Season Comes to End for Upstart Irish

ARLINGTON, Texas — The University of Notre Dame football team’s undefeated season came to an end Saturday, as the No. 3 Irish fell to No. 2 Clemson 30-3 in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at AT&T Stadium.

Injuries and close calls seemed to fall against the Irish on Saturday, as Notre Dame (12-1) saw three of its top defenders leave the field at points. Clemson (14-0) took advantage, outscoring the Irish 20-0 in the second quarter to create distance and while stifling Notre Dame’s offensive attack.

Safety Alohi Gilman provided a bright spot on the defensive side, setting the CFP record and tying the Notre Dame bowl record for tackles with 18. For the CFP mark, he surpassed the previous record of 15 set by Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, while he matched Rod Smith’s 18 against Florida in the 1992 Sugar Bowl. Linebacker Te’von Coney recorded 16 tackles while linebacker Drue Tranquill accounted for 11.

The Irish defense also recorded three sacks (one each by Julian Okwara and Adetokunbo Ogundeji and half-sacks for Coney and Tranquill), the second-most allowed by Clemson this season.

Clemson outgained Notre Dame 538-248 including 327-160 through the air. Irish quarterback Ian Book finished 17-for-34 passing for 160 yards, with Miles Boykin leading Irish receivers with five catches for 69 yards. Senior running back Dexter Williams led the Irish with 54 yards on the ground.

Notre Dame’s 12-1 finish marked its second straight campaign of at least 10 wins, with its 22 total wins the best such stretch since 1988-89 (also 22 wins).

How It Happened

The defenses traded stops to start the game, with the Irish earning the lone first down in the game’s first two series. After retaking possession at the Clemson 49-yard line after a short Tigers punt, however, the Irish surrendered a fumble to set up Clemson’s first score of the game.

Though Clemson marched into the red zone on a 31-yard drive, the Irish pass rush caused a pair of Trevor Lawrence incompletions to force a 40-yard field goal by Greg Huegel.

The Irish responded in kind, though, as Ian Book went 4-for-5 for 37 yards and rushed for 11 more to set up a 28-yard field goal by Justin Yoon, making it 3-3 with 4:31 left in the first quarter.

Notre Dame forced a Clemson punt on the next possession, as Julian Okwara sacked Lawrence on third down at the Tigers 26-yard line.

After taking over at their own 32-yard line, the Irish looked poised to score again, driving to the Clemson 34. Book’s pass to Miles Boykin on fourth-and-three fell incomplete, however, returning possession to the Tigers.

It was then that Notre Dame gave up its first big passing play of the year, as Lawrence found Justyn Ross for a 52-yard touchdown pass. Irish defensive tackle Jerry Tillery blocked the extra point attempt, making it 9-3 Clemson with 12:50 remaining in the first half.

Clemson benefited from the absence of Irish cornerback Julian Love for much of the second quarter. The Tigers’ next two scores — a 42-yard reception by Ross with 1:44 left in the third and a 19-yard snag by Tee Higgins at the two-second mark — staked Clemson to 23-3 lead at intermission, even as Huegel missed a 49-yard field goal try earlier in the quarter.

Love returned to the lineup in the third quarter and the Clemson passing game managed just 39 yards in the period. The Irish offense could not adjust, however, and after Nolan Turner intercepted Book at 3:05 of the third, Travis Etienne ran for a 62-yard touchdown to make it 30-3 with 2:04 left in the period.