5 most clutch performances from Clemson vs. Notre Dame instant classic

Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) throws in the first quarter against the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) throws in the first quarter against the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports /
Army National Guard
Army National Guard /

There were many clutch performances when Notre Dame football hosted Clemson football.

Clemson football losing in the ACC is something that just hasn’t happened. But with Notre Dame football joining the conference for the 2020 season and set for a Week 10 date in South Bend, there was at least the opportunity for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers to taste in-conference defeat — especially with Trevor Lawrence out due to a positive COVID-19 test. At the very least, though, it was a matchup between top-five teams with College Football Playoff hopes.

The meeting on Saturday night undoubtedly delivered a thrilling affair. The Fighting Irish jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and, thanks to a big-time defensive play, had a 23-13 lead at halftime. But Clemson football came out firing in the second half, pushing ahead at 33-26 late in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame completed a brilliant two-minute drill, however, and scored the tying touchdown with only 22 seconds left on the clock to force overtime.

After trading touchdowns in the first overtime period, Notre Dame clawed out a big touchdown on in double overtime. Three huge defensive plays by the Irish defense then set up a Clemson desperation fourth-and-long that they couldn’t convert, giving Brian Kelly’s team a monster 47-40 victory over the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

With Lawrence out, the Tigers knew they needed everyone to step up, as did the Fighting Irish. And in the biggest ACC game of the year, these were the clutch performances that stood out the most across both teams as Notre Dame picked up the huge victory.

5 clutch performers from Clemson at Notre Dame

5. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

A player NFL Draft followers are surely familiar with, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah drew a titanic task on Saturday night. As the leader in the middle of the defense, he would be the main player in charge of trying to slow down the ACC’s all-time leading rusher, Travis Etienne.

He did so phenomenally. Not only was Etienne limited to only 28 rushing yards on 18 carries (though he did have eight receptions for 57 yards) but Owusu-Koramoah also scooped up an Etienne fumble and took it to the house in the second quarter to help push the Irish ahead, 20-10. When they needed key stops throughout, it was he who rose to the occasion.

4. Cornell Powell, WR, Clemson

After Clemson somewhat stumbled out of the gate in South Bend, it was wide receiver Cornell Powell that truly got things kickstarted for the Tigers offense. On a dime from D.J. Uiagalelei, Powell hauled in a 53-yard touchdown. But that wasn’t all he had in store as he delivered plenty more fireworks as the best big-play receiver on the roster.

Catching a 51-yard pass to set up a game-tying field goal, then a 15-yarder to set up the go-ahead Etienne touchdown, and then setting the team up again on the first play from overtime with a 24-yard strike, Powell came up with big plays in the biggest moment. He also finished the game as the Tigers’ leading receiver, hauling in five receptions for 161 yards and the score.

3. Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame

For the majority of the second half, you could’ve made the argument that Ian Book wasn’t actually helping the Irish. Brian Kelly seemingly abandoned the run for Notre Dame to rely on their quarterback’s arm and, frankly, the offense largely stalled, scoring just three second-half points prior to the final two minutes.

But when the game was hanging in the balance, Book proved he had the clutch gene. The quarterback was phenomenal as he used his legs, his football IQ and then his arm to consistently keep the drive alive, ultimately finding Avery Davis for the game-tying score that forced overtime. It was a testament to Books’ gamer mentality and moxie to see him step up at that moment, which he continued to do in the two overtimes.

2. D.J. Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson

Coming to Clemson while Trevor Lawrence was still in the building, true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei was likely to only see the field, barring injury, in mop-up duty. Yet, with Lawrence contracting the coronavirus, the youngster was the starter in the biggest game of the regular season. And Uiagalelei didn’t flinch under the bright lights.

While he may not have been perfect on the night, he delivered a monster performance. Uiagalelei completed 28-of-42 passes for 427 yards and two touchdowns in addition to the game-winning rushing touchdown in overtime. He had huge shoes to fill in such a monumental moment in the Tigers’ season and the true freshman was every bit the player his team needed him to be and more.

1. Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame

Running back Kyren Williams wasted little time putting his fingerprints on this game. After a holding penalty on Clemson on the first play of the game, Williams rumbled for a 65-yard touchdown to give the Irish an early 7-0 lead and early control of the game. He continued to run hard and effectively in the first half.

But after the Irish largely abandoned the run in the second half, they turned to Williams in overtime with the biggest touches of the game. To cap off a 140-yard rushing day, the running back punched in both scores of the extra frames to push the Fighting Irish ahead and ultimately earn them the huge victory over the No. 1 team in college football.

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