Irish Fan Reaction (IFR): ND 3, CLEM 30 - Clems-done
As time wound down in Jerry World Saturday evening, the Notre Dame band played the words “This is the moment, tonight is the night, we'll fight till it’s over” from their instruments in front of a significantly smaller audience than had been present 3 hours earlier.
Oh, the irony.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish once again came up small on the big stage, falling 30-3 in embarrassing fashion to the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff Semifinals.
Let’s get something out of the way now: things were not too far from potentially being different. If the referees didn’t controversially say a Clemson fumble on a kickoff went out of bonds, overruling the call on the field despite a lack of conclusive evidence, the Irish would’ve been poised to take a 10-3 (or at the very least 6-3) lead. Furthermore, if All-American cornerback Julian Love was not hurt during the entire 2nd quarter with a head injury, which saw his replacement Donte Vaughn beaten for 2 scores, things might have been different.
But if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, then maybe Notre Dame would’ve won a national championship at some point in the last 30 years.
We can talk about those moments all offseason, but reality tells a much harsher story. A story where the Clemson defense completely shut down the Fighting Irish offense after the 1st quarter, forcing 2 turnovers along the way. Clemson’s supposed weakness, their secondary, completely locked down ND’s receiving threats. The usually dynamic Dexter Williams was held to just 54 yards on the ground. And with Love and other key cogs such as defensive linemen Jerry Tillery and Khalid Kareem and safety Alohi Gillman missing time, the Irish defense could not make up for them. The stat line shows domination, no matter how close ND was to avoid it.
What makes this frustrating is that we were told this wasn’t going to happen. ND may not win, we admitted, but they were not going to be destroyed. They had learned their lesson from the 28-point National Championship loss to Alabama in 2013 and the 33-point drubbing from #2 Miami a year ago that knocked them out of Playoff contention. This loss may not require the drastic retooling those ones (especially Alabama) did. But it is clear that the Irish still have much to learn before they can return to their former glory.
That being said, this entire season was a joy to be a part of. Despite the disappointing ending, the journey of getting to the Playoff was an incredible ride. For once, it seemed as if everything went Notre Dame’s way this regular season. The frustration I usually feel on at least two Saturdays from September to November was always replaced by euphoria. If any Irish fan had been told their team would go 12-0 in the regular season and make the Playoff, I can safely say they would’ve taken that in a heartbeat. Even with several key contributors leaving either via graduation or an early exit to the NFL Draft, the future in South Bend still looks bright.
And be on the lookout for Eagles Fan Reactions (EFR) for the playoffs starting this weekend.