As the game ended Saturday night vs Virginia Tech, the Clemson Tigers punched their 6th straight ticket to the ACC championship game of the previous five they have all won. As expected from the moment Notre Dame was approved for the conference this year, the matchup between The Irish and The Tigers was set; however, many expected the roles to be reversed: a 10-0 Clemson team vs a 9-1 Notre Dame. The Irish took down the Tigers in OT in the first game, and everyone wants to point to the lack of star QB Trevor Lawrence.
While he is surely a player that nobody can replace, DJ Uiagalelei played well, very well even, and certainly well enough to win the game. He threw for 440 and two touchdowns while running for one more. With only one turnover, you can’t ask much more from a true freshman, especially in the scenario. The real kicker was the defensive injuries.
The Tigers were down three starters before the game ever kicked off and added five more throughout the game. By the end, they were down eight of eleven starters. Brent Venables is a great coach, but even he can not overcome that, especially against a Notre Dame team that is different this year. I am by no means making excuses; Notre Dame fought like hell and earned that win; however, there are parts of the game that stick out that just does not seem sustainable.
Ian Book played out of his mind; he made all the right throws, made plays with his legs, and of course, didn’t turn the ball over. Kyren Williams ran for 140 and three scores. Travis Etienne ran for 28 yards and got stripped for a touchdown, and, of course, the injuries. When I look at these stats, I just can’t imagine a repeat of those performances. Kyren Williams is a star, but minus the first huge run of the game (65 yards), he was held to 75 yards rushing with Clemson’s best DT and two starting linebackers out. Mike Jones Jr. was out, and his filling of the Isaiah Simmons’ role from last year was missed and allowed Book to rush for 70 yards. Travis Etienne hasn’t looked quite as great as we have seen him in seasons past, and some of that may be OL play, play design, or even tweaks to injuries. None of these, however, excuse his second game getting a fumble taken back for a touchdown.
While DJ is a great player and athlete, he doesn’t possess the speed/athleticism that Trevor has and his ability to run open lanes for Travis. Those option plays, the rollouts, and all these things you see Trevor do at a high level also help Etienne find running lanes. While Notre Dame’s effort and performance in that game are both commendable, it’s been proven time and time again that giving Brent Venables extra time to prepare for an opponent almost always spells bad news for the other team.
Trevor and Co. will be excited to avenge this loss and look to make another CFP appearance. He didn’t look his best vs Virginia Tech and will need to make things right before then, but I wouldn’t bet against the Tigers in this rematch. Given the information at the moment, final score prediction: