Isaiah Foskey would love to provide an 'electric' moment for Notre Dame against Clemson

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey sacks California quarterback Jack Plummer (13) on a fourth down play during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Notre Dame defeated California 24-17.(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

SOUTH BEND — Isaiah Foskey smiled Tuesday night when he heard Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s name.

Now starring with the Cleveland Browns, the former All-America rover put his stamp on Notre Dame’s 2020 upset of No. 1 Clemson with a pair of forced fumbles, including one that Owusu-Koramoah snatched away from Travis Etienne and returned 23 yards for a first-half touchdown.

“That was just electric,” said Foskey, the junior defensive end projected as a first-round pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. “It’s always electric seeing a defensive touchdown, especially something like that.”

Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) celebrates after a touchdown against Clemson during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in South Bend, Ind.

Now 1.5 sacks shy of tying Justin Tuck’s program record of 24.5, which has stood since 2004, Foskey is riding a midseason surge that has seen the team captain block two punts and record 4.5 sacks in this two-game winning streak against UNLV and Syracuse.

After safety Brandon Joseph ignited last week’s road win with a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown just seven seconds in, Foskey has challenged himself to wreak more havoc Saturday night against No. 4 Clemson and towering quarterback DJ Uiagalelei.

Even after shedding 15 pounds to improve his mobility, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound junior remains turnover-prone. Five more fumbles this year give Uiagalelei 17 in 23 career starts, dating to 2020 and his 439-yard passing night at Notre Dame Stadium.

Chat transcript:Chat transcript: What's the formula for Notre Dame to upset Clemson?

It was Uiagalelei, then a freshman filling in for Trevor Lawrence as he recovered from COVID-19, who rifled a pitchout off Etienne’s hands as Owusu-Koramoah raced into the backfield.  

“That’s the biggest thing I feel like I dropped off a little bit this year is just getting the ball out when I get to the quarterback,” Foskey said. “That’s something I pride myself on. Once you get to the quarterback, you try to get that ball out.”  

Clemson (8-0) has allowed 14 sacks this year and ranks 53rd nationally in pass-blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus.

Red-zone defense remains sore spot

After letting Syracuse reach the end zone on all three trips last week, Notre Dame is dead last in red-zone defense.

Opponents have come away with points on all 20 trips to Irish 20-yard-line and beyond, including 17 touchdowns. Clemson’s offense, meanwhile, ranks 22nd in touchdown conversion rate upon reaching the red zone and has produced points on 38 of 39 trips.

Oct 29, 2022; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange wide receiver Oronde Gadsden II (19) catches a touchdown pass in front of Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback Benjamin Morrison (20) in the first quarter at JMA Wireless Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

“That’s a point of emphasis that we brought upon ourselves this week,” Foskey said. “Just the red-zone stops and basically not letting them get in the red zone.”

Although just 13 teams have allowed fewer red-zone possessions, first-year defensive coordinator Al Golden is doing what he can to reverse that troubling trend.

“We need to get a stop or a takeaway,” Golden said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s really that simple. The end result has to change, no question about it. We’ve got to keep working it, just like we worked on the takeaways and had a breakthrough (with two interceptions at Syracuse). We’ve got to do the same thing in the red. Everybody knows it.”

UNLV’s final touchdown came on a fourth-and-goal run from the 1, but on the other five touchdowns over the past two games the Irish failed to push the opponent past second down.

“Sometimes on the goal line we get them to third down or fourth down, but it’s just that one play that gets them in the end zone,” Foskey said. “It’s just unfortunate events. It’s just that one play that we need to stop and just be continuous on four plays straight, because it’s four-down territory.”

Tigers have two QBs

Clemson comes in off a bye week with the nation’s 19th-ranked scoring offense at 37.1 points per game.

It also has a talented freshman backup quarterback in Cade Klubnik, who rallied the Tigers past Syracuse after Uiagalelei was pulled. This could the be third straight week Notre Dame must contend with two quarterbacks.

Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) looks to pass in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Syracuse on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

UNLV rotated its second- and third-string quarterbacks in the wake of a prior concussion to its starter, and Syracuse starter Garrett Shrader missed the second half due to unspecified mobility concerns.

“Maybe it’s a little bit different if (Klubnik) is in there at quarterback, but not significantly different,” Golden said. “They’re both really talented. Extra time, idle time leads to creativity. And it’s hard to be more creative than they are right now. They’re run gadgets anywhere on the field and make you pay for it."

'Bloody Tuesday'

How tough are these midweek practices for Notre Dame? They call them "Bloody Tuesday."

"You actually see people start bleeding,” Foskey said with a chuckle.

Defensive end Nana Osafo-Mensah had a gash on his hand from Tuesday’s spirited work.

“His whole hand was all bloody and all this stuff,” said Foskey, who wore a lightweight brace on his right wrist. “But you also just feel it. People are going out of practice with a little ache, but it’s a good ache. It’s not that bad.”

Echoing the constant reminders from coach Marcus Freeman that there are no “gamers” allowed, Foskey said hard practices every Tuesday and Wednesday have forged better results on game days.

“We’ve been really going at so we can better perfect,” he said. “We found out the formula to winning is just having a really good Tuesday and a really good Wednesday. We know if we don’t have those, the week just doesn’t sit right.”

Final stats on cleats auction

Nineteen sets of game-worn cleats brought winning bids of at least $1,000 in the “Cleats for a Cause” silent auction that ended Monday night.

Freeman’s size-11.5 shoe led the way at $7,000. Next came record-setting tight end Michael Mayer ($4,900), leading rusher Audric Estime ($2,800), Foskey ($2,100) and injured linebacker Bo Bauer ($2,000).

Players wore special cleats to rains funds for local charities during the Notre Dame vs. University of Nevada NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

All 117 sets of cleats brought at least $350 in donations that will be split evenly among four local nonprofits.

According to the online listing, seven Irish players wear a size-16 cleat: Jayson Ademilola, Blake Fisher, Jason Onye and freshmen Eli Raridon, Aamil Wagner, Tyson Ford and Aiden Gobaira. The smallest cleats belonged to kickers Blake Grupe (8.5) and Zac Yoakam (9.5).

Tight end Cane Berrong wears a size 13.5 (left) and size 13 (right).

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.