Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 18, 2023

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

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18 NOV. 18, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY JACK SOBLE AND TYLER HORKA N otre Dame hoped Xavier Watts' interception, which led to a touchdown to bring the Irish within eight points (24-16) early in the third quarter, would serve as a spark. Watts' seventh interception of the season and fifth in the past three games could have ignited an Irish comeback. Instead, it was merely a Band-Aid. Clemson drove down the field way too easily for Notre Dame's liking on its ensuing possession, going 75 yards on 11 plays. When junior running back Phil Mafah reached the ball across the goal line to take a 31-16 lead, the Memo- rial Stadium crowd erupted. They were starved for a big win this season, and they finally got one. The Tigers beat the Irish 31-23 in Clemson, S.C., to improve to 5-4. Notre Dame fell to 7-3, ending its hopes of reaching a New Year's Six bowl game. "Own where we're at," Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. "Own it. We're 7-3 right now. And we got two opportunities to go out there and go compete. We gotta improve in these next two weeks." Starting with Clemson's second of- fensive drive, almost everything went wrong for Notre Dame in the first half. Trailing 3-0, Mafah gave the Death Valley crowd reason to roar. He found a seam up the middle and outran ev- erybody for a 41-yard touchdown, putting the Tigers up 7-3. Mafah and redshirt junior Dominique Thomas ran wild, combining for 39 carries and 202 yards rushing (5.2 yards per carry) in the game. The Fighting Irish had chances to re- spond, but instead they kept digging themselves a bigger hole. Notre Dame senior punt returner Chris Tyree let a ball hit his facemask, deflecting right into the arms of Clem- son junior long snapper Philip Florenzo. The dominant Irish pass defense fell apart at the worst time, allowing a drive in which Clemson sophomore quarter- back Cade Klubnik connected on 6 of 6 throws for 59 yards and a touchdown. Most damaging of all, graduate stu- dent quarterback Sam Hartman forced a pass to sophomore tight end Holden Staes that Clemson junior linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. intercepted and, with nothing but green grass in front of him, returned 28 yards for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 24-6 lead. "We can't do those things," Freeman said. "I still believe in cause and effect. It's not luck. We didn't just muff the punt because we're unlucky. We didn't VALLEY OF DEATH First-half woes doom Notre Dame in 31-23 loss to Clemson

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