame was forced to punt from Clemson territory again late in the third quarter, the Tigers started another possession in the shadow of their end zone. After a first down handoff, the first pass of the game from backup quarterback Cade Klubnik was intercepted by Morrison as he continued to terrorize the Clemson offense (regardless of who was throwing the passes). The interception was the first of Morrison’s career and gave the Irish the ball in the red zone with all the momentum on their side. Just as they had done all game, Notre Dame kept the ball on the ground as they looked to take a three-possession lead. Carries from Estime and Pyne gave the Irish first and goal from the 2-yard line, and Estime punched it in for his ninth touchdown of the season to make the score 21-0 in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

Desperately needing a touchdown to stay in the game, Clemson seemed likely to get one as they quickly drove the length of the field with Uiagalelei back in the game. Two pass interference calls and one holding penalty, all on the Irish, gave Clemson a total of 40 yards. Inside the red zone, Clemson receiver Joseph Ngata was streaking to the endzone, but Uiagalelei’s underthrown pass was intercepted by Morrison, who was in the midst of the best game of his young career. Following his blocks, Morrison returned the interception 96 yards for a touchdown, giving the Irish an insurmountable 28-0 lead and capping off his incredible performance on the big stage.

Mayer breaks record as Irish win

Notre Dame has long been known for its elite tight ends, with the likes of Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph and Cole Kmet donning Irish jerseys in the last few years alone. After Saturday’s game, though, Irish junior Michael Mayer stands alone as the greatest tight end in Notre Dame history. With the game well in hand, Pyne connected with Mayer for a 17-yard touchdown that made the score 35-7 and gave Mayer his 16th career touchdown, breaking Notre Dame’s tight end record that was previously held by Eifert. Mayer now holds the triple crown of career records, boasting more touchdowns, yards and receptions than any tight end in Notre Dame history. He will soon be headed to the NFL Draft, but there is now no disputing Michael Mayer as the best in the position to ever don the blue and gold.

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Irish Insider: Clemson 2022

Foskey seeking sack record, second win over Clemson

“This is what you come to Notre Dame for”: Liufau ready for Clemson

Keys to victory versus Clemson

Observer Staff picks Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Pulse of the fanbase: How Irish fans feel about the Freeman Era so far

Coolican: Coaching staff must put their faith in Pyne

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Keys to victory versus Clemson

After a convincing win against Syracuse last week, the Irish have a lot of momentum heading into their biggest home matchup of the season against the fifth-ranked Clemson Tigers. Marcus Freeman and the Irish will look to prove that they can play well at home and break some of their early season woes at Notre Dame Stadium. Clemson, who is coming off of a bye week, last played against Syracuse as well, beating the Orange by a narrow 27-21 margin. The Irish will have their work cut out for them against the undefeated Tigers. Here are the Irish keys to victory.

Take care of the football

In Notre Dame’s stunning losses to Marshall and Stanford this season, it was ultimately turnovers that prevented the Irish from winning. Against Marshall, it was sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner’s pick-six with just under five minutes to go. Against Stanford, sophomore running back Audric Estime’s fumble late in the fourth quarter sealed the Irish loss. 

Facing a Clemson team that has more talent and experience on both sides of the ball, the Irish simply can not afford to give up any possessions or give the Tigers good field position on Saturday. The good news for the Irish is that the Clemson defense hasn’t exactly been racking up turnovers, as they only generated 12 turnovers this season. Despite this, the Irish will need to be disciplined at key moments of the game and not make costly mistakes like they have in a couple of games earlier this season. 

One player to watch for the Irish is Audric Estime. Although Estime has put up impressive numbers this season with over 500 rushing yards with an average of 5.6 yards per carry, he has lost three fumbles. The Irish relied heavily on Estime against Syracuse, and Estime took care of the ball and was very productive in the run game. The Irish will need the same from him on Saturday if they are going to compete with the Tigers.

Stop Clemson’s run game

Another key to Irish victory on Saturday will be stopping the Clemson run game, which has averaged nearly 200 yards per game this season. The Tigers are led by sophomore running back Will Shipley, who has been sensational for the Tigers this year and is averaging six yards per carry. Shipley is also coming off his most impressive performance of the year. He rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse two weeks ago. 

If Shipley and the Clemson offensive line are able to have their way with Notre Dame’s front seven, this game could be a blowout. The Irish run defense is ranked 51st in college football, and they have been very streaky this season. At times they have come up big in short-yardage situations, but they have also allowed nearly four yards per carry this season. They have been susceptible to allowing big yardage plays on the ground. Shipley is arguably the best running back the Irish have faced this season. Containing his production will be a challenge to say the least.

Even if they can contain Shipley, they have to worry about Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who can punish defenses with his mobility. Uiagalelei has 350 rushing yards this season, and his ability to be effective outside of the pocket could be an issue for the Irish. If the Irish are able to stop the run, however, they can potentially expose Uiagalelei’s bigger weakness in the passing game. Uiagalelei ranks just 45th in the FBS in passer rating.

Find success in the passing game

Although the Irish relied heavily on the run game in last week’s victory over Syracuse, that is going to be much tougher to do against a Clemson run defense that is ranked 7th in FBS and allows an average of just 2.98 yards per carry. It seems unlikely that the Irish will be able to lean on their run game to lead them to victory. 

For that reason, it is likely going to come down to junior quarterback Drew Pyne being able to make some plays, potentially in third and long situations. Since the BYU game, Pyne has completed just 48.6% of his passes, which isn’t going to cut it against Clemson. In the win against Syracuse, Pyne attempted just 19 passes, but it is quite possible he needs to throw the ball twice as much this Saturday and do so successfully. If the Irish are going to get Pyne comfortable in the pass game, they need the offensive line to step up against a Clemson team that averages nearly three sacks per game. Since the Stanford game, the offensive line has looked formidable, but they will face a difficult task against a talented Clemson front seven.

Aside from the offensive line, Pyne needs to have options available downfield other than junior tight end Michael Mayer. Assuming the Tigers do everything in their power to take Mayer out of the game, the Irish need at least a couple of receivers to step up. Sophomore Deion Colzie might be an option for the Irish, as he had a couple of catches in his return from injury against Syracuse. Freshman Tobias Merriweather and sophomore Jayden Thomas have also shown flashes of greatness this season, and they could be options for deep downfield plays as well. 

At the end of the day, though, it comes down to Pyne’s ability to find these open receivers. Too many times this season Pyne gets locked in on Mayer, and that has proved costly at times. Pyne has the opportunity of a lifetime on Saturday, and he has to be prepared to take advantage of his opportunity if the Irish are going to find a victory.

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Observer Sports Staff predicts Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Aidan Thomas – Sports Editor

To be an optimist or to not be an optimist. That’s my dilemma with this pick. I won’t say it’s not realistic to pick Notre Dame. By the CFP rankings, the Irish have two convincing wins over top-20 teams. To say they’ve obliterated those two teams at their own place would be a fair assessment. So it’s a conflict of whether the Irish will step up against a big opponent, as they’ve done all year, or struggle at home, which they’ve also done all year. 

When Clemson visited Notre Dame in 2020, the Irish scored two offensive touchdowns. Both were sparked by explosive plays — a 65-yard touchdown run and a 53-yard pass. Notre Dame’s longest offensive play this year is 54 yards, so they’re going to have to find a way to be more explosive. In that 2020 game, the Irish also kicked four field goals — two for 40+ yards — which has been a struggle for current kicker Blake Grupe. Can the Irish run the ball against one of the nation’s best run defenses? Can they take advantage of Clemson’s slow-starting defense despite their own slow-starting offense? I think this game shapes up as a low-scoring duel in which Clemson has the slightly better passing game to challenge the opposing defense with a more multidimensional attack. 

Clemson 24, Notre Dame 20

Mannion McGinley – Assistant Managing Editor

The last time Clemson entered Notre Dame stadium, it was a top-five matchup with the No. 4 Irish the underdog to No. 1 Clemson. Double overtime. The Irish score, stop the Tigers and storm the field. We all remember this. 

That pregame energy is back this week but the unranked Irish taking on a No. 5 Clemson feels like an even larger task. Irish fans want the win but it may not be as easy to will it to fruition this time around. The glimmer of hope for Irish fans comes in the form of slight quarterback uncertainty. DJ Uiagalelei threw two interceptions against Syracuse two weeks ago before he was pulled from the game and replaced by Cade Klubnik. The Tigers pulled out the win there, but it forced them into a significantly more one-dimensional structure.

The Irish defense has to capitalize either on a junior quarterback trying to reestablish his good name or a young quarterback who has barely had a chance. The real test for the defense will be taking Will Shipley out of the mix. The running back averages six yards a carry and if the Irish want to see a third home victory, that can’t happen. It will require strong tackling, immediate responses to slight breakaways and — when the Irish can force a turnover — capitalizing on it without fail… 

This brings me to the offense. Drew Pyne has to find a way to successfully get the ball moving through the air and not to Michael Mayer. The Clemson line won’t give him a lot of time though so Tommy Rees is going to have to find some plays Pyne can pull off quickly and successfully to compliment the running backs. I wouldn’t mind a deep ball akin to the one Javon McKinley reeled in during the 2020 matchup.

But regardless of how they do it if the defense can create 10 or 14 points of its own (a big ask yes, but optimistically, doable), the Irish offense will need to find a way to stay on the field for a good long while. The less time Shipley has to work with, the better for the Irish and the more points Notre Dame can bolster a win with. A low-scoring win will go to the Tigers. However, the Irish will use defensive pressure to help their offense find the endzone and get just enough of a passing game to get their run game going. 

Notre Dame 28, Clemson 24

Nate Moller – Senior Sports Writer

Prior to last week’s convincing victory against Syracuse, I would have picked the Tigers to win this one in a landslide, but the Irish showed some fight last week, and I think they can hang around in this one for a while. The biggest concern, however, is quarterback Drew Pyne. Against the Orange, the Irish were able to successfully run the ball and prevent Pyne from passing for most of the game. That likely won’t be the case, however, against an elite Clemson run defense that allows an average of under 3 yards per carry.

Clemson’s weakness on defense is their passing game, and Pyne will have to make some plays if the Irish are going to have a chance. While I anticipate Michael Mayer having a big game, Pyne will need to find other receivers and not limit himself to just Mayer. On the other side of the ball, the Irish will have the challenge of stopping a prolific Clemson run game that is led by Will Shipley and mobile quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. At the end of the day, I think the Irish hang around for three quarters, but the Tigers are just too explosive for the Irish to keep pace offensively once the fourth quarter comes around. The Irish play well when I don’t pick them too, so of course, I’m picking the Tigers.

Clemson 35 Notre Dame 24

Maddie Ladd – Associate Sports Editor

This is a prediction I have been thinking about all season, and it is hard to believe it is finally here. No. 5 Clemson has performed well this season, though they have played a soft schedule. Nevertheless, the Tigers will be the best team to come to South Bend this year, and the Irish must play up on Saturday as they have in the past. Think Clemson 2020.

Put simply, Drew Pyne is key for this game. He played great on the road until last weekend at Syracuse where he only completed 9-19 passes and badly missed open receivers. Pyne must play like he did against UNC and BYU and complete the easy passes while shifting focus from solely Michael Mayer. 

Wide receivers must also step up and catch the ball. Making the easy catches will be key to open up the game for the running backs to do their thing and find holes against the powerful Clemson defense. Finally, a well-established run game is essential. The colder, rainy weather this weekend may limit passing on both sides and help the Irish lock into the run game. The offensive line is a major strength for the Irish, and they can handle Clemson.

Notre Dame has improved in all assets of the game (especially special teams) in the past few weeks. For the Irish to come out with a win, this improvement must continue and be maintained for the entire game. But Drew Pyne is the key. If he plays well, Notre Dame wins. Call it optimistic, controversial or even crazy, but I am taking the Irish this weekend. Though not by much, I think a win is possible if Pyne and the rest of the offense come together, and the defense works its magic. Maybe even a punt block or two by the special teams. If not, it could all crumble. But I do love a good underdog story. 

Notre Dame 28, Clemson 24 

Liam Coolican – Associate Sports Editor

Everything had to go right for Notre Dame to knock off Clemson on that fateful night in South Bend in 2020, and they still needed double overtime. This year’s edition of the Irish is nowhere near as good as they were two years ago when they made the Playoff. I don’t believe Clemson is at the same level as the other undefeated teams at the top of the rankings such as Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee, but what they have shown is an impressive ability to close out tight games. They have won three one-score games, whereas Notre Dame is 2-2 in such contests. 

Clemson also boasts one of the nation’s top run defenses, limiting opponents to under 90 rushing yards per game. That doesn’t bode well for Notre Dame, who has relied more and more on the running game over the past several weeks. In the win against Syracuse, the Irish carried the ball 54 times compared to just 19 pass attempts. The Irish’s success will more than likely depend on Pyne, and the coaching staff does not seem to have a great deal of faith in him.

I haven’t seen anything from Pyne (or, frankly, any receiver other than Mayer) to suggest that the passing game will be more effective against Clemson. I do foresee the Irish defense making life tough for Uiagalelei and the Tigers’ offense, but it won’t be enough to overcome the offensive shortcomings.

Clemson 20, Notre Dame 10

Emily DeFazio – Associate Sports Editor

This is the game where the blind optimism that can come with being a Notre Dame fan starts to come into question. Do I want the Irish to win? Absolutely. Do I think they will? Blind optimism would say we’ve got a fighting chance. Reality, not so much. While Notre Dame came out on top against the Tigers in 2020, they used every minute of play allowed to do so and had some pretty miraculous plays in the process. Not to mention, star quarterback Trevor Lawrence was out for the count with COVID. This year, undefeated Clemson’s then-backup quarterback will take the field again, this time as an experienced starter.

I think Notre Dame has been too sporadic this season to be able to completely predict what will go down. The Irish have lost to unranked teams that were supposed to be an easy win on their home schedule but dominated top-20 units while away. Pyne has gotten some traction as starter, but the offense’s passing game (sans Mayer) has not been developed enough. The run game will not be able to carry the team as it did at Syracuse.

However, that match against the Orange is a large contributor to my glimmer of hope. The Tigers trailed the Orange until late in the fourth a few weekends ago, and the Irish just notched a decisive victory in the Dome. If Syracuse is a measurable factor, the Irish should be able to give Clemson a run for their money. Time will tell if it will be enough. The Irish have had scattered moments of excellence. I can only hope that same magic that took over the stadium in 2020 makes a reappearance Saturday night.

Notre Dame 29, Clemson 28

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Pulse of the fanbase: How Irish fans are feeling eight games into Freeman Era

As Notre Dame enters their biggest home game of the season, The Observer took a look at the overall mood of the fanbase through eight games. The Irish have dropped two games as huge home favorites, but they also have two top-20 wins on the road. Sitting at 5-3, how confident are Irish fans about the rest of this season and the direction of the program under the current coaching staff? In an Observer survey, 105 respondents weighed in with their opinion. 

Confidence in Marcus Freeman: 8.12 of 10

All confidence ratings were given on a scale of a 1-10 with 1 being “should be fired after the season” and 10 representing “can lead the Irish to their next national championship within a few years.”Overall, Irish fans feel good about their young head coach. He’s had some learning moments this year, but he’s gotten the Irish up and ready for big games. If he can start making sure the Irish are mentally ready for those easier contests, this team and program can elevate itself sooner rather than later.

Confidence in Tommy Rees: 4.76

Rees, in year three as offensive coordinator, got a lot less slack from Irish fans. A touch under 30% of respondents granted Rees a seven or above. Those higher grades reflect a confidence in Rees to expand on some of the brilliant moments that he’s shown. The Irish have at times put together some superbly-called drives, such as the end-of-half touchdown drive at Syracuse last week. Rees has demonstrated some creativity, and some respondents appear to believe that Rees has been dealt a tough hand with thin depth at wide receiver, and now four starting quarterbacks in three years.

However, 33% of grades saw Rees land at a three or below, so the feelings can be pretty extreme. Who exactly is to blame for the inconsistent offense? Irish fans are split on this answer. 

Confidence in Al Golden: 7.26

Golden has by and large done a solid job in his first year as defensive coordinator. There’s been some interesting blitz decisions that have led to big gains at inopportune times, but the adjustments and overall performance have been there. The biggest weakness for the Irish is their awful red zone defense, ranked dead last in the FBS. 

However, Golden and the Irish defense have held a lot of teams below their scoring and yardage averages. Of respondents, 54.7% gave Golden a seven or an eight, so there’s a lot of confidence, but there’s a little more doubt with some questionable moments scattered throughout the year. 

Who should start at quarterback?

This was a curious question that ultimately revealed that junior Drew Pyne is still the favored signal-caller, despite growing noise for freshman Steve Angeli. Of the 106 respondents, 70.1% picked Pyne, the more experienced signal-caller who is 5-1 as a starter. Pyne has been less than ideal in recent weeks, completing under 50% of passes over his last three games. However, he’s shown the ability to be a strong QB1 in prior games, and he has his flashes in every game. Pyne could also benefit from a lot less drops from his receivers, but certainly he’s missed his fair share of throws. 

That being said, while there’s some intrigue about Angeli, particularly after the freshman engineered a comeback in the spring game, many realize that throwing a lower four-star quarterback into the fray as a true freshman is not the answer. Under Pyne, the Irish still have a small chance at 9-3, and building for the future by starting Angeli is not the answer. 

Who are Notre Dame’s top three offensive and defensive players? 

While the exact answers varied, the general offensive consensus was junior tight end Michael Mayer (not exactly shocking), a running back and an offensive lineman. The most popular permutation was Mayer, sophomore Audric Estime and sophomore Joe Alt. Estime appeared on 72 ballots, while classmate and fellow running back Logan Diggs earned 30 votes. Alt, sophomore tackle Blake Fisher and graduate student guard Jarrett Patterson were among vote-getters on the offensive line. 

At other positions, Pyne brought in a handful of votes, and sophomore Jayden Thomas led all wide receivers with eight votes. 

There was a decent amount of variation amidst the defensive players, but overall, three seniors separated themselves from the crowd. Vyper Isaiah Foskey was the clear top vote-getter, with transfer safety Brandon Joseph sitting in second. Both Foskey and Joseph are potential first-round draft picks, and they’ve come on strong in recent weeks. Foskey has four sacks and two punt blocks in the past two weeks, and Joseph notched a pick-six against Syracuse. Coming in third was linebacker J.D. Bertrand who had himself a day against Syracuse. The senior has performed well recently after a slow start that involved two targeting penalties, and he’s leading the linebacker unit. 

Beyond those three, defensive lineman Rylie Mills and senior linebacker Marist Liufau earned plenty of votes. Three cornerbacks, freshman Ben Morrison, junior Cam Hart and graduate student Tariq Bracy all earned similar numbers of votes. 

Predicting the rest of the season

There’s a lot of confidence in the fanbase surrounding the upcoming game. In all the responses, 72.5% picked Notre Dame to upset Clemson this weekend, with another 3.7% picking the Irish to at least cover the 3.5-point spread. Interestingly, however, many Irish fans do expect another loss this season, likely to rival USC at the end of the season. Only 12% of answers picked the Irish to finish 9-3, while the most popular answer was eight wins (56%). Another 26% chose the somewhat predicted outcome of 7-5, with the Irish likely losing their top-10 games versus USC and Clemson but beating Boston College and Navy. Only six answers had the Irish finishing with just six wins, and no one picked the Irish to lose out. 

Overall, there’s more positivity amidst the fanbase then one might expect from scrolling social media. There’s a lot of confidence in Marcus Freeman and Al Golden. And there’s some faith in Tommy Rees (although considerable less patience for the third-year coordinator). Over 70% expect the Irish to win this weekend. So despite some bumps in the road, the Freeman Era is alive and well in South Bend. Now can the Irish keep the positive momentum going with a monumental win on Saturday?