Still Not Ready

Notre Dame could not hang with Clemson on Saturday as the Tigers slowly but surely used their superior speed and athleticism to wear down the Fighting Irish and coast to an easy 30-3 victory in the national semifinal game. Trevor Lawrence hit on 27 of 39 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns, while the Tigers’ vaunted defense lived up to expectations by smothering Ian Book and the Irish attack.

The game was competitive early as the teams traded field goals in the first quarter. Both came after the defenses recovered fumbles. Clemson dominated the second period as freshman receiver Justyn Ross entered the game and caught two long touchdown passes from Lawrence. The Irish tried to answer before halftime, but a failed fourth down pass gave the Tigers enough time to thrust the dagger into Notre Dame.

Tee Higgins hauled in a 19-yard pass that the defender had tipped but not batted away in the end zone, extending Clemson’s lead to 23-3 at the half. The Tiger defense toyed with the Irish throughout the final two periods, recording six sacks and keeping them away from the end zone. Travis Etienne, who was held in check most of the day, broke off a 62-yard scoring run in the third quarter to complete the scoring.

Two things happened in the second period to hasten the Irish demise. Star cornerback Julian Love was sidelined with an injury during that time, and his replacement (Donte Vaughn) was overmatched by Ross and the Clemson receiving corps. The second development is Coach Dabo Swinney adjusted the pass protection to counter the Irish blitzes to give Lawrence more time in the pocket.

Let’s look at the answers to the pregame questions:

Which quarterback will demonstrate the passing accuracy we saw during the regular season? Lawrence was excellent after the first quarter, especially on the deep balls. Book was largely uncomfortable in the pocket and his low completion rate reflected it.

Can Clemson’s defensive line dominate without Dexter Lawrence in the middle? Yes. They stuffed the run and brought pressure on Book from many angles.

Will Dexter Williams or Travis Etienne rush for 100 yards? Etienne’s long touchdown run was the only notable rushing achievement by either team. It did put him over the century mark though.

Which coaching staff will make quicker and more effective in-game adjustments? Swinney got his pass protection under control before halftime, and immediately seized the opportunity when Love went out of the game for Notre Dame.

Can Notre Dame cover the swift Tiger receivers? The Irish did well for the most part, but Ross was a difference maker that will be hard for anyone in the college ranks to cover.

Will either special teams be able to tilt the outcome in their favor? Notre Dame blocked an extra point and almost forced a significant turnover when Clemson fumbled a first quarter kickoff return, but replay overturned the call.

Which team will best convert its red zone opportunities? Clemson scored its touchdowns primarily from long distance, while the Irish didn’t spend much time at all in the red zone after settling for their only three points of the game.

Can the Irish freshmen receivers help ignite the offense? I didn’t see them, but if they saw the field it was not a memorable experience.

Will the Irish put to rest any question that they belong in these playoffs? Not really. The defense was competitive when Love was in the game, but the offense lacked the power, speed and coaching required to play at this level.

The Irish will not have to wait long to test themselves against another elite team. The date is September 21, 2019 against the Georgia Bulldogs. In the mean time, there is still much work to be done.


36 thoughts on “Still Not Ready

  1. Boy was I in cool aide dreamland. Of coarse its “We have to coach better”
    What happened after the 1st quarter. ??? I felt a loss here but our worst loss in Bowl HISTORY??
    We keep going in reverse in bowl – playoff land. I’m just so devastated. I feel so bad for all of our fans
    that spent all that money and traveled so far for our Irish. This will sting for quite a while.
    We have to coach better?? Its been long enough for that assessment.

  2. Congratulations to Notre Dame on a fine season. But as Vannie said, they are still not ready to compete with elite teams. When I listened to Kelly at the press conference, he sounded delusional. He doesn’t seem to realize that he was just hammered by one of the best teams in the country. The Irish didn’t stand a chance today. They were not in the same building as Clemson, and they knew it by half time. But they remain a truly good team with a good coach that has won a number of games. See you next season.

    • In a word…. never.

      No more. I can no longer risk hypertensive stroke, my daughters wondering why daddy is upset, etc. I switched the game to “House” late in the third quarter, apologized to my family for pitching a tantrum, had a nice and relaxing dinner, had a beer and a shot of good Moldovan Cognac, and then, after I calmed down, I played with my girls and bowl season ended. That was much more entertaining than watching ND FAIL AGAIN ON THE BIGGEST STAGE!!!!

  3. This one was on the players. The coaches had a good game plan and the defense held for the first quarter and then some. Offense was the worse I’ve seen all year even considering the quality of Clemson’s defense. Book choose a bad time to have his worse game plus receivers had a lot of drops. Still ND had a good year. Better than any of us expected.

  4. Decisively beaten by a clearly superior team. Hard to watch – they never had a chance. They did their best but they were overmatched.

  5. Same result in another big game, yet each time we all buy in, just to be stung in the heart. Hurts a bit more when you see the disappointment in your five year old son. Thank you ND football for another great regular season, followed by another embarrassing bowl game. Tyler was the only highlight, netting more yards punting than the entire offense.

  6. Very disappointing and disheartening game. The team worked too hard to end the season like this. The defense played well through the first quarter, but the offense never gave them any hope. If the offense would have scored early on and scored at least a couple of touchdowns in the game, this could have been a completely different ball game. Ian Book did not look very good today and missed Boykin for a sure score in the second quarter, which could have changed the momentum of the game. They just needed some kind of spark and could never get it. The defense was on the field way too long, and they just got gassed by a few big plays when you look back on it. I thought they could have blitzed more as Lawrence had way too much time to throw on the big pass plays they did convert. At the start of the second half, the defense made some stops early on, but again, the offense sputtered, and the team just quit, including the coaches. When you are down by 3 scores midway through the 3rd quarter, and you have a 4 and 9 from the Clemson 37, why wouldn’t you go for it at that point? You are in the college football playoff and you desperately need a score. Go for it! This was one of a number of calls where Brian Kelly did not seem to have his head in the game and neither did the team. The team looked woefully unprepared for the big stage yet again. I actually think Brian Kelly is a good coach, especially compared to the 3 previous coaches, but he is not a great a coach. Great coaches help their teams rise up to meet these challenges, which Kelly has never done. It’s clear he is not going to take the team to the next level. They should have been able to compete better than that. It’s not like they are devoid of talent, although that could change soon after a performance like this. What would lead you to believe the future is going to be any different under Kelly? This is as good as it gets!

  7. A mediocre ND Football program is fine with the ND administration. Traditional ND values are out. Swarbrick, Kelly, Obama and Biden are in. Holtz is out. Get with the new program or move on.

  8. Scoring only a field goal was pathetic. Pitt coach Narduzzi was right when he said Clemson was much better than ND and that there was “no comparison”. No, ND still isn’t ready and if they aren’t ready after nine years with Brian Kelly they never will be.

    I was fine with a loss going in as long as ND battled and made it respectable but ND looked like like Furman after the first quarter. Both Chip Long and Clark Lea lost the chest matches against their more experienced adversaries at Clemson.

    It’s pretty pathetic that by losing one player in the secondary (Julian Love) their whole defensive game plan goes up in smoke and they allow three quick passing touchdowns. If they’re still that paper thin at CB and a few positions then they need a new recruiting philosophy.

    Anyone who says ND didn’t belong in the playoffs would be right. At least Oklahoma battled back against Alabama to make the final score respectable. ND, as we’ve seen too many times against top 5 teams, barely registered a pulse while a wide eyed and star struck Brian Kelly and his coaching staff had few, if any, answers.

  9. Ben Fishburne 65 says:

    I am as disappointed as everyone else BUT this team did better than most of us predicted. I agree that Clemson is “better,” but not that much better. We did not get one break or close call our way. One of the Clemson passing touchdowns was an absolutely fantastic one-handed catch on a ball our defender got a hand on. Let’s stop trashing the administration. We are not going to stop being Notre Dame. If that only leaves us #3 in the country, so be it.

    Congratulations on a great season. I’m looking forward to 2019!

    • ‘Not that much better’. Did you see the same game that I watched? Sweeney started to substitute early in the 4th quarter. Clemson could have scoured another touch down or two. No, ND was no where near the talent of Clemson. How to correct this? ND Football should join a power five conference. That way, ND will need to win a conference title like most of the other teams in the national picture. The ’13th game’ makes a difference in most cases. It prevents teams that have not earned the right to be there from participating.

  10. This loss will haunt ND for a long time. It almost insures that the Irish will have to go undefeated in the future to have any chance of getting into a four team playoff. A one loss ND will almost surely be left out. Having said that, this year the old BCS formula would have been fine. Clearly Alabama and Clemson are the only two championship caliber teams in the fold this year.

  11. Completely expected result.

    If it didn’t happen here, Bama would have laid 70 points on them. ND hasn’t been able to run with the big dogs for decades. Those days are long gone; be at peace with it. Toys R Us is dead, Sears is dead, ND as a football power is dead.

  12. Embarrassed again! You wonder about future years weather an independent Irish team can get into the playoff. Maybe if they expand the number of teams. ND has consistently shown that they cannot compete with the best teams. That is the truth and is it is not even close. The only scored 3 points!

  13. When Kelly decided to limit the offensive scheme to QB runs in the second half, why didn’t he play Wimbush? We still would have lost, but the score might have been a bit more respectable.

    • Because Brian Kelly is inept and childish. He was probably keeping Wimbush out of the game on purpose to punish him for daring to transfer.

      • I highly doubt that. I think it’s much more likely they were wary of the message it would send to the team about their confidence in the QB returning next year. I’m not aware of any animus between the coaches and Wimbush. If anything, his departure is a benefit for both sides — BW has the chance to expand his skills and increase the chances of being drafted, and ND opens a scholarship on what will still be a tight numbers situation.

  14. Yeah, everything fell apart with 5 min in second quarter when shut down corner went down. Was surprised at ineptitude on offense. Clemson has great Defense, but thought ND took too many shots on 2nd and short. You have to just get the first and pretend it’s third down. Totally believe they could play with them, but when that first drive had an offsides and dropped pass, could tell they weren’t quite there with what it takes to beat a great team. Minimal margins for error.

  15. 1. Burn the green jerseys, gloves, shoes and the sideline polo shirts. This superficial stunt hasn’t worked in years. Appeared that the Kelly spent more time on color coordinating than on game planning since ND play calling was same old against Clemson, and Clemson appeared to know every Irish play in advance.
    2. Irish early season win over Michigan wasn’t as big since Michigan was hammered by both OSU and Florida.
    3. If an ND QB is going to run 17 times, then Winbush should have been taking some snaps to both add speed & size and to give Book a breather.
    4. Loss sadly wipes away the stellar accomplishment of a 12 – 0 season. Thanks for 12 out of 13 entertaining Saturdays. Incredible season. Now, study.

  16. If you’d told me that we would end the first quarter having outgained Clemson, particularly on the ground, but we’d be blown out by halftime because Ian Book couldn’t get the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately, I would have thought you were crazy.

    Then again, I think we all felt this coming, or should have. We made plenty of excuses for their poor play in November, but poor play down the stretch is simply trademark Brian Kelly football.

    Neither whole teams nor individual players grow under Kelly. What natural ability they bring with them to ND is systematically obliterated by hammering a square peg into a round hole.

    I don’t know if it is arrogance or stupidity, but we threw away 2017 trying to turn Wimbush into Book, and we threw away 2018 trying to turn Book into Wimbush.

    Sloppy, undisciplined play and a failure to make adjustments. I feel bad for our players. They must be tired of being outcoached every week.

  17. wow–I had thought Kelly had gotten past his own ineptitude but boy was I wrong. the team did not show up. book was completely flustered and the game plan was once again pathetic. I know Clemson had more talent but not that much more. we again under-performed on a big stage–a Kelly trademark.
    I dont think you can realistically call for a new coach –he had a 12-1 team this year, but there is no way this coach will ever coach ND or any other team including the most talented team he could dream of, to a championship. He is a small time guy who is unable to get a team ready for a big stage. Look at the opening of the game. I the first five plays we had a two fumbles and a penalty and a dropped ball by a seasoned receiver. Let time we played Clemson we spotted them 14 points before we got moving and that cost us the game. they were just not ready. I would be ok with the loss if it was even remotely competitive. Oklahoma with no yards passing or rushing in the first quarter at least earned respect by adjusting and getting composed and playing their game in the second half. they were respectable in a lopsided loss. we came out unprepared and lost all composure as the game progressed and made no real adjustments. I do think this loss will hurt the Irish for years. we had not gotten over the 2012 blow out and then this? Highly doubtful we will be in the playoffs if we are competing against other conference champs or undefeated teams for a spot moving forward. And I understand why !

  18. In an attempt to look at this as a building block for the future, I think it’s apparent you need a stud at QB which we don’t. The other three teams have NFL caliber QBs as well as OSU and Georgia. I would like to think Kelly has to know Book isn’t physically gifted enough to compete against those teams. To my eye, he was most overwhelmed. Yes they dropped a few passes and lack elite speed at wideout, yes the D gave up a handful of big plays without Love and the replay crew burned us with overturning the fumble but Book can’t win that type of game. Let’s hope #15 is the real deal because the only way to compete with the SEC and Clemson dominance is have a difference making QB.

  19. As a 70-year-old Notre Dame fan, rooting for the Irish since my adolescence, I have now come to realize and resolve myself to the fact that, “The Irish” will not win another national championship… (Never say never! ) With the current evolution of college football, I will be happy/content with ND’s independent status… Playing all over the country and competing with the Michigan’s, USC’s, and Stanford‘s of the world. Have a successful season (maybe even go undefeated) and on occasion go to a New Year’s bowl game and be respectable… as far as competing with Alabama, Clemson, GA etc., the time has passed. Keep recruiting good quality student athletes,continue graduating them and I will remain a loyal passionate fan. I will not re-paint my man cave, sell all my memorabilia, discard all my clothing, or remove my ND tattoo … it is what it is! I can now have the courage to stop thinking with my heart and except reality…
    Jim Snyder
    Lebanon PA

  20. Thanks for the coverage this year. My monologue going into this thing was that I wanted ND to beat Clemson so we could have the honor of being slaughtered by Alabama. Now I am thinking I picked the wrong team and Clemson may slaughter the Crimson Tide. When you give Dabo a month to review tape I’m pretty sure he knew that when Love went down it was time to go over our heads and boy did he take advantage.
    Now that it’s over I think this team actually DOES have a lot in common with the 2012 team. Defense brought us to the playoff — the offense was much better under Book but rarely dominant. Very unlucky yesterday.
    (I imagine a merger of the Sooner O with our D could have had a chance.)
    Going forward we needn’t worry about precedent about playoffs and such because there is no way the Big 10 and Pac 12 are going to stand being shut out of the all SEC party for long. An eight game playoff (bye bye Conference Champion week) would allow ND and UCF and the like to have a chance to prove themselves. And at the end of the day it would still be Bama and Clemson because those NFL rich programs have all the tools needed to dominate the Beauty Pageant that is College Football. There is no way our program is going to compromise academic standards enough to match them so we’re always going to need a bit o’ luck.
    It was a good run. Go Irish!

  21. This game was the bitter fulfillment of the pessimistic predictions I made to anyone who wasn’t quick enough to escape my ranting, starting somewhere around the Pitt game: we had a good, not great, O-line, and if we made it to the playoffs, we’d be blown up. Because our line couldn’t hold a pocket or create lanes, Ian Book was never settled, and Williams never had room to run. As soon as we crossed midfield and the passing game got compressed, we stalled. The defense did a great job as long as they could, but since the offense couldn’t sustain drives, they were exhausted and started making mistakes toward the end of a lot of drives after the first quarter.

    We will not win another national championship until we have a dominant offensive line. There’s obviously other elements we need, but even with every other ingredient, no one can win out without a championship-quality O line.

  22. Jake in Cali says:

    Thank you for a great job by you and your staff in 2018…..

    As I predicted, the Irish had no chance in this game…. BK still hasn’t a clue with his post
    game comments..

    Georgia “blows us out in Sept”… It won’t even be close…

    • According to Kelly if Clemson didn’t cheat with those four big plays then ND might played them to a tie! The NCAA should outlaw big plays against Notre Dame. Big plays by the opponent is just not fair to Brian Kelly.

      What Kelly fails to see is that he and his coordinators did not have the players in a position to stop the big plays and if they did they failed to execute. Donte Vaughn did have great coverage on the one TD pass and even got a hand on the ball but the Clemson receiver simply made a play which happens. ND needed to answer with some offense but Chip Long had no answers and even if he did Ian Book was running for his life most of the game.

      IMO, they got outclassed and outcoached starting in the second quarter.

  23. I am very disappointed with the lack of effort from the 2nd quarter on. ESPN had the Clemson-Notre Dame game from 2015 and I decided to watch that again for some reason. ND had 4 turnovers, many penalties, and was down 21-3 and they tried going for two when it was 21-9 and they missed the two and that made ND have to go for 2 at the end of the game to tie it and we all know what happened with that. There would have been no guarantee of a win had it gone into overtime, but my point is, that a fire finally got into ND in 2015 and they made a game out of it.
    As bad as Notre Dame did in that game, they made a valiant comeback in horrible torrential rain at Clemson to lose by two. I was hopeful for this game because of the close game in 2015, but again, I came away disappointed. Notre Dame laid another egg on Saturday. I agree that Brian Kelley is a good coach, but not a great coach. I wish ND could get Darbo, but I know he is happy where he is. I think it terrible that John was forced out. Sounds like Lou all over again. The administration took a 50 million dollar donation to tear down Corby Hall after the students had finished in May and it was all done cloak and dagger. This was a historic building and “they” the powers that be at ND said the building was not worth saving. They have historic buildings In Europe, over 800 years old, and we tear things down here that are barely over 100 years old. Also, why is Sacred Heart Basilica closed for maintenance until January 11th? Canon law of the Catholic church states that no church shall be closed during Christmas season because it is a place for pilgrimage. It seems that ND is more interested in Garth Brooks and NHL hockey than God these days. Good ole’ Jack and his half billion dollar stadium. Money, God, Country, Notre Dame . That is the administration motto.

    God, Country, Notre Dame is what is should be. I miss Fr. Ted, Lou, Ara. Those were true gentleman. End of an era.

  24. Terry MCMANUS says:

    If ND is undefeated then it is almost a given that they will be in the playoffs, the primary reason being – They are Notre Dame. This was a good team and IMO Kelly got the most out of them but also IMO he is NOT a BIG-TIME coach, as in elite.

    The days with ND seriously in the hunt every year for the NC are over.

  25. The problem begins and ends with Mr. Kelly. Nothing more to be said. The look in his eyes the entire game. Even with the score tied, he just looks as if there is no longer any fire at all.