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Leftovers & Links: Two years apart, two field stormings with nothing in common aside from Notre Dame’s cause

Clemson v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 05: Michael Mayer #87 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates with fans who stormed the field after defeating the Clemson Tigers 35-14 at Notre Dame Stadium on November 05, 2022 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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“If you want to rush the field, watch your feet as you jump the wall,” Notre Dame Stadium personnel told fans in the closing minutes of the Irish upset of then-No. 4 Clemson on Saturday. “If you aren’t going to rush the field, move out of the way. Everybody help each other.”

If it was not outright encouragement, it was approved acquiescence. Compared to the announcements following Notre Dame’s upset of then-No. 1 Clemson two years ago, the differences could not have been more stark.

“Be careful out there. … You can use any of the open aisles, please (leave),” the public address announcer pleaded with 11,0111 students two years ago before resorting to the most college of persuasions. “... If you stay too long, it’ll be last call somewhere.”

That begging came just 10 minutes after that double-overtime win. The urgency of clearing a field rushing during the height of the pandemic overruled the celebration of halting a 36-game regular-season winning streak.

On Saturday, fans filled the Notre Dame Stadium tunnel to serenade Irish head coach Marcus Freeman with chants of his own name 40 minutes after they first spilled over the brick walls as the game clock reached triple zeroes. There was no need to leave. Freeman stopped and embraced the crowd, a moment that should long stand out when he looks back on his debut season as a head coach.

Freeman was the only person to hustle off the field in the first place, the first person up the tunnel following the final whistle. That moment in the tunnel following his postgame media responsibilities was the longest one he could relish after that season-defining win. The rest of his team took that chance on the field surrounded by the chaos of 77,622 fans.

“I couldn’t get out of there,” Irish junior tight end Michael Mayer said. He is not someone usually struggling to get anywhere on the football field, so him being stuck on the field is rather notable. “I really couldn’t, they had to help me get out of there.

“I got to see some friends that rushed the field and they found me. That was a pretty cool thing to be able to share the field with them. Everybody knew it was coming.”

Only one person knew it was coming in 2020; former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly telling his team during walk-through to anticipate a field storming, and he insisted they hustle off the field to avoid getting caught in healthy and safety protocols moving forward. Kelly was lightly frustrated afterward, being the first person up the tunnel then, too.

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That truncated 2020 experience may have played a part in the 2022 roster so relishing that moment on Saturday night. Mayer’s brother, AJ, was on the sidelines thanks to his Arkansas State team being on an idle week. A group of friends found junior quarterback Drew Pyne, specifically, their group hug preceding Pyne taking 30 seconds to look all around, nodding confidently to the energy surrounding him.

Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees had raced out of the coaches’ booth before the game ended so he could enjoy the celebration on the field, a moment of self-indulgence few coaches could ever consider on a Saturday. Rees made it to the sideline in time to essentially enjoy a victory lap, congratulating Mayer on his 16th career touchdown catch, a Notre Dame record for tight ends, and hugging Pyne to appropriately celebrate his leadership in the upset.

And quietly, fifth-year linebacker and captain Bo Bauer stood with his back against a camera platform, protecting himself and his injured knee from anyone clipping his crutches from behind. The term “glassy eyes” implies holding back tears, and Bauer’s showed no signs of brimming, but there was a shine to them.

Bauer stood tall, not leaning on his crutches, but keeping them close to him, only three weeks removed from season-ending surgery. Classmate and former walk-on Matt Salerno walked by with his sophomore brother, Chris. The elder Salerno gave Bauer’s shoulder an elongated pat, both knowing the burdens and reliefs of getting to the win over Clemson, both knowing it must have dug into Bauer not to spend his night chasing Tigers quarterback DJ Uiagalelei as he did two years ago.

With time, Bauer will also likely realize Saturday’s win started with him. For one thing, he notched the first of Notre Dame’s program-record six punt blocks this season, way back in the second week of the season. For another, Bauer’s all-out devotion to special teams was contagious to this roster, senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey bragging he may have surpassed Bauer’s block tally after Foskey got to two punts against UNLV.

Even somewhat immobile on those crutches, Bauer was in the midst of a truer field storming than he had skirted in 2020.

Just like the games themselves were different in every way but for two — a defensive score in each and the team in gold helmets winning on both occasions — the crowds on the field could not have been more disparate, only their overwhelming joy in common.

Without a catch this season, fifth-year receiver Joe Wilkins announced Monday he will enter the transfer portal when able after this season, ending his Notre Dame career. Wilkins played in seven games this season but only in spot duty offensively and as a nominal return option on kickoffs.

He has a year of eligibility remaining courtesy of the universal pandemic eligibility waiver.

Health has been Wilkins’ greatest challenge with the Irish, a meniscus tear halting his 2021 season after five games and a LisFranc foot injury this spring costing him spring practices, preseason practices and limiting his availability this fall, shortchanging two seasons in which he initially looked to have a contributing role.

Wilkins finishes his Notre Dame career with just 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns, and his departure leaves the Irish with just six total receivers.

Notre Dame dominates No. 4 Clemson in all phases in a stunning 35-14 upsetHighlights: Morrison’s interceptions, Mayer’s record, Marcus Freeman’s resolveThings We Learned: Notre Dame dominates Clemson in the way long expected, if also delayed, this season

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