The haze of losses to Marshall and Stanford at home have loomed over Notre Dame’s 2022 season, but this past Saturday night, in front of a sold-out primetime Notre Dame Stadium crowd, the Fighting Irish played their best game of the year, so far. A 35-14 win over then No. 4 Clemson saw Notre Dame’s offense establish the run, tearing through the Tigers defense, complimented by a stellar defensive performance and another blocked punt by the special teams unit, resulting in a touchdown. A 14-0 halftime lead felt good for the home crowd, but seeing it grow to 28-0 with a pick-6 by freshman Benjamin Morrison, who had a prior interception that set up a very short field for the Irish to go up three touchdowns, left Irish fans exhaling, knowing the game was out of reach and a celebration was about to ensue.
The sights and sounds of the postgame, with students and fans storming the field, with fans pouring into the tunnel that leads to the Notre Dame locker room, as the effort by security to move them to the Knute Rockne gate and outside the stadium failed as they wanted to see head coach Marcus Freeman, who hasn’t received this kind of reaction since he was hired to replace Brian Kelly, as he made the walk from the locker room to the press room.
For Notre Dame, who has climbed back into the Associated Press top 25 with the upset win, it would have been even sweeter had it been in a scenario where they were 8-1, with a good loss to Ohio State under its belt, and likely in the top ten of the first College Football Playoff rankings.
But the reality is, the Irish blew it against Marshall and Stanford. While 6-3 doesn’t look good on paper to Notre Dame fans and the broader college football world, the team has improved since the pitiful loss to the Cardinal.
Tommy Rees has had to coordinate an offense with an average quarterback in Drew Pyne, whose objective at this point is to direct an offense that has finally embraced the run, with a trio of backs and an offensive line that is reminding people why the unit has a reputation for producing high-round NFL draft picks. A defense, under the direction of Al Golden, making amends for their poor execution and tackling against Stanford, by shutting down Clemon’s running game and making them pay for poor passes. Don’t forget Brian Mason, the special teams coordinator who most did not know about until the two blocked punts against UNLV and the block that got Notre Dame on the board early after Clemson was forced into a 3-and-out, setting the tone for what was to come.
Bringing that all together is Marcus Freeman.
After having to walk through the tunnel following those losses to Marshall and Stanford, with boos raining down on you, celebrating a victory where fans stormed the field and then wanted to keep the party going in that famous tunnel with you is a nice reversal of fortunes.
Now Notre Dame has a chance to win out, finish 9-3 and would likely spoil USC’s College Football Playoff hopes in the process.
Beating Clemon is what Freeman needed as he moves forward with recruiting and calming the nerves of those who back in September, were questioning the decision to promote him from defensive coordinator to head coach.
For one night, Notre Dame fans were able to forget those two losses on their home field earlier in the season, and were able to celebrate on it after seeing the team they expect each week.