Note: The following appears in the Notre Dame football gameday program.
Editor’s Note – For each program in 2023, Tim Bourret chronicles an epic game in the history of Memorial Stadium. Today is the fifth installment.
When you ask Clemson fans for a list of the epic games they have seen in the history of Memorial Stadium, many stand out, and I have tried to bring back those memories through this program series in 2023.
However, one game that is on the list for all rabid Tiger fans 15 years of age and older is the Oct. 3, 2015 game against Notre Dame. It had all the elements you are looking for in a game you will remember for the rest of your life.
First, it had pregame hype. Notre Dame was ranked No. 6 in the AP poll and the Tigers were No. 12, as both teams were undefeated. The matchup attracted ESPN College GameDay.
Second, the weather was a contributing factor. Hurricane Joaquin was scheduled to hit the Upstate over the weekend and bring upwards of 10 inches of rain to the area. The guest picker for ESPN College GameDay was Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel.
For Clemson and Notre Dame fans, this game will forever be known as the “Hurricane Game.”
Third, the talent level for both teams was off the charts. A look to the rosters shows that 27 Fighting Irish players and 25 Tiger players went on to play in the NFL, and most became NFL starters. As far as players who played in the 2015 game, 20 Clemson players and 19 Notre Dame players went on to play in the NFL, including both quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer.
And fourth, this game lived up to the hype with a thrilling comeback that came down to the last minute.
It did not appear this would be a close game in the first half. Watson ran 38 yards on the first play of the game and later in the drive completed a six-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leggett. On the next possession, Watson hit Artavis Scott on a 13-yard touchdown pass for a 14-0 Tiger advantage.
Notre Dame got the ball to start the second half, but on the kickoff, C.J. Sanders was hit by Tiger placekicker Ammon Lakip, one of the few caused fumbles in school history by a kicker. The Tigers recovered and Watson ran 21 yards for a score to give Clemson a 21-3 lead.
Meanwhile, Clemson’s defense was doing an outstanding job, holding the Fighting Irish ground attack well below its rushing average thanks to nine tackles for loss. Shaq Lawson, in a personal matchup with Notre Dame All-America offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, had 3.5 of those nine tackles for loss.
Notre Dame is famous for its comebacks, and the Fighting Irish put together a good one in the fourth quarter.
C.J. Prosise caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Kizer. Prosise, who came into the game with 600 rushing yards, the most ever by a Notre Dame player in the first four games of a season, was held to 50 yards on 15 carries in the game. However, he finished with four receptions for 100 yards, the first Notre Dame running back to have 100 yards receiving in a game since 1970.
Mysteriously, Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly decided to go for two points. But a pass intended for Corey Robinson, son of former NBA great David Robinson (who was at the game), was incomplete, and the Tigers led 21-9.
The Tigers then drove for a Greg Huegel field goal and a 24-9 lead with 10:56 left in the game.
The Fighting Irish started completing crossing routes and Kizer scored on a three-yard run with 9:03 left to bring the score to 24-16.
Notre Dame’s defense, led by future pro Jaylon Smith, stopped Clemson in the fourth quarter. But Notre Dame turned the ball over twice in the last seven minutes. B.J. Goodson had an interception and a recovered fumble in that time period. The fumble was committed by wideout Chris Brown, the only South Carolina native on Notre Dame’s roster.
Incredibly, it was the first time a Tiger had two takeaways in the fourth quarter of a game decided by a touchdown or less since 1979, when Terry Kinard accomplished the feat…at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame got the ball back for one last chance and made the most of it. Kizer, who finished with 321 passing yards, drove the Fighting Irish to the Clemson one. He hit wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., son of the great major leaguer, with a one-yard passing touchdown with just seven seconds left.
With the score 24-22, the Fighting Irish went for two points. Kelly called a running play with Kizer going to his right. It made sense, because Notre Dame had an offensive line that featured four future NFL players, Stanley, Mike McGlinchey, Nick Martin and Alex Bars. But Clemson had four future NFL players on its defensive line in Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins, Lawson and Kevin Dodd. Watkins, with help from Ben Boulware and others, stopped Kizer short of the endzone.
Clemson recovered the onside kick and the Tigers had a landmark victory, the first epic win of Clemson’s six-year run in the College Football Playoff.
“Tonight was BYOG…bring your own guts,” said Head Coach Dabo Swinney in his postgame interview on the field. “They brought some guts and heart, and they never quit until the last play.”