Effort, near misses and rest-of-season optimism don’t immediately wash away the pain of Notre Dame football’s 24-22 loss to Clemson on Saturday night.
But when the torrential rain settles in South Carolina, No. 6 Notre Dame’s season is not lost, and the Irish could very well still find themselves in the playoff hunt as the season progresses.
For much of Saturday’s slippery slog, Notre Dame stung itself. Drops. Penalties. Fumbles.
Before the Irish could even settle into the raucous environment at Memorial Stadium, Clemson had cracked open a 14-0 lead. And in the second half, when Notre Dame had the chance to slice into the Tigers’ 13-point margin, the Irish fumbled twice within 57 seconds. And in the fourth quarter, after DeShone Kizer threw a first-down interception, Chris Brown fumbled near the goal line and Kizer bumbled the snap at the start of the very next drive.
Still, Kizer lofted a crisp one-yard toss to Torii Hunter Jr. in the end zone with seven seconds remaining. The failed two-point conversion amounted to the decisive blow, a heavier hit when considering Notre Dame’s decision—even after a delay of game penalty—to go for two earlier in the game after C.J. Prosise’s 56-yard touchdown brought the Irish within 12 with 14 minutes and 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“We’re not here for moral victories,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly told reporters after the game.
Nor should they be.
But reality does point to possibility for the Irish.
Notre Dame is 4-1 with seven games remaining in its regular season. Shove away the stench of Saturday’s loss from the short-term memory bank, and a two-point loss on the road to ACC power Clemson in historically bad weather conditions likely won’t be weighted too negatively by the playoff committee.
The Irish now host Navy and USC at home, travel to Temple and Pittsburgh in Philadelphia on consecutive weekends, welcome Wake Forest for Senior Day in South Bend, clash with Boston College at Fenway Park and round out the season at Stanford over Thanksgiving weekend.
Of course, there are no guarantees in college football and haven’t been with the Irish in recent years (recall losses to Louisville and Northwestern (2014), and Pittsburgh (2013). But if Notre Dame can avoid letdowns and traps, it’ll be tasked with handling USC at home in two weeks in prime time and toppling Stanford on the road. Those latter two objectives sure seem difficult considering Notre Dame committed four second-half turnovers against Clemson and buried itself with crippling drops.
Yet the Irish did limit Clemson to just 10 points and 207 yards on 55 plays (3.76 yards per play) over the final 53-plus minutes. Notre Dame did outscore the Tigers, 22-10, to close the contest.
It’s at least possible.
Anything, in fact, appears possible across the college football landscape this season, with Florida throttling Ole Miss from the ranks of the unbeaten and Arizona State doing the same to UCLA. Ohio State has defeated Northern Illinois and Indiana by a combined two touchdowns, and Michigan State—at home—snuck by Purdue by three points on Saturday. You can cherry pick your arguments for any side in any way. But there’s no denying an open horizon blanketed with some opportunity.
Saturday’s loss stings for Notre Dame.
But a strong finish to the season can begin to help wash away that agony.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.