CLEMSON, S.C. - Clemson sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third Saturday night as No. 12 Clemson held off No. 6 Notre Dame 24-22.
The game was in doubt until the end as the Fighting Irish scored with seven seconds left to cut the Tigers' lead to two points, but Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was stopped by Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins on the 2-yard line on the two-point conversion attempt.
Clemson then recovered an onside-kick attempt to clinch the victory, its seventh in a row dating back to last season.
Clemson improved to 4-0 and Notre Dame fell to 4-1 after losing in its first trip to Memorial Stadium since a Joe Montana-led team down the Tigers 21-17 with a late comeback in 1977.
Notre Dame came close to pulling off a similar comeback thanks to 19 fourth-quarter points, but in the end the vast majority of 82,415 rain-soaked fans went home happy.
"We wanted to be 4-0 and we're happy we are, but nobody's brought a trophy in here and called the season off," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "We had to weather not only the storm we were playing in, but we also had to weather Notre Dame."
Clemson led 14-3 at the half and extended that advantage to 21-3 early in the third quarter.
Tigers kicker Ammon Lakip made a hard tackle on Notre Dame return man C.J. Sanders on the second-half kickoff, causing a fumble deep in Fighting Irish territory. Three plays later, Watson dashed up the middle for a 29-yard touchdown.
But Notre Dame responded with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Kizer to running back C.J. Prosise to cut Clemson's lead to 21-9 with 14:13 left in the game.
Clemson got a 35-yard field goal from Greg Huegel on its ensuing possession, but the Fighting Irish struck again, getting a 3-yard touchdown run by Kizer to cut the Tigers' advantage to 24-16 with 9:03 remaining.
Clemson's defense came up big as B.J. Goodson intercepted a Kizer pass to thwart a drive with 6:36 left. Then Goodson recovered a fumble by Notre Dame wide receiver Chris Brown at the Clemson 3 with 2:09 left.
But Notre Dame had a final gasp, forcing a punt and taking over at the Clemson 32 with 1:05 remaining. The Fighting Irish pulled within 24-22 with seven seconds left on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Kizer to Torii Hunter Jr., setting up the potential game-tying conversion attempt.
Notre Dame outgained Clemson 300-144 in the second half and amassed 225 yards in the fourth quarter, but four turnovers proved costly.
"Disappointing loss, obviously," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "If you told me we were going to turn the ball over four times, I would have told you we were going to lose. You wouldn't have to be a genius to figure that out. We turned the ball over four times and we lost."
Kizer completed 19-of-34 passes for 321 yards and rushed for 60 yards on 15 attempts.
It was all Clemson early. Watson threw two touchdown passes and rushed for 51 yards in the first half as the Tigers built a 14-3 halftime lead.
Despite playing in a steady rain, Clemson scored on each of its first two possessions.
"We felt like we needed to get a fast start and get our crowd into the game, and it worked out that way," Swinney said. "We needed to get some type of momentum early."
The Tigers did just that, in large part thanks to Watson.
On Clemson's first play from scrimmage, Watson swept left for a 38-yard gain - the longest of his career. Six plays later, he connected with tight end Jordan Leggett on a 6-yard touchdown pass.
After forcing a three-and-out and a 15-yard punt, Clemson took over on the Notre Dame 40 and required only four plays to score, with Watson hitting sophomore wide receiver Artavis Scott for the touchdown with 8:43 left in the first quarter for a 14-0 lead.
Watson finished with careers highs in rushing attempts (16) and yards (93) while running back Wayne Gallman added 98 yards on 22 rushes.
Clemson outgained the Fighting Irish 152-137 and had five tackles for loss in the first half.
"We're not here for moral victories," Kelly said. "We're too far along in our program for that. We've got to come down here and beat Clemson, and you can't beat Clemson turning the ball over four times and starting tentative on defense."
NOTES: Clemson DE Shaq Lawson had 3.5 tackles for loss - all in the first half - giving him an ACC-leading 9.5 this season. ... Clemson P Andy Teasdall averaged 48.8 yards on four first-half punts and 43.1 yards on seven punts for the game. ... Notre Dame WR Will Fuller, who entered the game leading Notre Dame with 22 catches for 454 yards and six touchdowns this season, managed just two catches for 37 yards. ... Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise entered the game averaging 150 yards rushing per game, but was held to 50 yards on 15 carries; Prosise did have four receptions for 100 yards.