Notre Dame vs. Clemson score: Ireland defense destroys No. 4 Tigers in Marcus Freeman win

Notre Dame vs. Clemson score: Ireland defense destroys No. 4 Tigers in Marcus Freeman win

Notre Dame dealt a crushing blow to No. 4 Clemson by upsetting the Tigers 35-14 in a banner win for freshman coach Marcus Freeman. The Fighting Irish used a stifling defense and elite special teams to frustrate Clemson, limiting the visitors to just 281 yards in total offense and holding the Tigers without a touchdown until the fourth quarter when the game was essentially out of reach.

The Fighting Irish offense faced its own struggles, but Logan Diggs and Audric Estime both topped 100 yards rushing as Notre Dame imposed their will in key situations averaging 5.6 yards per rush. race. Initially, however, it was a punt blocked by Jordan Botelho that Prince Kollie returned for a first-quarter touchdown that gave the home side an early advantage.

The defense took over from there as Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei struggled to revive the Tigers offensively. Eventually, he was replaced by genuine rookie Cade Klubnik at five starts late in the third quarter, but to no avail. Klubnik’s second pass was intercepted, leading to a touchdown from Esteem that made it 21-0 with 14:37 to go.

Marcus Freeman’s iconic victory

After embarrassing home losses to Marshall and Stanford earlier in the season, Freeman needed a signature win. This one certainly qualifies. Clemson has consistently been among the sport’s top programs over the past decade, and the Tigers entered the week as one of six undefeated teams in the sport.

His recruiting work has been stellar; the Fighting Irish currently own the No. 3 class in the 2023 cycle, according to 247Sports. But in his first season as head coach, Freeman needed some on-field accolades to match his work on the recruiting track. He has them now, and the Fighting Irish may not be done yet. They picture themselves as heavy favorites the next two weeks against Navy and Boston College before a big season finale at No. 9 USC. Depending on where the Trojans are on the national landscape at the time, Notre Dame might have another chance to play spoiler on the national stage.

Clemson CFP involvement

The loss doesn’t completely eliminate Clemson from the CFP fight, but it does make the Tigers’ path to the playoffs more difficult. With a win over a reputable North Carolina team in the ACC Championship Game, Clemson could still be in the CFP field as a one-loss team, according to CBS Sports pundit Jerry Palm. But they may have to win this game in convincing fashion against the No. 17 Tar Heels, who improved to 8-1 with a 31-28 win over Virginia on Saturday.

Clemson still has three regular season games to win, although the Tigers are expected to be the heavy favorites in all three competitions. The first is Louisville next week, followed by Miami and South Carolina to close out the season. All three are home games.

Clemson quarterback situation

The Clemson quarterback’s situation remains volatile, as evidenced by the fact that coach Dabo Swinney once again turned to Klubnik for a second-half spark. But unlike a 27-21 win over Syracuse two weeks ago, the move backfired. Swinney quickly took Klubnik out and put Uiagalelei back in the game after Klubnik’s first pass was intercepted.

Where Swinney goes from here will be fascinating to see. Although Uiagalelei has clearly improved since last season, the Tigers are not instilling fear in opponents offensively and Klubnik looks like the program’s quarterback of the future. With Clemson’s CFP hopes on shaky ground, Swinney’s insistence on sticking to Uiagalelei’s numbers will be tested again in the remaining weeks of the season.

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