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Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame ‘payback’ a long time coming for Clemson

Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah takes away a fumble from Travis Etienne and runs it for his first defensive touchdown to extend the Irish's lead over the Tigers.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah wasn’t over the 2018 Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson last week, and the Notre Dame senior linebacker might not be entirely over it even after upsetting the No. 1 Tigers, 47-40, in double overtime on Saturday.

“I had to sit through that, (with) Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, we had to sit through that and watch that game,” said Owusu-Koramoah of the 30-3 loss two years ago. “It was a painful game.

“We always say it’s for the brotherhood, not just the brotherhood that’s playing with us, it’s the brotherhood that came before us. We just wanted to do it for them, do it for us, do it for our community and our fans.”

Owusu-Koramoah and defensive tackle Tagovailoa-Amosa each broke a foot in 2018, the latter able to return in that Cotton Bowl to make two tackles but playing rather limited snaps. Owusu-Koramoah donned pads despite knowing he would not play to enjoy more of the experience. There was not much enjoyment; he still remembers the misery that was that sideline.

“I might have been hurting more than some of the people that were playing in the game because I’m a competitor, an extreme competitor, and it’s always for the brotherhood,” he said last week. “Just watching that game, man, this is a journey, for the payback for those … You think about those guys that don’t get to play them again. You carry that on your back, as well. You want to do it for them, as well.”

When Owusu-Koramoah references “the brotherhood” that came before, he is referencing defenders like safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, cornerbacks Julian Love and Troy Pride, defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, tackles Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner, linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney, and the list goes on. All 11 of those starting defenders have moved on, but a handful did contribute in Dallas and built on those showings Saturday.

In fact, the pair of sacks in the second overtime to all-but seal the victory came from a pair of fifth-year defensive ends and Owusu-Koramoah. His game-high nine tackles, forced fumble and 23-yard fumble return for a touchdown may have all been for naught if not for Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes getting to Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei on first and second downs.

As third-string juniors back in 2018, Ogundeji made three tackles with one sack and one forced fumble while Hayes made two tackles, including assisting on one behind the line of scrimmage. The semifinal was a blowout, but their ability to contribute then foreshadowed what was to come. Similarly …

NOW: Second-string junior defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola.THEN: Third-string freshman tackle with two tackles, including one for loss and half a sack.NOW: Second-string junior defensive end Justin Ademilola.THEN: Due to Tagovailoa-Amosa’s injury, a second-string freshman making two tackles.NOW: Starting senior defensive tackle Kurt Hinish, making three tackles against the Tigers and penetrating at the point of attack more often than that.THEN: The unexpected backup to first-round draft pick Jerry Tillery, making one tackle.

Notre Dame DL

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 07: Defensive linemen Kurt Hinish #41 and Jayson Ademilola #57 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish pressure quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei #5 of the Clemson Tigers in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on November 7, 2020 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Clemson 47-40 in double overtime. (Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Sense a theme? Even in Notre Dame’s loss two years ago, the current defensive line depth was apparent. By no coincidence, the Irish held Clemson to 48 rushing yards on 31 attempts on Saturday, a 1.55 yards per carry average. At the game’s most critical juncture, Notre Dame’s pass rush sacked Uiagalelei for the first two times. The Irish managed 10 tackles for loss, largely a result of that defensive line not budging on the line of scrimmage.

It should also be noted, four of Saturday’s starting offensive linemen started against the Tigers two years ago, all at their current positions.

The greatest difference between Notre Dame now and when it was still losing lopsidedly to Miami and Clemson is its strength along the line on both sides of the ball. It has been a long time coming.

Historical bits have no impact on the current season, something to keep in mind as the Irish face Boston College the week after beating the No. 1 team in the country. When Owusu-Koramoah says, “it’s very likely” Notre Dame plays Clemson on Dec. 19 in the ACC title game, it should be remembered Sports Illustrated headlined the Game of the Century upset of Florida State back in 1993, “Round 1 to the Irish.”

That didn’t exactly come to be.

Two other historical notes, simply included for your enjoyment:— Notre Dame has been playing football since 1887, and it has still yet to lose a single conference game.

This particular scribe was out of pocket for 16 hours on Election Day. Though considered, that was not mentioned in this space ahead of time for fear of encouraging mistakes to be made in the comment section on a tense day.

And there were none. Thank you all, sincerely, for not making me regret devoting my efforts elsewhere on a day that called for it. And thank you for not pointing out I was not proactive enough to have content ready for Wednesday when you may have needed a distraction. The 4 a.m. Tuesday wake-up call rendered me rather useless Wednesday, one of my many failings.

While out of pocket Tuesday, Irish senior defensive end Kofi Wardlow announced an intention to transfer. The Washington, D.C. product has never cracked Notre Dame’s two-deep, playing in only three games throughout four years.

As a graduate transfer, and with this season not having any eligibility impact, Wardlow will have two years to play at his next stop.

Wardlow was a late member of the 2017 recruiting class, a group of six that the Irish needed to pull in to complete a class that suffered some personnel losses during the 4-8 debacle in 2016. Obviously, not all of those late flips succeeded, the one-time Maryland commit joining linebacker Jordan Genmark-Heath, a one-time Cal commit, as outgoing transfers this season.

But the rest of that group has played key roles in Notre Dame’s success of late: Owusu-Koramoah, Tagovailoa-Amosa, running back Jafar Armstrong and kicker Jonathan Doerer, once upon a time headed to Michigan State, presumably USC but never committed, Missouri and Maryland, respectively.

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