Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 12, 2022

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

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Page 24 of 55 NOV. 12, 2022 25 NOTRE DAME'S COMMITMENT TO THE GROUND GAME PAYS HUGE DIVIDENDS The Clemson game was always going to be Notre Dame's most telling litmus test for just how hard-nosed and physi- cal the Fighting Irish really are. Turns out, maybe Jayson Ademilola wasn't far off when he said the Irish are the "toughest, strongest, [most] ba- dass mother [bleepers] in the country." The graduate student defensive tackle was referencing Notre Dame's defen- sive line in the days leading up to the season opener against then-No. 2 Ohio State. If he was alluding to the Notre Dame offensive line and the sophomore tailbacks that unit blocks for, however, Ademilola would have hit the nail on the head. That group might be those mother bleepers indeed. Clemson had the country's No. 7 rushing defense through eight games. The Tigers only allowed 87.9 yards per game on the ground. Notre Dame's three backs — sophomores Audric Es- time and Logan Diggs and junior Chris Tyree — combined to carry 42 times for 244 yards. Notre Dame finished with 47 team rushes for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Clemson knew the Irish were going to go right at its vaunted defensive line. Strength on strength. One side was de- cidedly stronger. "This was an ass kicking," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Period. We got our tails kicked." Clemson's tails aren't the only ones bruised and battered by Notre Dame lately. The Irish have run for more than 200 yards in three straight games, a feat not accomplished since the 2020 run to the College Football Playoff. The streak of 200-yard games would be at an astounding five in a row if not for a rare so-so output of 150 in the in- explicable loss to Stanford Oct. 15. There was a time, though, when it looked like games like that one would be the norm. The Irish did not reach 150 yards rush- ing in any of their first three games. They lost two of those and squeaked out with a win in the third. Two months later, this is one of the most effective rushing offenses in the country. Notre Dame is 6-0 this season when it runs the ball at least 40 times. It's 0-3 when it does not. Patience. Persistence. Belief in the offense's ability to punish opponents for four quarters. Notre Dame knows what it is offensively now. And it leans into it as much as Irish fans lean into wearing green garb on game days. "We knew this defensive line was special, but we couldn't shy away from our strength," Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. "It was a chal- lenge to our offensive line … at some point during the game their confidence rose and they said, 'Listen, we can block anybody in the country.' And they showed that tonight." What does it mean moving forward? Notre Dame could take the most round- about route to a 9-3 season there ever was. Beating USC in Los Angeles in the regular-season finale isn't off the table. The Irish showed they can beat a fun- damentally sound, top-five opponent despite junior quarterback Drew Pyne only completing 52.9 percent of his passes and throwing for 85 yards. That's not the preferred path, but it's a ma- neuverable one. It was road-blocked in losses to Ohio State, Marshall and Stan- ford. The commitment to the ground game wasn't as set in stone as it is now. The offensive line wasn't progressing toward peak performance like it is now. Freeman said from the day he took this job 11 months ago he wanted an of- fensive-line driven team. Man oh man, does he ever have one. "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,'" Diggs said. "They take that challenge and they run with it and they do a fan- tastic job." PUNT BLOCK TOUCHDOWN PUTS NOTRE DAME AHEAD EARLY … AND FOR GOOD At this point, Notre Dame can hide its desire to pressure and block punts about as well as a gorilla can hide behind a palm tree. The film of the Irish putting heat on punt after punt doesn't lie. The Tigers knew the tendencies, be- cause how could they not? CLEMSON GAME NOTES BY TYLER HORKA AND PATRICK ENGEL Sophomore Audric Estime and the Fighting Irish churned out 263 yards rushing against a Clemson run defense that ranked seventh in the country (87.9 yards allowed per game) entering the game. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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