Notre Dame

Notre Dame loses 'big' game again, gets dominated by Clemson in CFP semi-final

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USA TODAY

Notre Dame loses 'big' game again, gets dominated by Clemson in CFP semi-final

No. 3 Notre Dame entered Saturday's College Football Playoff semi-final matchup with a recent reputation of falling in big postseason games. They did nothing to change that reputation against No. 2 Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.

Clemson absolutely dominated Notre Dame, defeating the Fighting Irish 30-3 to advance to the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Clemson will play either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Oklahoma on Jan. 7 at Levi's Stadium.

Notre Dame and Clemson were actually tied at 3-3 after the first quarter, though the latter took over from that point on. Clemson scored 27 unanswered points the rest of the game, including 20 alone in the second quarter before pulling their starters early in the fourth quarter.

Clemson picked up more first downs (26-17), total yards (538-248), passing yards (327-160), rushing yards (211-88) and forced more turnovers (2-1) than Notre Dame. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (27-39, 327 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions) also out-played Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (17-34, 160 yards, no touchdowns and one interception). 

For Notre Dame, the loss is more of the same in terms of losing big in the "big" postseason games. The Fighting Irish ended the BCS era 0-4 in BCS bowl games, losing the 2001 and 2006 Fiesta Bowl, the 2007 Sugar Bowl and the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

Saturday's loss to Clemson dropped Notre Dame's record in New Year's Six games to 0-2, as the Fighting Irish also lost the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. A look at the scores of those games, respectively:

Game Score
2001 Fiesta Bowl Oregon State 41, Notre Dame 9
2006 Fiesta Bowl Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 20
2007 Sugar Bowl LSU 41, Notre Dame 14
2013 BCS National Championship Game Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
2016 Fiesta Bowl Ohio State 44, Notre Dame 28
2018 Cotton Bowl Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3

Clemson improved to 14-0 with Saturday's victory, so the strength of Notre Dame's opposition should not be understated. Clemson also is coming off a blowout loss in the 2017 CFP; No. 4 Alabama beat No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl en route to winning the 2018 CFP National Championship.

Regardless, the fact that Notre Dame is now winless in their last six "big" postseason games is still a disappointment, especially considering that they went 12-0 in the 2018 regular season.

44 Days to Kickoff: Notre Dame

44 Days to Kickoff: Notre Dame

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Notre Dame

Head coach: Mike Hennessey

Assistant coaches: Dan DeFranza, Fred Proesel, Jim Morrissey, Eric Hennessey, Joe Pauley, Pat Gallagher, Drew Holden and Dan Fitzpatrick

How they fared in 2017: 7-3 (5-2 East Suburban Catholic Conference). Notre Dame made the Class 8A state playoff field and lost to Minooka in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs Geneva

Aug. 31 vs Oak Forest

Sept. 7 vs Marist

Sept. 14 @ Benet Academy

Sept. 21 vs Marian Central Catholic

Sept. 28 vs St. Viator

Oct. 6 @ St. Patrick

Oct. 12 @ Carmel

Oct. 19 vs Joliet Catholic

[MORE: 55 Days to Kickoff - St. Viator]

Biggest storyline: After a tough loss to Minooka in last year's playoff opening round, can the Dons get back into the IHSA state playoff field and make some noise this fall?

Names to watch this season: RB/DB Ty Gavin and OL Patrick Banich

Biggest holes to fill: The Dons will need to find answers at several spots this summer, needing to replace 15 graduated starters from a season ago.

EDGY's Early Take: It's finally the senior campaign for Notre Dame's All-Area and All-State running back Ty Gavin. He will be asked to help carry the offensive load --especially early in the season-- while the the Dons break in new faces at quarterback and wide receiver. The Dons will also look to replace some key starters lost to graduation on defense, especially up front on the defensive line. Senior Mike Tobias is the lone starter back in the fold. 

Why 'nasty' Quenton Nelson could be worth the No. 8 pick for the Bears

Why 'nasty' Quenton Nelson could be worth the No. 8 pick for the Bears

INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe we all should listen to New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman as the debate rages in Chicago about if an interior offensive lineman — specifically, Notre Dame mauler Quenton Nelson — is worth a top-10 pick. 

“At the end of the day, if he’s a great player, he’s a great player — it doesn’t matter what position it is,” Gettleman said this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “… Sometimes I think it gets lost in the sauce that football is the ultimate team game. You blow a whistle and 11 guys have to go out there, both offense and defense and special teams. Everybody has to understand that every player is important.”

Gettleman offered this perspective when asked if the No. 2 overall pick — where his Giants sit — is too high to draft a running back like Penn State standout Saquon Barkley. But let’s apply the same logic to the Bears at No. 8. 

Is Nelson a great player? By just about every account, yeah, he is. Take this description of what it’s like to play with Nelson offered by former Notre Dame running back Josh Adams: It’s like “running behind a tow truck.” Mike McGlinchey, the ex-Irish left tackle who could be a first-round pick, too, said Nelson is “about as nasty as they come.” 

Don’t believe them? Here’s some tape: 

There’s little doubting Nelson’s ability here at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis — that’s not the issue, certainly not for a Bears team that hired Nelson’s college position coach, Harry Hiestand, to coach its offensive line. It wouldn’t be a surprise if re-uniting Hiestand and Nelson produced a decade of stability with a handful of Pro Bowl selections sprinkled in there. 

The question, then, for the Bears — and the seven teams picking ahead of them — is this: Is it worth it to take a guard in the first 10 picks of a draft, even if he's great player?

In the last 20 years, 33 offensive linemen have been top-10 draft picks. Three of those were guards; the other 30 were tackles. Some, like two-time Washington Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff, played tackle in college but were quickly moved to guard once they were drafted. But the point is: It’s extremely rare for a guard to be selected as a top-10 pick. That’s the nature of a position where the thought is it’s easier to find solid players than it is at tackle. 

Nelson, though, offered this defense Thursday of himself for being, specifically, a top-five pick:

“I think I should be talked in that regard, the top five conversation because you have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys and you need guys to stop them, and I think I’m one of those guys,” Nelson said. “You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine, they can step up in the pocket and they can throw, a lot of quarterbacks if given the opportunity can do that. That’s what I give is a pocket to step up in, and I think I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness and establishing the run also opens up the passing game, so I think it’s a good choice.”

That’s a pretty good sales pitch. But maybe there’s another way Nelson can sell himself as a top pick: Does he have the flexibility to play tackle?

Nelson said no teams have talked to him about switching from guard to tackle yet, but he was recruited to Notre Dame as a tackle. More importantly: Nelson, while redshirting in 2014, practiced as a tackle under Hiestand’s watch; maybe he would’ve stayed there had Notre Dame not had two future first-round picks as its starting tackles in 2015 (Ronnie Stanley, who was the sixth overall pick in 2016, and McGlinchey, who’s likely a first-round pick in 2018). 

“I’m definitely more comfortable at guard, that’s the position that I’ve played in college for three years,” Nelson said. “But what I do have is the fundamentals and characteristics to play any position on the offensive line.”

So perhaps the Bears could view Nelson as someone who fills an immediate need at guard, but later in his career could move to tackle. That would certainly up his value and lessen questions about taking an interior offensive lineman so high. 

But wherever Nelson winds up, he’s a good bet to be successful not just because of his physical traits, but because of his approach to every aspect of the game — film study, meetings, practice, you name it. Nelson is one of those football junkies who has the elite physical traits to become great. 

His nasty streak certainly helps, too. 

“As a blocker my mindset is being dominant,” Nelson said. ”I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play and finishing them past the whistle. … Yeah, I would consider myself a nasty player.”