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Early football preview and predictions: Clemson Tigers

| Wednesday, April 22, 2020

In a game that is virtually certain to have an immense amount of hype surrounding it, Notre Dame will kick off their November slate with a game against Clemson, who could possibly be the No. 1 team in the country come Nov. 7.


Opponent: Clemson Tigers

Date: Nov. 7

Location: Notre Dame Stadium

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. EST


History of the matchup

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Ian Book drops back to pass during Notre Dame’s 30-3 loss to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29, 2018.

Clemson holds the all-time series lead at 3-1, and Notre Dame fans will want to forget the most recent meeting between these teams. As both squared off in a matchup of undefeated teams in the 2018 Cotton Bowl, the Tigers picked the Irish apart as soon as All-American cornerback Julian Love left the game with a head injury. Three touchdowns later and it was a 23-3 halftime deficit for Notre Dame, with a backbreaking third-quarter touchdown run from 62 yards out by then-sophomore running back Travis Etienne added on for good measure.

The Irish have lost the last three matchups with Clemson, having won the first one on the road in 1977 as Dan Devine brought home Notre Dame’s 10th national championship. The Tigers got revenge in 1979 in Notre Dame Stadium and took the series lead in 2015 with a 24-22 win as Notre Dame came up short on a two-point conversion attempt with seven seconds left in the game.

2019 performance and outlook

Coming off of a 15-0 season in which freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence took over the reins of the offense after four games, then led the Tigers to a convincing 44-16 win over Alabama in the 2018 College Football Playoff title game, there were high expectations for Clemson. In a way, they disappointed.

Clemson won games handily, though Lawrence, thought to be a Heisman favorite, quickly fell out of the conversation after a shaky start to the season. Even so, following a 21-20 scare at North Carolina where the Tar Heels came up a 2-point conversion short of ending Clemson’s then-19-game winning streak, they righted the ship and proceeded to win the rest of their regular season games by no fewer than 31 points.

Clemson punched their ticket to their fifth straight CFP appearance, where Lawrence led a game-winning drive to take down Ohio State 29-23 in the semifinal game. However, in the championship, they had the misfortune of running into an LSU team helmed by Heisman winner Joe Burrow, who threw for 463 yards and five touchdowns as the Bayou Bengals won the title and ended Clemson’s 29-game winning streak.

Both Lawrence and Etienne will be back next season for Clemson, although they lose safeties Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace, wide receiver Tee Higgins and All-American linebacker Isaiah Simmons all to the NFL. In addition, the Tigers will be replacing almost their entire starting offensive line.


(Way-too-early) predictions:

Hayden Adams — Sports Editor

This is it. The granddaddy of them all. Notre Dame vs. Clemson with a College Football Playoff spot on the line, or so I hope. Notre Dame will likely be coming in on a 22-game home win streak, which would be the second-longest in program history. Clemson will likely be undefeated as well, and there will be CFP implications surrounding this game. Notre Dame Stadium probably won’t be as raucous as the 2005 “Bush Push” game against USC, but it should be pretty damn close. Put it all together, and I like the Irish to at least give the Tigers a run for their money.

While it sucks for the Irish that Etienne is coming back for his senior campaign, and Justyn Ross is still a stud at receiver, it can’t be understated what Clemson loses on both sides of the ball. Honestly, I just want Notre Dame to come out with confidence. Don’t just believe you can win, but that you will win. Treat it like the Michigan game in 2018 where you came out firing, but don’t then stop and lean on your defense like you did against the Wolverines. And let’s be real, if Julian Love doesn’t go down in the Cotton Bowl, Notre Dame still loses, but it isn’t a 27-point drubbing.

This one’s a coin toss for me, because Notre Dame has the defensive depth and offensive firepower to make this a game. My only issue is that Tommy Rees is a first-year offensive coordinator going against Brent Venables. That’s what does it for me, since Rees has only helmed the offense in one game and we’re still (hopefully) only seven months out from this game. But I hope the lead up to this game quells my doubt.

FINAL: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 27


Jimmy Ward — Associate Sports Editor

Let’s not dwell in the past. Clemson is one of the best — if not the best — program in the country, and no one in South Bend needs reminding of what happened in 2018. Dabo Swinney is one of my favorite coaches ever; he leads with humility and serves his team with love, both rare traits of a football coach. A 29-game win streak is obviously something no one would bat an eye at. But that win streak is gone now, and — not to sound like a stereotypical coach in the locker room at halftime — the score, and their record, is now 0-0. The Tigers will be coming into the the 2020 season hungry, but so will the Irish. After a devastating loss to Michigan and a heartbreaker to Georgia in Athens, the Irish are just scratching the surface of glory, clawing to have their name in the ranks.

This game will be one of the most anticipated matchups of the entire season not just for Notre Dame and Clemson, but for all of college football. It goes without saying this will be both teams’ biggest game of the year until the playoffs. There will be an aura surrounding South Bend the weeks leading up to this game. Maybe, just maybe, the Irish will be able to take advantage of it.

Unfortunately, like Hayden said, this one will really be a coin flip. If Notre Dame scrapes by with a win, it won’t be by much, but it will certainly not be one to forget. Sadly, the more realistic outcome is Clemson sneaks by with a win and goes on to another CFB Playoff. Either way, this game should be one for the ages. But the Tigers will probably snap the 22-game win streak the Irish have in Notre Dame Stadium.

FINAL: Clemson 28, Notre Dame 20


Liam Coolican — Sports Writer

As rumors continue to swirl that the college football season could be pushed to winter or even spring, some experts have predicted that if that were to happen, big name prospects may skip the season entirely to prepare for the draft. That list could include Trevor Lawrence, among other Clemson stars, and while Notre Dame fans certainly won’t hope for that outcome, it may be the only thing that could help them beat the Tigers. With Lawrence, Etienne and numerous other playmakers, the Tigers offense is simply too dynamic for Notre Dame’s relatively inexperienced defense. Additionally, despite losing numerous starters on defense, the Tigers are sure to field a stout defense yet again. Quite frankly, Clemson has the upper hand at nearly every position, and Notre Dame would be lucky to keep it a one-score contest.

FINAL: Clemson 38, Notre Dame 17


Nate Moller — Sports Writer

This is a matchup I have had circled on my calendar for years, and I fully expect this one to live up to the hype. Can the Irish finally get a signature win? If there’s any time and place to do it, it will be this game. I’m going to predict a cold, dreary November night under the lights in South Bend, which will help the Irish greatly. I don’t anticipate Notre Dame being intimidated at all, as no one comes into Notre Dame Stadium and pushes the Irish around. The first half is very physical, but little scoring happens. As the second half starts, Etienne gets going for the Tigers, but Trevor Lawrence struggles in the colder weather, allowing the Irish to stay in the game. Nobody is going to give the Irish a chance to win this, but I’m predicting the Irish somehow find a way to get it done. With under two minutes to go and the Irish down two, a deep pass to Lawrence Keys III sets up a 30-yard field goal that gives the Irish their biggest victory in years.

FINAL: Notre Dame 24, Clemson 23


Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer

I vividly remember sitting down with my brother at a local restaurant to watch Clemson take on Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff in 2018. My brother said it should be a good game, and I just said, “I hope so.” As it turned out, it wasn’t much of a game after the second quarter, as Notre Dame lost by 27. Two years later, and I’m feeling much the same way about this game. Notre Dame students are extremely excited to host Clemson, with a potential College GameDay appearance a welcome. However, I’m just hoping Notre Dame’s home winning streak doesn’t end in a brutal one-sided onslaught by Clemson.

If you told me now that this game is still in doubt heading into the fourth quarter, I’d be pretty happy. Clemson’s got the ridiculous Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne combination coming back, and their defense is good enough to shut down anybody not named Joe Burrow. Maybe after a few Notre Dame games, I will feel differently, but with a lot of unproven players emerging as first-string options, I simply don’t think Notre Dame is going to score very much against Clemson. Notre Dame’s defense will keep things somewhat close, but it’s likely going to take at least 30 points to hand Lawrence his second collegiate loss, and I don’t think Notre Dame comes close to that.

FINAL: Clemson 31, Notre Dame 13

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