No. 12 Clemson stops No. 6 Notre Dame on last play for upset win
CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney learned plenty about his 12th-ranked Tigers on Saturday night, qualities he believes make them hard to beat.
Deshaun Watson threw two touchdown passes, ran for a third score and 12th-ranked Clemson withstood No. 6 Notre Dame’s second-half rally for a 24-22 victory.
"This is what it’s all about," Swinney said. "It ain’t always perfect. I told them, ‘Listen, we give you scholarships, we give you stipends and meals, we give you nice uniforms and a place to live. I can’t give you guts. I can’t give you heart.’ … Tonight it was BYOG, bring your own guts. They brought some guts and some heart and they never quit until the last play."
It took until almost the final play to secure the win, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins stopping Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer on what would’ve been a tying 2-point conversion with 7 seconds left.
"It’s was man versus man, heart versus heart. And he got there. I didn’t lower my shoulder the way I should," said Kizer, who threw two touchdowns passes and had a scoring run in Notre Dame’s second-half rally.
The Irish (4-1) had four turnovers, all in the second half. Linebacker B.J. Goodson had an interception and a fumble recovery to choke off two Notre Dame chances in the last 7 minutes. Still, the Irish were a play away from overtime — and keeping alive their undefeated season.
"They say the luck of the Irish," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "We had some luck, too."
Like kicker Ammon Lakip getting a helmet on the ball on the second-half kickoff, forcing C.J. Sanders to fumble. Moments later, Watson was in the end zone after a 21-yard run for a 21-3 lead.
On Notre Dame’s next series, sure-handed runner C.J. Prosise fumbled with the ball bouncing out to where only Clemson safety Jayron Kearse could recover.
"If you told me we were going to turn the ball over four times, I was going to tell you we would lose," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "It doesn’t take a genius (to know) we turned the ball over four times and lost.
Kizer rallied Notre Dame from 21-3 down in the second half with two touchdown passes, the last a 1-yard toss to Torii Hunter Jr.
Clemson secured the Notre Dame’s onside kick and closed out the victory, moving to 4-0 for fourth time in five years. It also kept Clemson in the mix for the four-team playoff. The Tigers biggest hurdle appears to be against No. 11 Florida State on Nov. 7, which will likely decide the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
The Tigers are thinking about much more.
"We’ve got our eyes on the prize," cornerback MacKensie Alexander said.
Waterlogged Clemson fans rushed the field when time ran out, celebrating the win over the highest-ranked Tigers opponent since No. 5 Georgia to start the 2013 season. Those title dreams died a few weeks later when undefeated Clemson was stomped by eventual national champion Florida State, which put up the most points ever scored by an opponent in Death Valley in a 51-14 loss.
Another loss was surely on many minds as Clemson saw its 18-point lead sliced to two after Hunter’s TD catch.
This time, though, the defense held strong.
Watson accounted for 190 yards, 93 of those coming on the ground. He had a 21-yard TD run early in third quarter to put the Tigers up 21-3. That’s when Notre Dame’s defense rose up to give its offense a chance to come back.
Kizer had a 56-yard scoring pass to C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame’s eighth play this season of at least 50 yards. The Irish closed to 24-16 on Kizer’s 3-yard scoring run to set up the wild final moments.
Clemson struck quickly in Notre Dame’s first visit to Death Valley since 1977, with Watson running for 38 yards on the game’s first play. Watson found Leggett moments later for a 6-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead.
Clemson kept the pressure on its next series. Watson connected with Hunter Renfrow for a 24-yard pass inside Notre Dame’s 20, before finding Scott for a 13-yard TD and a 14-0 lead as the stunned Irish looked at each other as they headed to the sidelines.
The Irish’s only points of the half came on a 46-yard field goal by Justin Yoon.
The rainstorm that saturated much of the East Coast was a focus of the week. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Clemson graduate whose picture is on one of the Tigers’ offensive play-call signs, told fans to stay home unless they had to attend. The stands, though, were filled with orange ponchos and raincoats as the rain fell.