Don’t look now but we’re headed for another top 10 matchup between The Clemson Tigers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. If you can look past the 30-3 shellacking in the playoffs two years ago and go back to 2015, these teams provided us with an all-time classic with Deshaun Watson and company came up big with a 24-22 victory, in nothing short of a monsoon.
Watson tossed two touchdowns and ran for another in the game that later led to the post-game interview with Dabo when the phrase “BYOG” was coined. Bring Your Own Guts was the message that Dabo delivered before the game, and they certainly did narrowly edging out ND on a failed two-point conversion as regulation expired. If we’re lucky, these teams will deliver an equally exciting performance.
Come Saturday night, all eyes will be on true freshman DJ Uiagalelei. Making his second career start, this will be his first true test. Boston College is no scrub, but they don’t have the talent ND has. The young freshman threw for 340 and two touchdowns while finding his clear favorite target Cornell Powell 11 times for 105 yards.
Notre Dame sits at eight in the nation in yards per game defensively and will provide a much stiffer challenge both in the air and on the ground. Look for the Irish to try to use some confusing looks in secondary as well as send some blitzes to check his ability to identify and react to them. Of course, Clemson will look to rely on star RB Travis Etienne to carry the load but I suspect the Irish will try to limit him and force DJ to beat them.
While the Tigers sit just behind the Irish in total defense and only give up 100 rushing yards per game, the Irish have a young stud RB in Kyren Williams who is averaging a staggering 5.7 yards per carry. The Tiger defense has been very susceptible to large gashes particularly on cut back lanes that don’t remain filled.
The Clemson DL is loaded with young five-star talent, but they’re still learning and coming together but they must get to the passer and stay in their lanes while doing so. Ian Book is not an amazing talent, but he has the mobility to get outside the pocket and make plays down the field. Tigers DC Brent Venables usually saves his best gameplans for elite competition, and he’s going to need all the stops to slow down this ND offense.
The big X-factor for this game could come down to special teams. Clemson’s special teams have been flat out bad this year. Starting with the Miami game, they had three blocked field goals in that one game alone. Last week they had a punt returned for a touchdown that was only brought back by a block in the back down the field.
In a game where they jumped out early, these mistakes were relatively unimportant but against a team like this, these same kinds of mistakes could very well cost them the game. I expect special teams, especially field goals, to be a huge focus in practice this week.
All things considered, Clemson is the better coached and more talented program and should win this game. Don’t put too much on your young QB’s shoulders, ride Etienne to the win, and don’t make special teams errors and this game should not even be close. However, if they let this team hang around or make mental errors, they’ve proved in the past they won’t go away easy and will take this game down to the wire. Final prediction: Clemson 31, Notre Dame 20.