No. 4 Notre Dame gets signature win, upsets No. 1 Clemson in 2OT

Sam Cooper
·5-min read

Notre Dame has its signature win.

The Irish welcomed No. 1 Clemson to South Bend and went toe-to-toe with the mighty Tigers for four quarters and beyond. The game went into double-overtime, and it was Brian Kelly’s team that eventually emerged with a triumphant 47-40 victory.

It’s a victory that firmly plants Notre Dame at the top of the College Football Playoff discussion with the likes of Alabama and Ohio State with the CFP selection committee’s first rankings just a few weeks away.

The Irish jumped out to a 23-13 halftime lead, but the Tigers — playing their second straight game with freshman D.J. Uiagalelei at quarterback — staged yet another second-half comeback.

With Uiagalelei at the center of it all, Clemson tied the score at 23-23 with a field goal and touchdown on its first two third-quarter drives. And after the teams traded field goals, Clemson finally took the lead via a three-yard Travis Etienne touchdown run with 3:33 to play.

It was Clemson’s first lead of the game, but Notre Dame wouldn’t give in.

After a turnover on downs and a punt, the Irish offense got one more chance from its own 9-yard line with 1:41 to go. In clutch fashion, Book led his team down the field with the key completions going to Avery Davis. Book hit Davis for 53 yards to set up first-and-goal, and then found Davis again on third-and-goal to send the game to overtime.

The teams traded scores in the first extra session and the Irish quickly scored to open double-overtime. That’s when the Notre Dame defense finally decided it had enough. The Irish dialed up some pressure, and sacked Uiagalelei on both first and second down. An incompletion followed on third down, setting up a fourth-and-24.

Uiagalelei would complete the fourth-down throw, but well short of the chains. After a few laterals and some chaos, Notre Dame had sealed its biggest victory in years and snapped Clemson’s 36-game regular season winning streak.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book looks for a receiver during the first quarter against Clemson in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in South Bend, Ind. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book looks for a receiver during the first quarter against Clemson in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in South Bend, Ind. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)

Notre Dame settled for FGs, but defense helped build lead

Notre Dame’s offense reached the end zone just once in the first 59:38 of regulation, and it came on the second play from scrimmage. Until the last-minute touchdown that sent the game to overtime, the Irish settled for field goals.

Notre Dame opened the scoring when Kyren Williams reeled off a 65-yard touchdown run just 33 seconds into the ballgame. Notre Dame’s next two drives, though, were more typical of what the Irish have been doing all year. They were methodical efforts led by a bruising running game and the efficient, short passing game from Book, the Irish’s senior quarterback.

Book was sharp early, and twice led the Irish inside the Clemson 10-yard line. However, both drives culminated with chip shot field goals. First, the Irish committed a false start penalty, turning a fourth-and-one from the Clemson 2-yard line into a fourth-and-6. The penalty forced Brian Kelly to bring out his field goal unit and make the lead 10-0.

Between the two field goals, Uiagalelei connected on a 53-yard touchdown pass to Cornell Powell, so the Notre Dame lead was 13-7 early in the second quarter. And that lead would extend to 23-13 at halftime thanks to two turnovers forced by the Irish defense, including a Travis Etienne fumble picked up and returned for a touchdown by star linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Clemson wages comeback, Book overcomes fumble

It took just two Clemson third-quarter drives to tie the score at 23-23. First it was a field goal, and then it was another Uiagalelei touchdown pass, this time to tight end Davis Allen at the 4:32 mark of the third quarter.

Later in the third, the Irish looked poised to go ahead only for Book to fumble the ball into the end zone for a touchback. That looked like it would be an extremely costly turnover when Clemson finally took its first lead, 33-26, at the 3:33 mark of the third quarter.

But Book would redeem himself. The 53-yard connection with Davis was the play that flipped Notre Dame’s fortunes. The offense struggled mightily all half, but finally had some life.

And it would be that connection again — Book to Davis — that would send the game to overtime.

Once the game reached overtime, Notre Dame would pound the ball into the end zone twice with Williams. His score in double-overtime would end up being the game winner.

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