Head-to-Head 2020: Clemson Tigers
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, November 6, 2020
Notre Dame Passing
Ian Book has never been lights out in a big time game, but he needs to be pretty close if the Irish want to claw out a win. Luckily for him, two starting Clemson pass rushers — defensive tackle Tyler Davis and linebacker Mike Jones — will both be out of the lineup. Book will need to juice all he can get out of his receivers. That means Javon McKinley cannot be the only player catching passes; tight ends and running backs need to get involved in the pass game as well if Notre Dame wants to keep this game in reach. Book will have to look further down the roster to find targets especially considering Brent Venables will likely have a solid game plan hashed out to shut down their star talent. If Book can keep his poise in the heat of the moment, he has the edge over this somewhat dilapidated Clemson defense, and it’s about time for a third-year starter to do just that.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Rushing
Clemson has given up 2.7 yards per rush and three rushing touchdowns on the season. There are two ways of looking at that: a) an ultra-stacked defensive front is breaking through the line of scrimmage and getting great push, or b) the Tigers have played a bunch of scrubs not on the level of the Irish or it’s run game. Both can be true. The one thing for Notre Dame is making sure its passing game keeps Clemson just honest enough to where they can’t load the box and take away the run like they did in the 2018 Cotton Bowl. We’ll see how that aerial attacks plays out, so this is a push for the time being.
Notre Dame Offensive Coaching
Tommy Rees is a first-year offensive coordinator who has shown some inconsistencies in his play calling, frustrating Irish fans aplenty. Brent Venables is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and leading a defense that rarely gets exposed. Even after bad halves, like the first two quarters last week against Boston College, Venables has proven to be excellent at halftime adjustments, showing this via a second-half shutout of the Eagles. Rees has done well, but his expertise just does not match up with that of Venables on the opposite sideline.
Notre Dame Offensive Special Teams
Jonathan Doerer continues to do well in the kicking game, remaining perfect on PATs (25-25) as well as 7-9 on field goals, including a perfect streak on his last four attempts since the Florida State game. The return game continues to be solid, as the Irish have the electric freshman Chris Tyree, who is constantly a threat to explode on kickoffs. Notre Dame also has two “return” TDs on Jordan Botelho and Isaiah Foskey’s punt blocks against USF and Pitt, respectively. This one goes to the Irish.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Notre Dame was torched by Clemson through the air in 2018. Then-freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was at the helm for that beatdown, and current freshman D.J. Uiagelelei is taking the reins for the time being. Uiagelelei threw for over 300 yards against Boston College, but Notre Dame’s corners/safeties will put up more of a fight than the Eagles’ did, and probably more of a fight than the Irish in 2018 — if for no other reason than Uiagelelei is not Trevor Lawrence, and the Tigers no longer have Tee Higgins or Justyn Ross at wide receiver. Even so, it will still be a Herculean task to reel this passing game in, so it’s a Tigers’ advantage here, but not a huge one.
Notre Dame’s run defense has been elite this year, but Tigers senior running back Travis Etienne is a different animal entirely. That being said, outside of a 62-yard touchdown run in their 2018 clash, Notre Dame largely limited the stud running back in their last matchup, holding him to 47 yards on 13 other carries. Notre Dame’s fearsome defensive front includes graduate student defensive end Daelin Hayes and arguably one of the top linebackers in the country in senior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Clemson lacks an elite second option out of the backfield, and, if anything, expect Etienne to do more damage in the passing game than on the ground.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Clemson Offensive Coaching
After splitting responsibilities with current South Florida head coach Jeff Scott for the past four years, Tony Elliott is finally the guy running this Clemson offense. He’s had the privilege of Trevor Lawrence for the past two-and-a-half years and has built a remarkably consistent offense that continues to torch formidable defenses. That said, this is no Lincoln Riley-led offense. Neither their rushing nor passing game is in the top 10 in the country, and they showed some weaknesses trying to get the ball deep against Boston College. Elliott’s game management skills will keep them competitive but the emergence of the Notre Dame defense, under the leadership of defensive coordinator Clark Lea, gives them the tilt slightly.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Clemson Offensive Special Teams
B.T. Potter has been the long-time kicker for the Tigers. In three seasons he is 24-36 on field goals and 122-123 on extra points. He’s improved on his kicking from 13-21 last year to 10-14 this year, and that’s counting a blocked 61-yard field goal attempt against Miami. He’s not spectacular, but he has a leg and seems to rise to the occasion in the big moments. On the return side, the Tigers are good, averaging over 26 yards per kickoff return and just over 10 per punt return. The Irish have done very well in special teams coverage this year, and with a Clemson unit that has given up a blocked kick and punt this season, call this the slightest of edges for the Tigers because of Potter’s experience.