South Bend, Ind. —Clemson knew they a huge task at hand going into South Bend and being down four starters, three on the defensive side and one the offensive (Trevor Lawrence).
“I just want you to know,” Irish coach Brian Kelly told the players, “When we win this thing, the fans are going to storm the field.”
Kelly added that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes a recent rise in cases on Notre Dame’s campus, the players needed to exit the field as soon as possible after the game.
No. 4 Notre Dame beat No.1 Clemson 47-40 in two overtimes Saturday night at South Bend. Notre Dame students stormed the field from all the stands, creating a wild celebration in the middle of the field. Notre Dame limits attendance to students, faculty and university personnel — other than players’ families — and while Saturday’s game had 11,011 fans, most of them seemed to enter the field to celebrate with their team.
Clemson players and coaches quickly exited to the tunnel in the northeast corner of the field, while most Notre Dame players and coaches headed for their tunnel. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he didn’t mind the field rush from the Notre Dame fans, saying, “It was an epic game.”
The Irish took its first lead of the game on only the second play from scrimmage. RB Kyren Williams broke for a 65-yard touchdown while breaking some ankles. ND had a chance to go up two touchdowns when it was fourth-and-1 from the Clemson 2-yard line. But a false start backed them up 5 yards, and they settled for a field goal to make it 10-0.
ND recorded its ninth win against an AP No. 1 team and ended Clemson’s 36-game regular-season win streak Saturday.
“That was a cool experience for me, everybody rushing down,” said Williams, who had never witnessed a field storm before Saturday. “Coach Kelly told us before the game that it was going to happen. He told us to get inside after the game, fast.”
The Tigers came roaring back with a touchdown of its own to cut the lead to 10-7, the defense stiffened and held the ND to another field goal, Etienne fumbled a handoff in the backfield. Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah caught it out of the air and return it for a score to make it 20-10 Irish. Clemson turned the ball over on their next drive with Owusu-Koromoah stripping Amari Rodgers of the ball; but Clemson defense held Notre Dame to another field goal.
The Tigers erased the 10-point deficit in the third quarter. Then with a chance to retake the lead late in the third, QB Ian Book fumbled in the red zone, and Clemson jumped on top of the ball in the end zone.
Clemson took the lead with 3:33 left in the game, and then after a couple of possessions, the Irish found itself with the ball at its 0-yard line and 1:48 to go. Book led the team down the field thanks in large part to a 53-yard pass to Avery Davis to set up a first-and-goal. A few plays later, Book hit with Davis for the game-tying touchdown.
In the first overtime, both teams exchange touchdowns, but the Irish broke serve in the second. After Williams scored his third touchdown of the night to give Notre Dame a 47-40 lead, the Irish defense twice sacked QB D.J. Uiagalelei twice to set up two long plays that the Clemson offense was unable to complete to end the game as Notre Dame knocked off the No. 1 team in South Bend for the first time since 1993 when it beat Florida State.
Clemson had a streak of 39 consecutive regular-season games snapped, but don’t count the Tigers out of the Playoff race for now.
Ian Book finished with 310 yards passing, 64 yards rushing and only one touchdown, but despite what the box score says, this was his greatest game with the Irish.
Book is now 27-3 as Notre Dame’s starter, but no victory will resonate more than this one.
Freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei completed 29 of 44 for 439 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked twice in double-overtime.
The Tigers didn’t have a strong running game of the night. Clemson managed just 34 rushing yards on 33 attempts, and that was the biggest factor in the Irish hanging in the game.
“It’s something you expect with our great fans and our great community around us, they’re really, really passionate about us playing football,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “You expect something like that, storming the field, beating the No. 1 team. [Kelly] told us to get up out of there if they did storm the field, but it’s kind of hard, so we just celebrated with them.”