Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 12, 2022

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

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24 NOV. 12, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 1. Offensive Line Delivers Again Notre Dame's line had made significant strides since it created little push and allowed 3 sacks in the opener at Ohio State. Clemson, which entered play ranked 11th in yards per carry allowed, pre- sented a chance to prove that progress wasn't just a product of some lesser defenses. The Irish left no doubt. Excluding sacks and kneel-downs, they ran for 266 yards on 45 carries (5.9 yards per rush). They allowed just 1 sack — a 1-yard loss on a scramble — and only 2 non-sack tackles for loss on those 45 carries. Ten running back carries went for 10 or more yards. Notre Dame held the ball for 33 minutes. Notre Dame's first offensive touchdown came on an 11-play, 78-yard drive that featured one pass attempt and 10 rushes and drained 5:47 off the clock. That pass was an 11-yarder to junior tight end Michael Mayer. It may not be the ideal offensive plan in this high- scoring, pass-happy era of college football, but it's what Notre Dame has right now. And what it has executed with more consistency in recent games. 2. First Half Goes To Plan Notre Dame couldn't have scripted the first half any better. Run the ball? The Irish rushed for 122 yards on 5.3 yards per carry. Control the clock? They had the ball for 16:47. Win field position and special teams? Notre Dame blocked Clemson's first punt and re- turned it for a touchdown and forced a 24-yard punt later in the half. Play stout defense? Notre Dame had 5 tackles for loss, didn't allow a third-down con- version, stopped a fourth-and-4 and made Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei uncomfortable. That's how to take a 14-0 lead despite completing 4 of 10 pass attempts for 41 yards. Notre Dame isn't built to play from behind with its shaky passing game. The first half ensured the Irish never had to catch up. It was complementary football at its finest. Notre Dame's identity and lack of a reliable pass- ing offense requires that to win, much less beat a top-five team by three scores. 3. Special Teams Wins Notre Dame and Clemson had two of the top-10 special teams units in the country, according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index. The Irish's run game vs. Clemson's run defense was the marquee strength- on-strength matchup Notre Dame had to win to beat the Tigers. But winning a battle of two strong special teams units would ease the pressure on the offense. Notre Dame decidedly won that third phase. Again. Its sixth blocked kick of the year produced the game's first points. Junior Jordan Botelho split two punt protectors to get a piece of Aidan Swanson's first kick, and it landed in sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie's hands. Botelho was barely touched on what was the Irish's fourth blocked kick in the last three games. That was the splashy special teams play. Aside from a missed field goal on a windy day, Notre Dame was sound on special teams. Clemson was disastrous. That's one reason for the 15-yard dif- ference in field position. The Tigers were called for offsides on one extra point and leaping on another. The latter made Notre Dame kick off from midfield, which allowed it to boot a squib kick Clemson had to return and couldn't get past the 20. The Irish took the same strategy on the opening kickoff of the second half (also from midfield) after an unsportsmanlike pen- alty on the final play of the first half, leading to an 11-yard return. Notre Dame graduate student punter Jon Sot also put two kicks inside the 10- yard line and another inside the 15. 4. Rattling DJ Uiagalelei Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei's struggles vs. Syracuse Oct. 22 didn't go away with a week off. Uiagalelei was 2 of 7 for 27 yards on passes that traveled 5 or more yards downfield before he was pulled for freshman Cade Klubnik for a series in the third quarter. Clemson didn't trust him to drop back and complete vertical throws often. When he did, his timing and placement were off. The Tigers didn't complete a pass of more than 15 yards until about 11 minutes remained in the game. The more successful passing offense in a game with two shaky quarterbacks would be the one that didn't commit the costly turnover. Both Clem- son quarterbacks threw interceptions to freshman quarterback Benjamin Morrison, the second one a 96-yard pick-6. Uiagalelei also threw a lateral that was ruled a fumble. Pyne's impact was limited, but he committed zero turnovers. That was enough with a strong running game and two counterparts who were less careful with the ball. 5. Benjamin Morrison Rebounds Morrison's last couple games contained some freshman bumps. He lost inside leverage when in one-on-one with no help on a 13-yard touchdown and allowed a 30-yard completion in the win over Syracuse Oct. 29. Clemson seemed determined to target him early on. Morrison met the challenge. He broke up a third- and-7 pass on a crossing route in the third quar- ter. His first interception was Klubnik's ill-advised throw over the middle. His fourth-quarter pick of Uiagalelei was on a back-shoulder fade, a route he admitted has been difficult for him this year. He finished with 7 tackles, 1 pass broken up and the first 2 interceptions of his career. A June enrollee, Morrison went from August af- terthought to camp standout to starter by the end of September. Notre Dame never wavered with his status as he hit some October bumps, an indication of the equity he has built up in his short time. He became an impact player against Clemson. FIVE THOUGHTS BY PATRICK ENGEL Senior defensive tackle Howard Cross III recorded 1 of Notre Dame's 4 sacks of Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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