ARLINGTON, Texas – At halftime of the 2013 BCS Championship Game, Notre Dame was down by 28 points. It's 20 points today, so that's improvement, I suppose.
Early on, Notre Dame did all of the things we thought it would have to do to stay in the game. They got pressure on quarterback Trevor Lawrence and kept him uncomfortable. They mostly bottled up the run game with Travis Etienne. On offense, they kept Ian Book clean for the most part and Book moved well in the pocket and gotten the ball out quickly.
That changed in the second quarter, especially after All-American cornerback Julian Love went out with an apparent leg injury. Since then, Clemson has been the aggressor and hit two big plays for touchdowns to freshman burner Justyn Ross, letting the Tigers take control of game.
The Irish have also had the two biggest 50/50 plays of the game so far going against them. Book's fumble on the second drive of the game led to a Clemson field goal. Later, Notre Dame appeared to recover a fumble on a kickoff and seemed set to take over in the red zone. On replay, the ball was ruled to have gone out of bounds by inches before the recovery. That's a game-changing ruling and robbed the Irish of one of their best scoring opportunities.
The biggest development in the game so far is the loss of Love for the Irish. The corner is Notre Dame's leader in the secondary, but he exited the game in the first quarter and has not returned. It's unclear exactly what the problem is, but Donte Vaughn is in the game in his place. That bit Notre Dame when Ross beat Vaughn down the right side for a 52-yard touchdown, the first big play of the game on either side. Vaughn is a good player, but Love is one of the best cover corners in the country. That probably doesn't happen if he's on the field.
Clemson's defensive line has been very good even with the loss of All-ACC tackle Dexter Lawrence. The Tigers have gotten significant pressure on Book, though the quarterback has done a good job of scrambling his way out of trouble on most plays. He has missed on a couple short throws, though, a sign that the consistent pressure is speeding up his internal clock and making him rush. That's happened a few times this year and he's improved in the second half. He'll have to do that again in this one or the Irish will be in trouble.
Notre Dame has been a second-half team all season. The Irish have been one of the best teams in the country in halftime adjustments and they always come up with some new wrinkles to throw at opposing teams. They need to find a way to get Book a little more time and try to take some shots down the field. Staying ahead of the chains is tough against a talented defense like Clemson and they'll need some big plays in order to score, more than likely.
If they could have Love back, that would be helpful too, but you can't always get what you want.