How Do You Like Me Now?! – CFB Week 10 Recap



Hot damn!!

I still haven’t fully processed what the hell happened Saturday night. What did we all just watch?! We’re so used to being on the other side of a game like this, I’m not sure what to make of the fact Notre Dame just straight-up bullied a top-five team. 

It was a win so commanding, so thorough, so total, that the fact two other key ND rooting positions — M***igan to lose every game always and forever and Brian Kelly to crash and burn at LSU — came up negative (the latter very much so!) couldn’t even come close to putting a damper on the night. This Irish team was that good Saturday. You want some steak to go with that Marcus Freeman sizzle? How about a whole damn ribeye. 

That was Notre Dame’s best win since… when? Obviously the other big contender in recent memory is the 2020 game against the Tigers, but while a stone-cold classic and a beyond cathartic moment for the school and program, it doesn’t have the pedigree of “top-five blowout.” Oklahoma 2012 (happy belated tenth anniversary, btw) would have a strong claim as a top-ten blowout on the road. Before that, you’d have to go to… 2005 M***igan? The Holtz Era? Point is, it’s been a while since the Irish did anything remotely close to the dismantling they just gave the Tigers. 

It’s the most complete game I can remember the Irish playing. They not only won in each phase of the game, but thoroughly cleaned Clemson’s clock in each. The offense didn’t put up a ton of points, but played keep away effectively and just ground Clemson into dust over the course of four quarters. The running backs got between two and twelve yards after contact basically every carry. It’s seemingly impossible to cleanly tackle Audric Estime, as he literally ricochets off defenders to pick up extra yards. Even Drew Pyne ran the ball well! The pass game barely clicked, but it didn’t need to — and Michael Mayer still broke the career TD record for a tight end. It was nice to see Jayden Thomas snag a nice catch (and chip in some fire blocking) and Tyree got involved in the pass game enough to wonder why we don’t do that more again? Meanwhile, special teams got their first direct score while providing a needed spark to get the team and crowd, a solid ND majority despite fears to the contrary, into the game early. The Tigers never recovered, and before you knew it was 28-0 in the fourth. I genuinely don’t know how Dabo doesn’t do some serious soul-searching after this one. 

The defense gets its own paragraph because it deserves one. The D-line ate all night, sacking DJU a bunch and bottling up Will Shipley (remember that recruitment & accompanying angst? Would you trade our current running back room for him? Didn’t think so.) JD Bertrand played out of his mind, somehow always seeming to be in the right place for a clutch tackle. And Benjamin Morrison… oh my. The true freshman corner tallied one of the most memorable defensive performances since Te’o, playing lockdown coverage even as Clemson kept going back to his man. Pick number one set up the icing TD early in the fourth, a combo play with an excellent pass rush forcing an errant through that Morrison casually read like it was an airplane magazine. And pick number two? Play of the year. Watching it live was almost revelatory — this. This is what we’ve been waiting for. Notre Dame can do *this* now to *this* team. (It didn’t hurt it had shades of Georgia icing its national title last year.)

I might have to watch every home game on TV if we play like that. 

No idea how long we’ve been waiting for that play

Yeah yeah, Clemson may not be what they used to be, especially after losing both coordinators last offseason, yada yada. Granted. But you’d be hard pressed to claim they’re not a top-10, top-15 program at worst. And you don’t just casually run roughshod over those teams. Look at Notre Dame the last five years, if you want a comparison point — who did this to Notre Dame? Clemson at its height, Alabama, the skunkbears… all Playoff programs. (Ok there was that Miami game…) Big time programs win big time games, even when they aren’t supposed to — and they often aren’t close. 

Big time coaches know how to beat other big timers, too. One sign of a good coach is that they prove fans wrong about certain things — they, after all, are paid handsome millions to know better than us randos. If the fans are correct more often than the coach, it’s a problem. Marcus Freeman proved me wrong this week, after I foolishly tweeted that ND should commit to the underdog bit more. What an idiot I am. The Irish played like they believed they were the better team all night, which is what let them prove it. Teams that think they are underdogs don’t stick to the long-con run game to wear down an opponent. They don’t play with the confidence and swagger that Notre Dame showed Saturday. They don’t systematically destroy a higher-ranked opponent like this. 

Standard caveats apply, of course. This night, while unbelievably awesome, doesn’t guarantee anything about the future nor does it erase the mistakes of this season. This is only ND’s second top-five win of the last decade; these things are hard to come by. Strange things happen on the road to good teams that don’t necessarily say much about the hosts’ future prospects. I’m thinking in particular of Jeff Brohm inexplicably boat-racing Urban Meyer in 2018 when Ohio State visited Purdue; that win didn’t exactly elevate Purdue to contender status, nor has it done much to knock Ohio State off course. We also need to be proactive in heading off a case of Tom Herman-itis for Freeman, where the team plays like gods when underdogs and makes the other team look like gods when favored. 

But it’s really hard to fake your way to nearly 300 rushing yards. It’s really really hard to do that against a front seven loaded with future NFL guys. It’s really really really hard to do that when your opponent knows exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. The thing about Saturday wasn’t just that the Irish ran a two-time national champion out of South Bend, but that they did it with essentially one hand tied behind their back and a missing shoe. This team still has all the same problems as it did a week ago, but for one game at least, no one cared. They didn’t so much play around their faults or play to cover them up as play through them, so that they didn’t matter in the slightest. It was no mystery what Notre Dame’s path to victory was — but when everyone thought it would be a narrow one, the Irish crowbarred it wide open. Which, it’s safe to say, Brian Kelly never managed to do — even his best teams tended to play a little on edge in these kind of games, almost as if they were nervous the obvious flaws would be found out. Which, of course, meant they always were. Whereas, Marcus Freeman’s team owned their identity Saturday and dared Clemson to beat them straight up. The Tigers couldn’t. 

At the very least, Saturday showed what Notre Dame’s ceiling can be. It can’t just hang with the big boys — it can be one. If Marcus Freeman can get that out of his team once a year, even once every couple years, sign me the heck up. 

Now please don’t lose to Navy next week. 

A word or two about field stormings before we continue — 

Field stormings freaking rule. They are easily one of the top three coolest things in sports, and as far as I know are pretty unique to college sports (has a pro fanbase ever rushed the field? Maybe in soccer somewhere?). They are amazing to behold and exhilarating to participate in. Watching the stands empty onto the field made me really miss being a student for the first time since graduating — I so wish I was there in the stadium to partake in the atmosphere. 

But, like many things that are fun and cool, they are inherently pretty dangerous. After all, it is fundamentally a stampede of tens of thousands of people streaming very fast into a very cramped space not designed to hold tens of thousands of people. There’s a reason conferences fine schools for these, and it’s not because they hate fun. They are also a security nightmare, especially for opposing teams. Because of this inherent danger, field stormings are best kept rare — reserved for only the most energetic moments and impactful milestones. Kansas making a bowl game, for instance, or beating the number one team for the first time in a quarter century in double overtime. Plus, on the purely aesthetic side, you don’t want to cheapen them by having them so often they’re less impactful. 

This particular field storming felt like it was trying a little too hard to make fetch happen. I get why — there were a boatload of Irish fans in attendance Saturday that couldn’t be the last time we played this team. There were a lot of shades of 2020 sprinkled throughout the day — it’s still election season, for instance, and the day at least started unseasonably warm. DJU was still playing quarterback for Clemson, the Tigers were still undefeated, and the Irish game plan still centered around a strong running game. So, naturally, there were enough connections for the fanbase to want to cash in a field storming rain check from two years ago. Lord knows just about every Notre Dame fan alive wishes they could have been on that field that night. I certainly have my “Covid makeup list,” and had I not been in attendance on November 7, 2020, going to a big Notre Dame-Clemson game would certainly be on it. So on one hand, I’m glad Irish nation got to experience some part of the joy we felt that perfect night in 2020. On the other… guys, I’m sorry, you just had to be there. 

The 2020 field storming was pretty close to a perfect sports moment. It weaved together four separate strands of catharsis, two of which had nothing to do with sports, for maximum field storming potential. First, there was the obvious tension of the game itself, a fantastic roller coaster of an affair that saw Notre Dame on the verge of letting it slip away before Ian Book found Avery Davis twice on the same scoring drive. Second, it was the end of a very long week of very stressful election watching that had only resolved itself that morning — no matter one’s political leanings, the day represented closure. Third, it was of course peak Covid times, and life on campus under Covid was, uh, Not Very Fun. This isn’t the time to relive all that, but suffice to say we were all feeling a little cooped-up. And finally, Notre Dame hadn’t beaten a top-ranked team in 27 years. Twenty. Seven. Years. No undergraduate had been alive to see it. Heck, some of their parents may not have even met yet. At this program, with all its history, that smarts. The Irish had been the butt of every joke, every cheap take, every lazy post or tweet or column imaginable in that time, and the last few years had seen chances at glory bleed away because the Irish couldn’t beat an elite team. Well, here they were, beating an elite team. When Clemson’s last desperation lateral hit the ground and the game was over, there was no force in the universe that could have kept the student body off that field. It was the brightest football moment any of us had felt in a long long time. 

Contrast that to yesterday, where the outcome of the game had been clear for about a quarter before the clock ran out. Clemson had been thoroughly outclassed in every facet of the game, which, while astonishing in its own right, had plenty of time to sink in. Field stormings are best as sudden, spontaneous responses, and by about 10 minutes to go it was obvious there was no real way for Clemson to get back in it. So no spontaneity. But what about it being a program milestone? Well, I’d argue it’s not — not yet, anyway. I know I just spent about a paragraph above comparing this to other big wins but we just beat this team two years ago when they were ranked in the top five. In this case, we’ve literally been here before. The difference is scale, not kind. This win might prove to be foundational to the Freeman Era, but it might not. This isn’t a milestone on it’s own — it’s a building block for what’s next. A pretty freaking big block, we hope, but the point is its not a culmination of what we want this program to be. I was as excited about the win as anyone, believe me — but the catharsis I needed was all channeled into Morrison’s pick six. That was the statement and the celebration, not the storming. While I wish had experienced the atmosphere, I don’t think storming the field would have done much for me. Watching from home, it just felt like a faint echo of a much more authentic and impactful moment from two years ago. 

At the risk of sounding like an old, washed-up alum yelling at a cloud, it really seems to me like field stormings after blowouts are just in poor taste. (Unless there’s some other factor — I see you Kansas!) Let the results on the field, as thorough and convincing as they are, speak for themselves. The whole game has been a party, so why take it on the field? Look at the two top-ten matchups Saturday — LSU hadn’t beaten Alabama at home in a decade, and won in overtime on a walk-off two point conversion. That certainly seems like good storming material, and off they went. But Georgia? Fans stayed in the stands after routing Tennessee, in part because, while the win was huge for Georgia, they just won a national championship and know bigger things are ahead. And the game had never really been in doubt; there was no reason to manifest the cathartic outcome on the turf. Want a Notre Dame example? The “Chicken Dance” game against M***igan in 2014 — the best, most cathartic way to end a rivalry known to humankind, and no storming. It wasn’t worth it at that point. 

So please, before think before storming. Consider the true scale of the moment before you take the risk. And no matter how much you or I wish we had been to a certain game, there are no true rain checks when it comes to sports moments. 

We’ll do a real-quick breeze through other sports, since we’re long on word count and I unfortunately couldn’t snag time to watch either basketball exhibition for a preview.

Rough weekend for hockey as they drop both games to Minnesota on the road, and they weren’t close. The twin losses in the Twin Cities drop the Irish to .500 on the year and in conference play. Things aren’t going to get any easier with a visit from #1 M***igan looming. Notre Dame has played up to their archrival in recent years, including a regular season sweep of the skunkbears last season, and has been much better at home so far this year — so here’s hoping the home ice advantage and rivalry stage gives the Irish a boost. With no home football game, Compton could (and probably should!) be rocking for the weekend. Even a single win would be big for ND’s conference and playoff hopes, as a win over #1 helps immensely and clawing for conference points early sets up which matchups are key later on. 

Women’s basketball officially opens their season tomorrow against Northern Illinois, off the back of a strong exhibition outing that saw five players score double digits and Sonia Citron hit a double-double (more please!). Interested to see how this team does early in the year because there is not a lot of lead time before two big tests in early December — the ACC/Big Ten challenge against a rebuilding but potent Maryland squad before our annual dog hunt returns to Purcell Pavillion for the first time since 2018. Is this the year we *finally* down the Huskies at home for the first time since Skylar Diggins’ senior day? (That would be an acceptable court-rushing moment, by the way.) 

Men’s basketball get started Wednesday after an… interesting exhibition game in which the Irish did not exactly struggle with Xavier University (of Louisiana… not that Xavier) but also did not look like a tournament team from a year ago. Look… I’ll get into this more as we get further into basketball season, but I get the sense I’m in the minority of ND fans in that I have absolutely zero expectation for our men’s basketball team to ever be good. Exactly why this is a minority viewpoint is beyond me, given the program’s history (or lack thereof), but I kind of get the sense some people a student generation or two before me got spoiled by Mike Brey’s peak years and set their expectations too high. Meanwhile, I didn’t see an NCAA berth until my last year. See what I mean? I’ll root for the team and celebrate their success, but they haven’t done much to earn a real emotional investment from me. Not yet, anyway — maybe this is the year? 

Ah, there’s that foolish optimism characteristic of Notre Dame fans!

– EC

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