Oct. 1, 2015
"Tough place to play."
That seems to be the consistent prevailing reaction this week when Notre Dame's football trip to Death Valley-also known as Clemson, South Carolina-to play 12th-rated Clemson Saturday is noted.
So, how have the Irish survived over the years when they've played true road games down South, mostly in Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference venues? Here are 10 Notre Dame road victories over ranked opponents, all accomplished over the last 40 years (in fairness, note that in half these games the Irish were the higher-ranked squad):
- 1976-No. 12 Notre Dame over No. 19 South Carolina 13-6 in Columbia
- 1977-No. 5 Notre Dame over No. 15 Clemson 21-17 in Clemson
- 1978-No. 10 Notre Dame over No. 20 Georgia Tech 38-21 in Atlanta
- 1980-No. 6 Notre Dame over No. 5 Alabama 7-0 in Birmingham
- 1983-Unranked Notre Dame over No. 7 South Carolina 30-6 in Columbia
- 1984-Unranked Notre Dame over No. 6 LSU 30-22 in Baton Rouge
- 1990-No. 1 Notre Dame over No. 9 Tennessee 34-29 in Knoxville
- 1997-Unranked Notre Dame over No. 11 LSU 24-6 in Baton Rouge
- 2002-No. 6 Notre Dame over No. 11 Florida State 34-24 in Tallahassee
- 2004-Unranked Notre Dame over No. 9 Tennessee 17-13 in Knoxville
In fact, since Ara Parseghian took over as Irish head coach in 1964, Notre Dame's teams have pulled off 41 road victories over top 25 opponents (that total does not include 16 bowl game and neutral-site contest wins). Here are a dozen of the most memorable of those:
- 1966-No. 1 Notre Dame over No. 10 Oklahoma 38-0 in Norman
- 1966-No. 1 Notre Dame over No. 10 USC 51-0 in Los Angeles
- 1979-No. 9 Notre Dame over No. 6 Michigan 12-10 in Ann Arbor
- 1982-Unranked Notre Dame over No. 1 Pittsburgh 31-16 in Pittsburgh
- 1986-Unranked Notre Dame over No. 17 USC 38-37 in Los Angeles
- 1988-No. 1 Notre Dame over No. 2 USC 27-10 in Los Angeles
- 1989-No. 1 Notre Dame over No. 2 Michigan 24-19 in Ann Arbor
- 1993-No. 11 Notre Dame over No. 3 Michigan 27-23 in Ann Arbor
- 1996-No. 9 Notre Dame over No. 6 Texas 27-24 in Austin
- 2005-No. 20 Notre Dame over No. 3 Michigan 17-10 in Ann Arbor
- 2012-No. 20 Notre Dame over No. 10 Michigan State 20-3 in East Lansing
- 2012-No. 5 Notre Dame over No. 8 Oklahoma 30-13 in Norman
Here's what Irish coach Brian Kelly offered Tuesday in answer to many different types of questions about how his team would respond to the environment:
-- "Our guys are excited about the challenge playing down at Clemson. Very difficult place to play. But certainly one that they've been looking forward to all season. Should be a great environment. Great atmosphere. The kind of football game our guys are excited to be playing in. We know it's going to be a great challenge."
-- (on Florida State environment in 2014 being similar) "I think our football team was well prepared for Florida State relative to being on the road and a loud crowd and all the things that go with that. I think in pregame we had more media presence and cameras than we did in the National Championship Game, at least it appeared that way. I thought our kids handled that very well. Didn't have a lot of communication errors on the field. Just didn't make a play or two maybe at the end that we needed to. So I think we'll continue in that same vein. Most of these kids played in that game. So I think we'll have a lot of carryover, and we'll talk in terms of the same kind of environment and how we'll need to prepare."
-- "I've never been there (to Clemson). I would think that it's a raucous crowd like we have at our stadium. I would think that a good football team makes it raucous. They have a good football team. It's well coached. All those things being equal, our team will have to play well. If you play well, you tend to quiet crowds down."
-- (on Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer) "I think he's a realist. He knows it's going to be loud, and the environment is going to be electric. But he can settle that environment down by playing really well."
-- "You know (it's a big week) when your team is detailed on the very first meeting. They know who they're playing, and they know what they need to do and how they need to play if they want to win."
-- "We like enthusiasm. We want our guys to be enthusiastic about what they're doing and excited. Emotion drains you. So we're not a big fan of emotion. We try to temper the emotion and really work towards the enthusiasm."
-- "The competition brings out the best in everybody. It brings out the best in the players and the coaches. I think everybody wants to be challenged. Everybody wants to get that opportunity to compete at the highest level, and this will be one of those opportunities."
Here's what Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said this week when asked what it is that's so special about the Notre Dame program: "They're Notre Dame. Are you kidding me? This is the winningest program in the history of college football."
Added Swinney, on the big-time nature of the matchup, "I couldn't get Jesus tickets."
"I do think it's a little unfair that they brought the pope into town right before the game," Swinney said in jest.
Clemson assistant athletics director for football communications Tim Bourret owns two degrees from Notre Dame. He was a student at Notre Dame in 1977 (and attended the game) when the Irish won, then became assistant sports information director at Clemson in 1978 and worked for the Tigers when they won 16-10 at Notre Dame in 1979 (the Irish turned the ball over five times in that contest).
So, noting Bourret's personal 2-0 record in the series, Swinney added, "We're hoping Bourret can trump the pope."
Since Notre Dame made only one previous visit to Clemson, there have been plenty of retrospectives offered this week on that game in 1977. Here are some odds and ends relating to that contest:
- The page one South Bend Tribune story on the 21-17 Irish come-from-behind win included a box noting that longtime Tribune sports editor Joe Doyle missed the game due to his daughter Kathy's wedding in Bloomington, Indiana-and that ended a string for him of covering 160 straight Notre Dame games.
- The 1977 game included 36 players who went on to play in the NFL, including seven first-round picks, and 18 who earned some sort of All-America honors.
- Eight different postseason bowl games scouted the contest.
- Said Clemson coach Charley Pell, "Notre Dame has as fine a group of athletes as I've ever seen on a football team."
- Said Irish coach Dan Devine, "They have better personnel than Southern Cal. This team should be undefeated."
- A Frank Howard Stadium record crowd of 54,189 fans watched (official capacity was 43,000)-and the Irish victory denied the Tigers their 100th win at that venue.
- Clemson threw an interception and also lost four fumbles to the Irish.
- Irish coach Dan Devine contacted ACC commissioner Bob James before the game, looking for assurance the crowd noise would be kept under control. The request became public-so a Spartanburg (South Carolina) television station encouraged Tiger fans to send earplugs to the Clemson Holiday Inn where the Irish stayed Friday night. Thousands did.
- Clemson's lone Catholic church had a capacity of only 80, so Sunday morning Mass was held at a nearby (and larger) Baptist church to accommodate Irish fans in town.
- Guarantees of $100,000 were exchanged by the schools for this game and the return match in 1979 at Notre Dame Stadium.
- Notre Dame had one second-half drive of 84 yards that actually included gains of 119 yards due to penalties against the Irish.
- Clemson's two rushing touchdowns marked only the second and third rushing TDs allowed by the Irish defense in nine games to that point in 1977.
-- This week's matchup of two top 15 teams will be the 10th in the history of Clemson's Memorial Stadium with both teams boasting those sorts of rankings. Visiting teams to win in those previous contests have been Notre Dame in 1977, Florida State in 1988, 1992, 1997 and 2013-and South Carolina in 2012.
-- If there's an enticing matchup to watch this week, it might be Notre Dame's rushing attack against the Clemson defense. The Irish rank 12th nationally in rushing (284.8 yards per game) and average 41.0 points per contest. Clemson permits only 114.7 rushing yards and ranks 11th in scoring defense (12.3 points per game).
-- The only current Irish player from South Carolina is senior wide receiver Chris Brown (Hanahan). Among previous top Notre Dame football names from South Carolina are 1993 All-America safety Jeff Burris (Rock Hill) and 1988 national championship quarterback Tony Rice (Woodruff).
-- Irish running back C.J. Prosise has gained 600 yards over his first four games in 2015-something no other Notre Dame back can claim.
-- Notre Dame's remaining eight opponents boast a combined 22-6 record.
-- The last time Notre Dame had more than its current 1,139 rushing yards after four games came in 1992 (1,264 yards).
-- C.J. Sanders returned a punt 50 yards for a TD against Massachusetts. He became the first Irish freshman with a punt return TD since 1973 (Tim Simon brought one back 73 yards versus Army).
-- Irish wide receiver Will Fuller ranks eighth nationally with 454 receiving yards.
-- The Irish already have seven scoring plays this year of at least 50 yards. That's already the most for the Irish in an entire season under head coach Brian Kelly.
-- The Irish have allowed just six points in the first quarter this season, outscoring their foes 47-6 in the opening 15 minutes of games.
-- The Irish have eclipsed 200 yards rushing in each of their last five games--the longest such streak since 2000.
-- Notre Dame's victory over Massachusetts is believed to be the first in school history where four freshmen scored TDs-with those coming from Josh Adams, C.J. Sanders, Dexter Williams and Brandon Wimbush.
-- Notre Dame has started 4-0 in three of the last four years, a feat last accomplished when the Irish did it four years in a row from 1970-73. It's the first back-to-back 4-0 starts since 1988-89. It's the first back-to-back unbeaten September records since 1992-93 (including a tie in 1992).
-- Since establishing a school record with 720 yards of total offense against Navy in 1969, Notre Dame has never had more total yards than its 681 gained against Massachusetts.
-- The ESPN College GameDay show is headed to Clemson this weekend. It's the 26th time GameDay has brought its program to an Irish football game (and a record 17th time Notre Dame has been the true road team).
-- As a follow-up to last week's listing of local culinary options for Irish home football weekends, add these two (both located in Buchanan, Michigan-16 miles northeast of South Bend):
* Wheatberry Tavern (on North Red Bud Trail)--Casual spot with impressive menu, including excellent BBQ and fish options. Small plates, big plates, great fish tacos, craft beers. Try the Blackened Chicken & Andouille Hash (blackened chicken breast and Andouille sausage over a roasted potato hash with onions, sweet peppers and toasted corn topped with a light roasted garlic sauce).
* Bucktown Tap (downtown on Front Street)-Another fun, casual option-with appetizers, sandwiches, burgers and salads (substitute sweet potato tots with burgers and sandwiches). Try the Buck Bleu Salad with steak.
-- by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director