Take That, Tyler: Clemson, Swinney hold off No. 12 Notre Dame 31-23
CLEMSON, S.C. - Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's red-hot radio take after criticism from " Tyler of Spartanburg " apparently fired up the Tigers.
"We all had a chip on our shoulder," tailback Phil Mafah said.
Mafah, filling in for the injured starter Will Shipley, ran for a career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns to lead the underachieving Tigers to their biggest win this season, a 31-23 victory over No. 12 Notre Dame on Saturday.
"If Clemson's a stock, you better buy all you freaking can," Swinney said. "Buy right now."
The win capped a crazy week at Clemson, which began when Tyler - last name unknown - called into Swinney's weekly show to criticize the Tigers' longtime, national championship coach. Tyler demanded him to account for why the program that proclaims "Best is the Standard" had four losses and was out of title contention by October.
Swinney let loose with a strong, even hostile, defense of himself, the program and this season. Then watched his Tigers put on their most complete performance of the season.
"It's tough because there's no one that loves us more than (Swinney) does," said Mafah, who rushed for the most yards in a game for Clemson this season. "I personally take it personal, I know a lot of guys do too so we had to bring our all today."
The Tigers (5-4) came in with more losses in a season than it had in 13 years and still raw from the radio call that gave airtime to what some frustrated fans had felt this season.
"It's been a tough year and we haven't had a lot go our way," Swinney said. "But these guys have continued to battle."
Mafah ran for scores of 41 and 1 yard, the last putting Clemson ahead 31-16 in the third quarter. Notre Dame drew within one score on Sam Hartman's 26-yard scramble score.
That's when Clemson's special teams and defense closed things out. Four times after that, the Tigers downed punts inside the Notre Dame 15 - including a quick kick by quarterback Cade Klubnik - and the Irish (7-3, No. 15 CFP) could never get out of the hole.
Notre Dame got a last chance when Mafah fumbled with 1:47 to go on its own 22. After a first down, Hartman threw four incompletions to give the ball back to the Tigers with 58 seconds left.
Clemson ran out the clock and set off a celebration for Death Valley fans that had little to cheer about this season.
Swinney finally moved past the late Frank Howard in all-time Clemson wins with 166 after missing his first two chances to move in front. The loss continued the nightmarish Clemson experience of Notre Dame's Hartman, who's teams were 0-5 vs. the Tigers while at Wake Forest.
Klubnik threw for 109 yards and a 9-yard TD to Tyler Brown and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. stepped in front of a Hartman pass for a 28-yard pick six score that put the Tigers ahead 24-6 in the second quarter.
Hartman finished 12 of 25 for 146 and two interceptions. It was the first time an unranked Clemson had beaten a ranked team since 2021 and a 48-27 win over No. 13 Wake Forest who was led by, you guessed it, Hartman.
Hartman took all the blame.
"If you want to put anything on anyone, put it on me," he said. "I played very poor today. I didn't play well enough to be a winning quarterback."