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Clemson still poses a major threat to Notre Dame

| Wednesday, September 6, 2023

At Northwestern University, students in the Medill School of Journalism receive an F if they make a grammatical, factual, spelling or citational mistake on an assignment. One tiny mistake can wipe away the beauty of whatever else is on the page. If college football teams played by the same rules, Clemson would have received the “Medill F” on Monday night.

In a Labor Day battle against Duke, Clemson had three fumbles, two of which came inside their own 10-yard line. Robert Gunn III, Clemson’s kicker, had two field goals blocked, including one from 23 yards. Two of Duke’s touchdowns came after receiving a short field from a turnover. And while not perfect, Cade Klubnik’s performance was short of terrible. Klubnik threw one interception, a tipped ball that should have been caught by wide receiver Will Shipley.

Clemson’s performance was full of typos, misspellings and head-in-hands moments. Entering the fourth quarter, even after fumbling twice, ESPN Analytics gave the Tigers a 60% chance to win. Obviously, the typos continued to pile up, but Clemson has a talented roster and a promising coaching staff.

Starting with the roster, Duke’s pressure reached kicker Robert Gunn III before he began his kicking motion. Gunn’s performance was fine, but kicking formations will likely change this week at practice to give him better protection. While far from perfect, Klubnik still threw for 209 yards, 114 of which were produced by Shipley. In the running game, Clemson averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 40 attempts — enough to cause serious damage against any team in the FBS.

So far, much of the blame for Clemson’s loss has fallen on new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. Riley joined Clemson this offseason after successful runs at SMU and TCU. Monday’s offensive design was fairly conservative, looking very similar to schemes Klubnik ran in 2022. Riley has never worked with a running back on the level of Shipley. Last year, Riley ran a version a version of the “air raid” offense common in the Big 12. Finding a balance between the passing and running games will take time to develop, but as a former running backs coach, Riley has the knowledge and creativity to better integrate Shipley into his plan while allowing the passing game to explode.

In just a few weeks, after dates with Ohio State and USC, Notre Dame will head to Death Valley — one of the loudest and most intimidating environments in the world of sports. Clemson will have time to clean up its typos. Shipley may be able to feast against an unproven Notre Dame defensive line. While not stellar on Monday, Clemson’s secondary has the potential to be one of the best units in the country. Clemson will likely have to play a dangerous Florida State team twice this season, including in the ACC Championship. Two losses almost surely remove Clemson from College Football Playoff contention. Regardless of where the Tigers are at when they host the Fighting Irish, they’ll be playing with a chip on their shoulder, knowing the matchup is a must-win game.

The Irish have a tough schedule ahead of them. For much of the offseason, fans spoke of the “three tough games” in the schedule, referring to Ohio State, USC and Clemson. Clemson may fall out of the three toughest of those games, but regardless of where Clemson lands on the list of opponents, it’s not one to diminish or feel good about. The Irish need every win they can get; they can’t get distracted by typos. Underneath the wrapping paper, Clemson has the heart of a tiger. If the Irish get distracted, Clemson will bite.

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

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About Jake Miller

Jake is the President of NDTV. On occasion, he contributes to The Observer.

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