Keys to victory: Notre Dame vs. Clemson
J.J. Post | Friday, November 3, 2023
Notre Dame’s season has reached the home stretch. Just three more games remain. That means the Irish only have three more chances to prove why they should earn a top-ten ranking and a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
The most difficult of those final three contests will all but certainly be this Saturday’s showdown against Clemson, a squad stocked with talent but reeling after consecutive upset defeats. Notre Dame’s status as favorites on the road this weekend has grown more and more assured as the season has gone on. But now it’s time for the Irish to prove the current line of -3, adjusted from -1 earlier in the month and plus odds earlier in the year, isn’t a fluke. Here are three keys the Irish need to capitalize on in order to take down the Tigers.
1. Win the turnover battle … emphatically
Clemson has turned the ball over 15 times this year and has had at least one in every game. It’s been maybe the most damning problem on an offense that can’t seem to get out of second gear. Notre Dame, on the other hand, in particular thanks to the explosion of senior Xavier Watts at safety, has been one of the nation’s best teams at forcing turnovers. The Irish defense has forced 18 this year, good for a tie for third in the nation.
Notre Dame’s offense has had its struggles, but the visibility of such struggles can be muted a fair deal if the Irish are constantly working with a short field. Consistently forcing turnovers will not just help establish momentum in what’s set to be a tough road environment, but they’ll also help set the offense up for success in a difficult matchup against a still-stout Clemson defense.
2. Stay ahead of schedule on offense
Over the first few weeks of the season Notre Dame’s calling card on offense was efficiency. The Irish didn’t hit a lot of “home run” plays, but they did reliably move the chains when called upon. Over the middle portion of the season though, Notre Dame’s offense has seemed to have lost some of its mojo. That lost mojo coming against some of the better defenses the unit has matched up against probably isn’t a coincidence either.
A mostly young and still largely unproven receiver room is probably never going to be a consistent source of 60-plus-yard game-breaking plays. But the run game does have the personnel to be an effective unit and has done just that in essentially all of the Irish’s best performances this year. If Notre Dame wants to put away Clemson and avoid late drama, a heavy dose of efficient first-down runs to put the offense in more manageable second and third situations would go a long way.
3. Throw out Clemson’s resume
At this point in the season, it’s increasingly easy to write off the Tigers. Clemson has scraped their way through this season. Their four losses are already the most the program has had in a season since 2011. A loss to Notre Dame would drop the Tigers to 4-5, in peril of potentially just their second-ever losing season under Dabo Swinney. Simply put, Clemson just doesn’t look the same this year. There’s a reason Saturday’s contest moved from a projected prime-time kickoff to a noon matinee.
But this is also a Clemson team that doesn’t lack talent and will undoubtedly be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Just last season, it was the Irish whose dominant 35-14 victory effectively ended any hopes of the Tigers, who to that point had been undefeated, making the College Football Playoff. Swinney will undoubtedly make sure his team remembers that loss. Memorial Stadium remains one of the toughest places to play in the sport, even at noon. The Irish won’t win on Saturday if they take the field expecting anything less than a dogfight.