You had to really love Clemson football Saturday to sit in the hours of rain and wind that accompanied the home game against Notre Dame.
Hardly anyone with tickets chose to stay home and take in the Tigers’ nationally-televised 24-22 victory in the comfort of a recliner. That registered with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and he made sure it registered with the players, too.
“They showed up,” Swinney told the team pre-game, referring to a crowd of 84,415. “Make sure you show up!”
They did. It wasn’t an artistic victory, but Clemson built a 21-3 lead, then stuffed a run on a two-point conversion in the last seven seconds to knock off the then No.6-ranked and undefeated Irish. Clemson, which entered that game ranked 12th nationally, rose to No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll Sunday.
The Tigers are 4-0. Had they dropped this game, their chances of being included in a four-team national championship playoff would have been dim. But, as Swinney noted, Clemson is 7-3 in games against top 10 opponents on his watch, including victories over Ohio State, LSU and Georgia.
Swinney went on the offensive when asked if he was relieved by Saturday’s result:
“I’m not relieved. It’s an expectation” Clemson will win these games. “I had no doubt they’d show up and play hard.”
The start of this game suggested a blowout when quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two touchdown passes in the first seven minutes for a 14-0 lead. That lead grew to 21-3 early in the second half with Notre Dame twice fumbling in the third quarter.
The Tigers started playing the clock, turning the game over to a defense that, despite returning only three starters from last season, has shown promise. Clemson’s offensive and defensive lines dominated the Irish for most of the first half.
The thinking was that so long as the Tigers didn’t turn over the ball, creating short fields for Notre Dame, the odds favored Clemson. Particularly so in worsening field conditions. Late in the third quarter Clemson posted a scoreboard warning to fans that even heavier rain was approaching.
“There were a lot of things we wanted to do with our game plan. Then (playing with a lead) I was confident running the ball. I’ll take our chances with our defense,” Swinney said.
“We had our monsoon plan (where) we’d have to live with this and that and make it work. We left ourselves a lot of (offensive play) inventory for the rest of the season.”
Clemson outgained Notre Dame on the ground 199 yards to 116. Tigers tailback Wayne Gallman gained 99 yards on 22 carries. Watson added 93 yards on 16 carries.
Notre Dame committed four turnovers to Clemson’s one. Though the Tigers converted only one of those turnovers into points, the changes of possession were still important.
“That was a dad-gum mudder,” Swinney said of the weather. “We knew the turnover margin was going to be huge.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell