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irish insider

Adams: Fans weigh in on Notre Dame-Clemson pt. 2

| Friday, December 18, 2020

It’s been a while since we did one of these quasi-mailbag posts. Too long, some might say. Not long enough, others might say.

In any case, you didn’t come here for my bad jokes. Let’s get to breaking down how fans think Notre Dame’s rematch with Clemson on Saturday will pan out — and what it means for the Irish in the postseason.

 

What do you think happens if Notre Dame wins? (e.g. Does Clemson still make the CFP, can the Irish jump Alabama for the No. 1 spot, etc.)

“ND is number two unless Bama loses to Florida. Clemson will be out” / “ND 2 seed; Clemson Orange Bowl”

This just about covers every respondent’s opinion. Of those who offered a take on what happens to Clemson, all said the Tigers are left out of the College Football Playoff.

I would agree with that if not for the CFP committee’s apparent obsession with Power-5 name brands. I’m talking about how a two-loss Florida team — with the second loss coming against unranked, now-four-win LSU — somehow dropped only one spot to No. 7, while two-loss Iowa State and two-loss Georgia remain ahead of undefeated Cincinnati. Not to mention the fact that 5-0 Ohio State has remained at No. 4 despite not playing games while Cincy has dropped in the rankings each of the last two weeks while not playing.

All this is to say the committee has no accountability and reports to no one, so they are going to make the decision that is best for them. What’s best for them is what generates the most revenue and the least controversy, and I bet you in 2020 they’d be willing to take a two-loss Clemson in the Playoff because a) no one outside of the top five is all that good this year and b) it’ll make for a nice storyline to have a possible third game between the Irish and Tigers.

 

What do you think happens if Notre Dame loses?

“ND will be in unless they lose by three touchdowns” / “If the game is a close score, ND makes the CFP as the 4th seed. If ND loses big, then Texas A&M jumps into the 4 seed.”

Pretty fair. I wouldn’t feel great if I were Notre Dame and I lost by more than 10 points, unless it was a fluky type of deal where Notre Dame’s taking chances to try and get back in the game late and they end up throwing a pick-six or allowing a scoop-and-score.

“ND is still likely in, but the media and others will have a field day railing against it.”

We forget about the thank you note they wrote to Notre Dame before the first College GameDay this season for their efforts in making this season actually happen. Funny how they did that after Notre Dame joined a conference for the first time ever.

Yes, people will bash Notre Dame, especially if they lose, saying the first win over Clemson was a fluke. It wasn’t. Yes, Trevor Lawrence makes that a different game and in all likelihood improves the Tigers’ chances of winning, but it was still a top-five caliber team, and this is still a Playoff-worthy Notre Dame team.

“ND 4 seed”

I would agree. Clemson wouldn’t jump an undefeated Alabama — assuming they stay undefeated, which I believe will be the case. They are likely to dispatch Florida without much trouble. That puts the Crimson Tide at No. 1 and the Tigers at No. 2.

If the committee wants to save a little face they could just drop Notre Dame to No. 3 and keep Ohio State at No. 4 as “punishment” for not playing as many games as the rest of the team — again, assuming Ohio State handles Northwestern in the Big Ten championship. That said, I would think the CFP would want to avoid an immediate rematch between Notre Dame and Clemson.

 

Give one reason why Notre Dame wins this game

“Ghost of Knute Rockne”

That’s a heck of a spirit to have in your corner.

“It happened before.”

Really glad you brought this up. The albatross around Notre Dame’s neck was that they hadn’t won a big game. All they had going into them was the belief that they could win. Now they know they can, and that counts for something.

“Job is not done.”

About as transient a reason as you can get, but I like where your head is at. Some mamba mentality is always appreciated (R.I.P. Kobe).

This is the year for Brian Kelly to earn a statue and a gate named after him at Notre Dame Stadium. We’ll see how he does.

“More physical”

Excellent point! Even minus their starting center for the year and with the backup banged up, this Notre Dame team pummels opponents into submission. What the offensive line may lose in technique, they won’t lose in aggressiveness. And you’ve always got Tommy Tremble and Kyren Williams seeking out contact, plus great blockers at receiver.

“Defense” / “The defense has stepped up every game this year, and they will be able to limit Lawrence’s play making ability. The Irish will establish the ground game and Book will make some big plays.”

To address the latter’s comment about the offense, we know Notre Dame wants to have a balanced attack, so establishing the ground game will be paramount. How they go about doing that will be interesting to see with Jarrett Patterson out for the year and Zeke Correll hurt, plus Clemson’s returnees in their defensive front seven. As for Book hitting big plays, he tried to do that in the first game and it worked a couple of times to Javon McKinley, but only one out of three times or so to Avery Davis — although that was arguably the biggest play of the game.

There’s far less margin for error in this game on both sides of the ball. If a receiver has a step on a defensive back, Book cannot under- or overthrow. Likewise, Notre Dame’s corners can’t be expected to smother Clemson’s receivers all night, and Kyle Hamilton can’t be everywhere at once. The defense can’t go all of regulation without getting to the quarterback in this one. Freshman Trevor Lawrence took advantage in the 2018 Cotton Bowl whenever he had time to throw, and with two more years of experience, he’ll do it again if he gets the chance.

 

Give one reason why Notre Dame loses this game

“Ghost of Bob Davie”

Talk about superstitious … Way more poltergeist discussion in this than I was expecting.

Going to be honest, I’m not really familiar with his era, so I’m just gonna leave this one be.

“Trevor Lawrence is the best player in college football, and he will exploit the few flaws in the Irish defense. Clemson’s defense will be able to pressure Book and cause a few turnovers too”

Solid analysis. I don’t know about forcing more turnovers considering Notre Dame only turned it over once in the previous matchup, and they haven’t tended to be loose with the ball against anyone other than lesser competition when they are playing down to them.

Speaking of turnovers though, it seems to be a recurring theme in some fans’ minds.

“Turnovers” / “Get beat by speed on outside, too many turnovers/mistakes”

To address the turnover comment first, I hope I’m not speaking too soon, but the Notre Dame running backs seem to have gotten their fumbling issues under control (I say as I knock on wood). As for the other high usage ball handler, Ian Book’s only thrown two interceptions all year. Yes, they were both bad, but they were also sandwiched around eight games (literally the season opener and the regular season finale).

I wouldn’t anticipate another Book fumble into the end zone for a touchback, but then again, you can’t really anticipate turnovers like that I suppose. But, to be fair, that means you can’t predict they will occur. Also to be fair, the reason we were calling Book a game manager to start this season is the reason he’s committed so few turnovers. The difference is that now he’s struck a terrific balance between taking care of the rock and taking chances.

As for speed on the outside, that’s a problem the Irish had to deal with last time. This time Clemson will have Trevor Lawrence making better reads to his pass catchers than freshman D.J. Uiagalelei. That’s par for the course, but have a little in faith in Kyle Hamilton back there to push people out of bounds.

“Officials”

Just pray there isn’t a defensive pass interference flag thrown on the Clemson sideline this time around (and more on conspiracies like this momentarily) …

“Clemson has some of the best players in the country and an all-time great coaching staff.” / “Return of key Clemson defensive players”

Granted. Getting into the specific players who were out, Mike Jones Jr., James Skalski and Tyler Davis are certainly difference makers. They also don’t play on the ’85 Bears.

Honestly, I give more credence to the argument about the defensive players being out than Trevor Lawrence’s absence on Nov. 7. That’s considering it was 59 minutes of game time between Notre Dame’s offensive touchdowns in regulation. However, it’s important to remember they also could have had three more if not for a Michael Mayer false start, a Mayer drop on a would-be touchdown pass and Book’s fumble into the end zone.

Speaking of Book and Mayer, they are two examples of great collegiate players whom Notre Dame boasts. Sure, Clemson’s got more of them, but talent doesn’t always win the day. And as for the coaching staff, Brian Kelly, Tommy Rees and Clark Lea beat the other coaching staff in that previous matchup. Will they replicate that performance? I don’t know, but if they could do it once, I’d think they could do it again.

 

If you’re into conspiracy theories, do you think the Atlantic Coast Conference wants Notre Dame to win or lose this game? Why or why not?

This question was just for my own personal interest. Given the way the ACC refs nearly cheated Notre Dame (Yeah, I said it.) in the first matchup with Clemson, I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s some funny business going on in the ACC offices ahead of this game.

“Loses. Two ACC teams in playoff is good for conference. Doesn’t mean any nefarious conspiracies, that’s just what they’d rather see.”

This was a sentiment shared by most respondents. And I understand it. However, this next respondent brought up a key point I’d like to highlight.

“Lose, obviously, because we aren’t a permanent member and because they would get two teams in if we lost”

“We aren’t a permanent member.”

That’s the thing. To be clear, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. This is mostly for fun. But for what it’s worth, you have to ask yourself if you think the ACC is trying to play for the immediate payoff or for the long-term gain.

Think about it. Notre Dame should be sitting pretty in any other year, having beaten Clemson and finishing the regular season undefeated. No conference championship, no problem. They’re in the Playoff, and Brian Kelly is doing chores this Saturday.

By joining a conference, Notre Dame now has to worry about losing to Clemson and possibly getting booted from the Playoff picture. Now, if that were to happen, do you think the Irish would seriously consider joining the ACC as a full-time member? I’d like to think they wouldn’t in any case, but this scenario certainly wouldn’t endear them to the conference.

Maybe the ACC realizes it’s a long shot anyway and wants the payout of having two teams in the Playoff in a year where finances are tight across college football. Maybe nothing goes through their minds at all, and they’re confident both teams can get in regardless of who wins or loses. I just think this is some interesting food for thought.

 

Whew. That was a long one. Hope you enjoyed it and that you enjoy the game and selection show this weekend. Stay safe everyone.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

Contact Hayden