Blue and Gold Illustrated

Jan. 1, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 31 of 63

32 JAN. 1, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED D rew White barrel-rolled twice after a missed tackle, ending on all fours and frozen in time, head hung. He knew. Notre Dame's senior middle line- backer knew Clemson running back Travis Etienne had nothing but Ken- tucky bluegrass left on the path to the end zone. His tackle attempt came in the last line of defense. A critical fourth-and-one play turned into a 44- yard touchdown run, a 24-3 Clemson lead with 21 ticks until halftime and a swift kick in the gut. White knew Notre Dame was head- ing to unexplored waters. He knew it would take a comeback not mounted on Clemson in a while to grab a win. Maybe, just maybe for a fleeting sec- ond, he knew of the idea reverberat- ing through Notre Dame fan circles as teammates mobbed Etienne. The nightmare scenario was un- folding. All the Irish had to do was avoid a boat racing. Stay upright. Etienne's dash, though, sent them to the ground for the rest of the night. This ACC Championship rematch between Notre Dame and Clemson was noth- ing like the all-timer they played six weeks prior. Notre Dame retreated from Charlotte, N.C., with a 34-10 loss played amid an amplifying soundtrack of teeth-grinding and clenched fists. The Irish entered the day 10-0 and No. 2 in the College Football Playoff committee's top 25, snugly in the top four. They ended Selection Sunday as the No. 4 team, headed to Arlington, Texas, for a New Year's Day meeting with top-ranked Alabama. The creden- tials make them the deserving pick. Their one loss is to a team they beat and the nation's new No. 2. They have a convincing win over No. 13 North Carolina. They played 11 games. "I don't know that you need to look any further than that," head coach Brian Kelly said. But Notre Dame gave the com- mittee an excuse to, even if it wasn't used. It gave its fan base a reason to be skeptical as well. This was not the final impression the Irish wanted to offer. It was not how to inspire confidence in the masses that this meeting with Ala- bama will be much different than this rematch versus Clemson or the 2013 BCS title game, even if the events of Nov. 7 still suggest this could just be one bad night and a temporary depar- ture from script. "We want Bama!" is a whimper instead of a fervent chant. A 24-point defeat where the Irish al- lowed 8.2 yards per play and mustered 143 yards over the final three quarters made for a claustrophobic Saturday night and Sunday morning waiting for their College Football Playoff fate. More importantly, no one wants to enter the postseason limping. Notre Dame has two weeks to restore some pep to its gait. Its defense may have been shredded and its offense shut- tered, but it doesn't appear to be out of the resolve that fueled its run and is its most admirable trait. "This is a strong football team, strong-willed. It's an outstanding football team," Kelly said. "They'll bounce back. They're disappointed. They have to play more consistent. I'm quite confident they will." Everything about Dec. 19 was a wayward journey from a clear iden- tity. Notre Dame spent the regular season gobbling up opposing run- ning backs, pushing around defensive fronts, living in backfields and staying ahead of the chains with an efficient, mistake-free offense. The Irish spent three-plus quarters running in mud, stuck in obvious passing downs, and needing a butterfly net to stop Etienne and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. On 24 non-sack rushes, Notre Dame gained 83 yards. It surrendered six sacks, a product of shaky protection, stout coverage and Clemson's ability to snuff out fifth-year senior quar- terback Ian Book's deft improvisa- tion skills. The defense, meanwhile, allowed 9.0 yards per rush (also ad- justed for sacks) and produced a sea- son-low 15.1 percent havoc rate. "When you have a game like this, all you want to do is get back out there," Book said. "You get 24 hours to let it suck, because it does. It should hurt. Remember this feeling is what we've been talking about already. "You've got 24 hours to let it hurt, and then it's on you and this team to forget about it and work together towards a common goal, and that's to win another football game." "We'll go back and focus on what we've been focusing on, and that's us," senior rover Jeremiah Owusu- Koramoah added. Notre Dame will take the next two weeks to try and find its way back. To slide back into the familiar M.O. that created the overflowing assur- ance a CFP spot was calling no matter what happened at Bank of America Stadium. Kelly pushed back on the characterization of the coming days as a process of "picking up the pieces." In his mind, the season is not shat- tered. Maybe it just needs some glue. Notre Dame can rebound and refuel internally. That's all it cares about. All it should care about. But outside its bubble, it can't shake fans' newfound angst, which looks something like this: Do you trust what you saw for 10 regular-season games? Or does this latest one leave too strong an odor to be hopeful for another meeting with a heavyweight? Notre Dame heads to the postseason having cracked open the door for fans to ask that of themselves. Like overnight playoff purgatory, it's a place the Irish didn't want to be. ✦ Poor Final Impression By Irish Doesn't Inspire Confidence ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Clemson running back Travis Etienne's 44-yard touchdown run late in the first half sealed Notre Dame's fate in the ACC Championship, allowing doubt to creep in about this Irish team. PHOTO BY NELL REDMOND/COURTESY ACC MEDIA

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Jan. 1, 2021