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Swinney praises Irish ahead of top-5 showdown

| Friday, November 6, 2020

Don’t let the confident exterior fool you; Dabo Swinney knows Saturday’s matchup between Clemson and Notre Dame has all the makings of a classic college football matchup.

This weekend marks Swinney’s first visit to South Bend, a place he considers a bucket list destination for any college football fan.

“This is college football at its best,” Swinney said. “Two top-five teams… A bunch of really good players on both sides. This is a very small margin for error type game.”

That margin of error grew a little smaller for the Tigers recently following the news of junior starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s COVID-19 diagnosis. The potential No. 1 NFL Draft pick tested positive Oct. 28 and is expected to be cleared to travel with the team but will not play due to a cardiac evaluation that can’t be completed in time for Saturday’s matchup. Rather, Lawrence will be on the sideline serving as a proxy assistant coach as he mentors true freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei.

“He’s an incredibly knowledgeable guy and he’s been there,” Swinney said about Lawrence. “I think he’ll be able to bring a good presence to D.J. And he’s got a great mind. He’s got great eyes. So he’s gonna be Coach Lawrence.”

In his first start for the Tigers, Uiagalelei recorded 342 passing yards to lift his team in a second-half comeback over Boston College. The five-star recruit has impressed the Clemson coaching staff since early on in the recruiting process and they feel confident in his ability to take over the reigns in Lawrence’s absence. Swinney commended the Eagles for their defensive strategy but said he expects the level of competition to be higher this weekend.

“This is going to be a different animal this week. Obviously going on the road and this is a very special team,” he said. “This is a very, very good defense that has got elite talent and plays with elite effort.”

Swinney expects the Irish to bring it on both ends.

Defensively, he said his team will have their work cut out for themselves as Notre Dame has threats at every position. This will be a particularly tough matchup as his defense is missing several key contributors to injury.

“Offensively, it starts with their offensive line,” Swinney said. “These guys are massive. They’re huge, all returning starters. Incredible experience.”

Swinney went on to say that graduate student quarterback Ian Book has the skillset to be a difference maker and the experience to manage the pressure of a marquee game.

“He’s savvy, he’s instinctive, he can make the throws. He’s a really good runner. He has complete ownership. Complete grasp. Confidence,” Swinney said. “… He’s seen a lot, a lot. So he won’t be overwhelmed.”

Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
Irish graduate student quarterback Ian Book rolls out and looks to pass during Notre Dame’s 12-7 win over Louisville on Oct. 17 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Swinney acknowledged the likelihood of these two teams meeting up at least once more in the postseason with both teams currently sitting atop the conference standings.

“I mean we’re both top-five teams and so I would say it would be very likely. This is going to be a heck of a game and whoever wins it, you don’t get to punch your ticket,” Swinney said. “… No matter what happens in this game, if you win it, you got more games to play. And if you get beat, doesn’t mean you’re out. Just go back to work.”

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