CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — 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’ long-time, 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 air time 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 nifty 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.”
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish struggled to take advantage of early chances. They settled for three first-half field goals after solid drives that had them down 24-9 at the half. Then they were stuck deep in their own territory in the final period.
Clemson: Can this Tiger team go to the ACC title game? The summertime favorites to win an eighth league title in nine years finally played up to that billing with strong offensive line play and a swarming defense.
SWINNEY ON TOP
Clemson’s Swinney had hoped it wouldn’t take so long to take over as the school’s all-time wins leader at 166. He had tied the late Frank Howard with 165 victories a month ago after a 17-12 win over Wake Forest on Oct. 7, then had a bye week and losses at Miami and at North Carolina State in between.
“I wish we’d done it about four games ago,” Swinney joked.
Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said his team missed its chances, particularly early, and gave usually mistake-prone Clemson opportunities to stretch the lead.
Clemson fumbled the ball three times, but only lost one at the end while it was deep in Fighting Irish territory.
Notre Dame is off next week before facing Wake Forest on Nov. 18.
Clemson continues a three-game homestand against Georgia Tech next Saturday.
Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football