Notre Dame's been a team that's been on the cusp of being elite in Brian Kelly's tenure, but they couldn't ever quite seem to get over the hump. Wins over Top 10 programs eluded them for years, but they finally got a big one this weekend. The Irish stunned top ranked Clemson 47-40 in double overtime at home, sparking a flurry of events and conversations.
We're not going to get political, but storming the field during a global pandemic is definitely something. Can I blame college kids for wanting a normal experience? No, but we're not in normal times. I digress.
Top 10 wins haven't come easy for the Irish in Brian Kelly's tenure. Notre Dame's 3-9 in such contests, including 0-4 against Top 5 teams. If you want a reason why this win was so monumental to Irish fans, that's the sole reason. They've come close in the last couple years against Georgia, and even made it to the College Football Playoff in 2018, but haven't reached elite status. So you can forgive Notre Dame fans for getting excited about taking down the best team in college football. The only problem is that questions remain about how legitimate the win was, and if this is an actual step forward, so let's dive into that.
Make no mistake about it, Notre Dame will get a chance to prove themselves later this season. If they win out and Clemson does the same, the two will play for the ACC Championship, and there shouldn't be any doubt after that. This game was full of asterisks unfortunately. Clemson was without star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, two starting wide receivers, a starting defensive tackle, and a starting linebacker. While you could make the argument that the Tiger have enough talent to replace those guys, it makes a difference. Against, I digress, because Notre Dame can prove themselves later.
Even if you want to call it a "fluke" win, this is a confidence builder for Notre Dame regardless of other people's opinions. It's almost a mental hurdle cleared if you're the Irish. Last time they played Clemson, the Tigers mopped the floor with Notre Dame, winning 30-3 in the aforementioned playoff game. Following through and beating Clemson might be the mental boost this team needed, even if it might not be fake. The mental part is big for Notre Dame too.
If you've played sports, you understand that things can get into an athlete's head quickly, and that plays a role in their performance. Consistent failure against Top 5 teams motivated Notre Dame to get another shot, but it's easy to see the doubt creep in when things aren't going their way. Now, they have that monkey off their back. It was their first win over a number one team since 1993, and first Top 5 win since 2012. So, they can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they can win these games. Plus, it's not like Notre Dame just got lucky. Luck might have played a little part in it, but beating the top team in the country requires skill, something the Irish possess plenty of this year.
There are so many things to address from Saturday's game. Ian Book threw for 310 yards and rushed for 68 more. Kyren Williams started the scoring with a long touchdown run, and finished with 140 yards and three touchdowns. Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah even contributed with a score of his own for the Irish. But it was the offensive line that deserves a ton of praise. This is a group that came into the year with all five starters returning and a ton of potential. All they've done is dominate their opponents and make life easy for the skill players. On Saturday, they looked like the best unit in all of college football, and let the talented Clemson freshman know that college is a little different.
Honestly, I wish it was different. I wish Clemson had all of their guys playing, because it feels like we're goin to debate the legitimacy of the win for weeks. While I believe Clemson is still the better team with everyone healthy, the win might have done something for Notre Dame that we don't realize. Momentum and confidence are underrated aspects of the game, and the Irish might have harnessed both in their heads enough to believe that they can do something like this again. If they lost, no way that happens, but the win changes everything.