Clemson, S.C. – The tigers defense was on display all day, especially when it mattered the most. A bell cow performance by running back Phil Mafah and one hell of a day by punter Aidan Swanson and Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. helped the Tigers secure an upset over No. 12 Notre Dame and gave Head Coach Dabo Swinney his 166th career win to pass College Football Hall of Famer Frank Howard (165 from 1940-69) for the Clemson record for career head coaching wins. Trotter Jr. impressed with 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 2.0 sacks and a pick six.
Clemson won the turnover margin 3-2, and committed no penalties, its first penalty-free game on record since the 1952 Gator Bowl against Miami (Fla.). Clemson’s defense kept Notre Dame out of the end zone for the first half of Saturday’s game. Special teams played big. Clemson senior punter Aidan Swanson nailed six punts inside the 20-yard line this afternoon.
Clemson with a slight change of pace in play-calls showed an emphasis on running the football. Mafah rushed for two touchdowns and recorded a career-high 186 yards rushing on a school-record-tying 36 carries. In the air, Cade Klubnik was 13-of-26 and threw for 109 yards, including one touchdown pass.
The Irish opened the scoring on its first possession with a 43-yard field goal. The Tigers responded on its second possession when Mafah broke into the open field and ran the ball 41 yards for the touchdown, giving Clemson a 7-3 lead with 6:57 left in the first quarter.
Following scoreless drives by both teams, Philip Florenzo recovered a muffed punt to give Clemson the ball on Notre Dame’s 22-yard line. Jonathan Weitz made a 21-yard field goal on the ensuing possession to increase Clemson’s lead to 10-3 with 2:08 left in the first quarter. The Fighting Irish responded with a 30-yard field goal of its own to make the score 10-6 with 13:34 left in the first half.
A pair of back-to-back 17-and 18-yard completions put Clemson in the red zone on its next possession. Klubnik finished the drive by connecting with standout freshman wide receiver Tyler Brown on a nine-yard touchdown pass in which Brown shook off a tackle en route to the end zone.
On Notre Dame’s second play of its ensuing drive, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. jumped Sam Hartman’s pass and returned an interception 28 yards for a pick six, giving Clemson a 24-6 lead with 8:33 remaining in the first half. The second quarter ended with Clemson having a 24-9 lead.
On Clemson’s third play of the second half, a Klubnik pass got deflected and intercepted by Xavier Watts, and his return gave Notre Dame the ball on Clemson’s two-yard line. Audric Estime punched the ball in from two yards out for Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game.
Mafah later capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown to put Clemson up 31-16 with 8:08 left in the third quarter. Notre Dame again cut the lead when Hartman escaped the pocket and ran 26 yards for another Notre Dame touchdown.
Both Clemson and Notre Dame would have four consecutive possessions end in punts. Redshirt freshman Kylon Griffin came up with Clemson’s second interception of the day to give Clemson the ball back with a 31-23 lead in the final two minutes of the game. However, a fumble by Mafah gave the ball right back to Notre Dame with 1:47 left to play.
The Tigers’ defense closed in on Hartman repeatedly, forcing a four and out. The Tigers ran out the clock to secure the 31-23 upset over the Fighting Irish.
Clemson will play the second game of its three-game November home-stand next week when the Tigers host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11.