Never off the rails, Notre Dame's third-down magic helps lift Irish to No. 2 in the polls
SOUTH BEND — Whoever decides what music to juice up Notre Dame Stadium with on game days turned to weathered stadium anthem “Crazy Train” twice during ND’s 47-40 double-overtime upending of then-No. 1 Clemson on Saturday night.
Both times with the Irish defending on third down. Both times with the Tigers failing to convert.
Then again, the Irish (7-0, 6-0 ACC) have been pretty magical on third down this season — offensively and defensively — even when there’s been no musical accompaniment.
It’s one of the reasons Notre Dame finds itself No. 2 in both major polls Sunday, heading into a road test with Boston College (5-3, 4-3 ACC) and former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec on Saturday. ABC will televise that game nationally, with a 3:30 p.m. EST kick time.
The Irish were 10-of-19 on third down Saturday night against Clemson and are at 53.8% for the season. That’s 12th among the 123 FBS teams that have played a game in 2020 and seventh among those teams that have played at least two.
A year ago, that percentage at the end of the season would have been good enough for second place nationally. The Irish were 65th in third-down efficiency in 2019 at 40.2%
Notre Dame is even better on third down defensively. The Irish rank fifth at 24.7%, third if you extract two teams ahead of them that have only played one game. Clemson managed four conversions in 15 attempts Saturday night.
And that helped Notre Dame become the first team ever to beat Clemson when it carried a No. 1 ranking into a regular-season game. The Irish also truncated the nation’s longest active road winning streak at 15.
As a result, idle Alabama (6-0) moved up a rung into the No. 1 spot, with the Irish leapfrogging No. 3 Ohio State (3-0). Clemson (7-1) slid into the No. 4 position, where ND sat last week. Notre Dame picked up two first-place votes in the AP poll and four in the coaches poll.
The College Football Playoff poll doesn’t get cranked up until Nov. 24.
Meanwhile, Sunday marks the first time Notre Dame found itself with an AP No. 2 ranking since the 2006 preseason poll. The last time the Irish were No. 2 in-season was the final poll of 1993.
The 2012 Notre Dame team actually made it to the No. 1 spot before its BCS National Championship Game loss to Alabama, but the Irish skipped over No. 2 while rising to the No. 1 spot late in the regular season and did so on the way down to a final No. 4 ranking.
The Irish have in-state company in the top 10 this week as Indiana (3-0) ascended to the No. 10 spot following its 38-21 throttling of Michigan, Saturday in Bloomington, Ind.
The last time the Hoosiers cracked the AP top 10 was 1969, settling into the No. 10 spot after opening that season with a 58-30 win at Kentucky. Indiana fell completely out of the poll for good the following week after a 17-14 loss to Cal, before finally returning 51 seasons later.
Indiana visits Michigan State (1-2) this Saturday before visiting Ohio State on Nov. 21 in a game that could determine the Big Ten’s East Division representative in the Dec. 19 league championship game.
Notre Dame is already in a trajectory to play in the ACC Championship Game, Dec. 19 in Charlotte, N.C., and would likely have a rematch with Clemson (7-1, 6-1) if neither team drops a game they’re favored to win.
“Clemson’s a great team,” said Notre Dame rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. “They’ll get (starting QB) Trevor (Lawrence) back in a few days. The team is really good.
“They have a lot of guys, a lot of assets. I think it’s most likely that we’ll see them again and I’m sure the whole world thinks we’ll see them again. It will be a great experience to see them again as well.”
Who: No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0) vs. Boston College (5-3)
Kickoff: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EST
Where: Alumni Stadium; Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)
Line: Notre Dame by 13