No. 12 Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) seemed to have No. 6 Notre Dame under firm control as the rain came down Saturday night. A sure win, with Clemson leading the visiting Irish 21-3 in the fourth quarter, nearly washed away, but the Irish rally fell two points shy. Clemson stuffed a two-point conversion attempt by Notre Dame with seven seconds to play to preserve a 24-22 victory in the rain.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson struggled to get a grip on the football and completed just 11 of his 22 pass attempts for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His counterpart, freshman DeShone Kizer, had a much better day through the wet air after a sluggish start. Kizer ended the game with 321 passing yards and two touchdowns in leading the Irish rally from 21-3. Watson did add 93 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown to remind those watching just how effective he can be as a dual-threat.
Clemson’s offense got stuck in the mud after going up 21-3 in the third quarter, but the defense managed to hold on for the win. It was not easy, but forcing four turnovers helped. None may have been more critical than a forced fumble by Jayron Kearse on Notre Dame’s Chris Brown as the receiver was moving inside the five-yard line on a drive that looked to be reaching the end zone for Notre Dame. B.J. Goodson came away from the pile with his hands on the football, but Clemson’s offense would go three-and-out to give the Irish one last chance in great field position. It nearly paid off.
There were two decisions by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly worth second-guessing that may have cost Notre Dame a win, or at least a chance to do something in overtime. Both occurred in the fourth quarter and involved two-point conversion attempts.
Notre Dame had a chance to make it an 11-point game, and a relatively less stressful two-possession game, early in the fourth quarter. After C.J. Prosise managed to stay in the field of play down the right sideline for a 56-yard touchdown pass, Kelly opted to go for two points instead of kicking the extra point. Had Notre Dame kicked the extra point, the Irish would have been down 11 points. Instead, after a failed conversion attempt, the Irish were down 12 points. As it turned out, had Notre Dame kicked the extra point, that would have put Notre Dame just one point away from tying Clemson in the final 10 seconds.
Speaking of that last Irish touchdown, Notre Dame obviously needed to go for the two-point conversion to force a tie game. The call was to run the football, and the ball was kept in the hands of Kizer. Kizer did end the game as Notre Dame’s leading rusher, but he had little room and no ability to make any push as the line collapsed on him. Prosise carrying the football may have been too obvious to fool Clemson’s defense must have been the logic in that situation. But this situation never had to happen in the first place.