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Keys to victory versus Clemson

After a convincing win against Syracuse last week, the Irish have a lot of momentum heading into their biggest home matchup of the season against the fifth-ranked Clemson Tigers. Marcus Freeman and the Irish will look to prove that they can play well at home and break some of their early season woes at Notre Dame Stadium. Clemson, who is coming off of a bye week, last played against Syracuse as well, beating the Orange by a narrow 27-21 margin. The Irish will have their work cut out for them against the undefeated Tigers. Here are the Irish keys to victory.

Take care of the football

In Notre Dame’s stunning losses to Marshall and Stanford this season, it was ultimately turnovers that prevented the Irish from winning. Against Marshall, it was sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner’s pick-six with just under five minutes to go. Against Stanford, sophomore running back Audric Estime’s fumble late in the fourth quarter sealed the Irish loss. 

Facing a Clemson team that has more talent and experience on both sides of the ball, the Irish simply can not afford to give up any possessions or give the Tigers good field position on Saturday. The good news for the Irish is that the Clemson defense hasn’t exactly been racking up turnovers, as they only generated 12 turnovers this season. Despite this, the Irish will need to be disciplined at key moments of the game and not make costly mistakes like they have in a couple of games earlier this season. 

One player to watch for the Irish is Audric Estime. Although Estime has put up impressive numbers this season with over 500 rushing yards with an average of 5.6 yards per carry, he has lost three fumbles. The Irish relied heavily on Estime against Syracuse, and Estime took care of the ball and was very productive in the run game. The Irish will need the same from him on Saturday if they are going to compete with the Tigers.

Stop Clemson’s run game

Another key to Irish victory on Saturday will be stopping the Clemson run game, which has averaged nearly 200 yards per game this season. The Tigers are led by sophomore running back Will Shipley, who has been sensational for the Tigers this year and is averaging six yards per carry. Shipley is also coming off his most impressive performance of the year. He rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse two weeks ago. 

If Shipley and the Clemson offensive line are able to have their way with Notre Dame’s front seven, this game could be a blowout. The Irish run defense is ranked 51st in college football, and they have been very streaky this season. At times they have come up big in short-yardage situations, but they have also allowed nearly four yards per carry this season. They have been susceptible to allowing big yardage plays on the ground. Shipley is arguably the best running back the Irish have faced this season. Containing his production will be a challenge to say the least.

Even if they can contain Shipley, they have to worry about Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who can punish defenses with his mobility. Uiagalelei has 350 rushing yards this season, and his ability to be effective outside of the pocket could be an issue for the Irish. If the Irish are able to stop the run, however, they can potentially expose Uiagalelei’s bigger weakness in the passing game. Uiagalelei ranks just 45th in the FBS in passer rating.

Find success in the passing game

Although the Irish relied heavily on the run game in last week’s victory over Syracuse, that is going to be much tougher to do against a Clemson run defense that is ranked 7th in FBS and allows an average of just 2.98 yards per carry. It seems unlikely that the Irish will be able to lean on their run game to lead them to victory. 

For that reason, it is likely going to come down to junior quarterback Drew Pyne being able to make some plays, potentially in third and long situations. Since the BYU game, Pyne has completed just 48.6% of his passes, which isn’t going to cut it against Clemson. In the win against Syracuse, Pyne attempted just 19 passes, but it is quite possible he needs to throw the ball twice as much this Saturday and do so successfully. If the Irish are going to get Pyne comfortable in the pass game, they need the offensive line to step up against a Clemson team that averages nearly three sacks per game. Since the Stanford game, the offensive line has looked formidable, but they will face a difficult task against a talented Clemson front seven.

Aside from the offensive line, Pyne needs to have options available downfield other than junior tight end Michael Mayer. Assuming the Tigers do everything in their power to take Mayer out of the game, the Irish need at least a couple of receivers to step up. Sophomore Deion Colzie might be an option for the Irish, as he had a couple of catches in his return from injury against Syracuse. Freshman Tobias Merriweather and sophomore Jayden Thomas have also shown flashes of greatness this season, and they could be options for deep downfield plays as well. 

At the end of the day, though, it comes down to Pyne’s ability to find these open receivers. Too many times this season Pyne gets locked in on Mayer, and that has proved costly at times. Pyne has the opportunity of a lifetime on Saturday, and he has to be prepared to take advantage of his opportunity if the Irish are going to find a victory.

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Week 10 of College Football: Top five games

5. Air Force @ Army, 11:30 a.m., CBS, (Air Force -7)

Air Force and Army square off for the 56th time in an early start with the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy on the line. This trophy is given to the winner of a round robin between Army, Navy and Air Force. Since Air Force beat Navy 13-10 this year, they have a chance to win the trophy outright with a win Saturday. If the Falcons lose and Army beats Navy in their end of the season clash, Army would win the trophy. And, if Army beats Air Force but loses to Navy, the trophy will be shared. Both teams have a unique offensive style. Due to restrictions on the height and weight of those in the service academies, the offensive lines of each school are some of the smallest in college football. However, both schools are elite academically and prepare students to become future officers in the armed forces. This makes running the triple option (an offense based on discipline, quickness and deception) perfect for the service academies. Air Force carries a 5-3 record, led by workhorse running back Brad Roberts and dynamic quarterback Haaziq Daniels. Army is 3-4, but with 2 straight wins and a reputation for playing tough defense under head coach Jeff Monken. 

4. Texas @ No. 15 Kansas State, 7 p.m.,  FS1, (Texas -2.5)

Another week, another key Big 12 battle. This week sees the Texas Longhorns head up to Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas to face Kansas State in a battle for second in the Big 12. Texas is 5-3, falling victim in close losses to Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Alabama by a combined 11 points over the three games. The Longhorns are coming off of their bye week, which was needed in order to correct some issues after their loss to Oklahoma State. Texas squandered a 31-17 lead and didn’t take care of the ball; three Quinn Ewers interceptions (two in the fourth quarter) was what did them in. Kansas State is coming off of their best win in years, a 48-0 win over the very same Oklahoma State team. Even though dynamic starting quarterback Adrian Martinez was out, backup Will Howard threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns. Deuce Vaughn had 158 yards on the ground and another score. The defense also had a stellar performance, holding Oklahoma State to just 217 yards. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy stated his team’s performance bluntly, saying they “got their butts kicked.” The transitive property would seem to give the edge to Kansas State, but that rarely works in the tumultuous world of college football. 

3. No. 6 Alabama @ No. 15 LSU, 7 p.m., ESPN, (Alabama -13)

The Tide and the Tigers square off in a key battle between two teams with one loss in SEC play. Although LSU lost their opener in heartbreaking fashion to Florida State, the Brian Kelly-led Tigers have rebounded well. Their only other loss is a 40-13 drubbing by Tennessee, who is currently second in the nation. The Tigers have been led by their dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels. If the LSU receivers are covered downfield, Daniels is always a threat to scramble for a large gain. Daniels has also taken care of the football, throwing 12 touchdown passes to just one interception. In LSU’s last game, they roared back from a 17-3 deficit to dispatch Ole Miss 45-20. This team can put points on the board, and if they beat Alabama they would shockingly be in the drivers’ seat of the SEC West. The Tide have other plans. After their 49-52 loss to Tennessee, they rebounded with a dominating 30-6 win over Mississippi State. Quarterback Bryce Young continues to wow NFL franchises looking for a franchise centerpiece in the upcoming draft. Will Anderson continues to wreck teams’ gameplans from the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Nick Saban is still the best in the business, and he is 6-1 with the Tide in Tiger Stadium, a venue seen as one of the toughest to play in. 

2. No. 5 Clemson @ Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC, (Clemson -3.5)

If Notre Dame wants to redeem their season and give first year head coach Marcus Freeman some real momentum, this is the game to win. If Clemson wants to continue their ascent to the College Football playoff, they have to get a tough win in the cathedral of college football. It all shapes up for an epic showdown. The Irish have won 5 of their last 6, highlighted by their 41-24 domination of sixteenth ranked Syracuse. They’ve done it under a punishing run game, led by running backs Logan Diggs and Audric Estime. Further, the Irish hold a 26 game regular season winning streak against ACC opponents. The Irish have largely played up and down to their level of competition this year, which gives them a punching chance against Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team. Clemson’s offense is built around running back Will Shipley. If they are able to run the ball with success against the Irish, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei will have a much easier time connecting with his wide receivers. It remains to be seen how much time Uiagalelei will have under center. In their last game, a 27-21 win over Syracuse, Uiagalelei was benched for freshman Cade Klubnik. Klubnik then successfully led a comeback attempt to preserve the win. 

1. No. 2 Tennessee @ No. 1 Georgia, 3:30 p.m., CBS, (Georgia -9)

One versus two is a rarity in college football, even more so in the regular season. Georgia has put together a convincing title defense in their first 8 games, highlighted by a season-opening drubbing of an Oregon team that hasn’t lost since. Last week, the Bulldogs took care of Florida after a brief scare. Florida scored 17 unanswered points after falling behind 28-3 to make it a one score game. Georgia responded with 2 touchdowns to ice the game. Tight end Brock Bowers is extremely athletic, and he just had 154 yards in his best game of the season. Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV is not the game-changing player that other top teams have at the position, but he knows how to win. The Bulldogs have much less margin for error against a Tennessee team that is having their best season since their national championship in 1998. The Volunteers haven’t let up since their win against Alabama. Last week, they demolished a ranked Kentucky team 44-6. Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt broke the school record for touchdown catches in a season in just eight games. The Volunteers intercepted NFL prospect Will Levis three times en route to the easy win. Tennessee seems to be playing their best football, but a win over Georgia would be unparalleled.