Aidan Thomas – Sports Editor
To be an optimist or to not be an optimist. That’s my dilemma with this pick. I won’t say it’s not realistic to pick Notre Dame. By the CFP rankings, the Irish have two convincing wins over top-20 teams. To say they’ve obliterated those two teams at their own place would be a fair assessment. So it’s a conflict of whether the Irish will step up against a big opponent, as they’ve done all year, or struggle at home, which they’ve also done all year.
When Clemson visited Notre Dame in 2020, the Irish scored two offensive touchdowns. Both were sparked by explosive plays — a 65-yard touchdown run and a 53-yard pass. Notre Dame’s longest offensive play this year is 54 yards, so they’re going to have to find a way to be more explosive. In that 2020 game, the Irish also kicked four field goals — two for 40+ yards — which has been a struggle for current kicker Blake Grupe. Can the Irish run the ball against one of the nation’s best run defenses? Can they take advantage of Clemson’s slow-starting defense despite their own slow-starting offense? I think this game shapes up as a low-scoring duel in which Clemson has the slightly better passing game to challenge the opposing defense with a more multidimensional attack.
Clemson 24, Notre Dame 20
Mannion McGinley – Assistant Managing Editor
The last time Clemson entered Notre Dame stadium, it was a top-five matchup with the No. 4 Irish the underdog to No. 1 Clemson. Double overtime. The Irish score, stop the Tigers and storm the field. We all remember this.
That pregame energy is back this week but the unranked Irish taking on a No. 5 Clemson feels like an even larger task. Irish fans want the win but it may not be as easy to will it to fruition this time around. The glimmer of hope for Irish fans comes in the form of slight quarterback uncertainty. DJ Uiagalelei threw two interceptions against Syracuse two weeks ago before he was pulled from the game and replaced by Cade Klubnik. The Tigers pulled out the win there, but it forced them into a significantly more one-dimensional structure.
The Irish defense has to capitalize either on a junior quarterback trying to reestablish his good name or a young quarterback who has barely had a chance. The real test for the defense will be taking Will Shipley out of the mix. The running back averages six yards a carry and if the Irish want to see a third home victory, that can’t happen. It will require strong tackling, immediate responses to slight breakaways and — when the Irish can force a turnover — capitalizing on it without fail…
This brings me to the offense. Drew Pyne has to find a way to successfully get the ball moving through the air and not to Michael Mayer. The Clemson line won’t give him a lot of time though so Tommy Rees is going to have to find some plays Pyne can pull off quickly and successfully to compliment the running backs. I wouldn’t mind a deep ball akin to the one Javon McKinley reeled in during the 2020 matchup.
But regardless of how they do it if the defense can create 10 or 14 points of its own (a big ask yes, but optimistically, doable), the Irish offense will need to find a way to stay on the field for a good long while. The less time Shipley has to work with, the better for the Irish and the more points Notre Dame can bolster a win with. A low-scoring win will go to the Tigers. However, the Irish will use defensive pressure to help their offense find the endzone and get just enough of a passing game to get their run game going.
Notre Dame 28, Clemson 24
Nate Moller – Senior Sports Writer
Prior to last week’s convincing victory against Syracuse, I would have picked the Tigers to win this one in a landslide, but the Irish showed some fight last week, and I think they can hang around in this one for a while. The biggest concern, however, is quarterback Drew Pyne. Against the Orange, the Irish were able to successfully run the ball and prevent Pyne from passing for most of the game. That likely won’t be the case, however, against an elite Clemson run defense that allows an average of under 3 yards per carry.
Clemson’s weakness on defense is their passing game, and Pyne will have to make some plays if the Irish are going to have a chance. While I anticipate Michael Mayer having a big game, Pyne will need to find other receivers and not limit himself to just Mayer. On the other side of the ball, the Irish will have the challenge of stopping a prolific Clemson run game that is led by Will Shipley and mobile quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. At the end of the day, I think the Irish hang around for three quarters, but the Tigers are just too explosive for the Irish to keep pace offensively once the fourth quarter comes around. The Irish play well when I don’t pick them too, so of course, I’m picking the Tigers.
Clemson 35 Notre Dame 24
Maddie Ladd – Associate Sports Editor
This is a prediction I have been thinking about all season, and it is hard to believe it is finally here. No. 5 Clemson has performed well this season, though they have played a soft schedule. Nevertheless, the Tigers will be the best team to come to South Bend this year, and the Irish must play up on Saturday as they have in the past. Think Clemson 2020.
Put simply, Drew Pyne is key for this game. He played great on the road until last weekend at Syracuse where he only completed 9-19 passes and badly missed open receivers. Pyne must play like he did against UNC and BYU and complete the easy passes while shifting focus from solely Michael Mayer.
Wide receivers must also step up and catch the ball. Making the easy catches will be key to open up the game for the running backs to do their thing and find holes against the powerful Clemson defense. Finally, a well-established run game is essential. The colder, rainy weather this weekend may limit passing on both sides and help the Irish lock into the run game. The offensive line is a major strength for the Irish, and they can handle Clemson.
Notre Dame has improved in all assets of the game (especially special teams) in the past few weeks. For the Irish to come out with a win, this improvement must continue and be maintained for the entire game. But Drew Pyne is the key. If he plays well, Notre Dame wins. Call it optimistic, controversial or even crazy, but I am taking the Irish this weekend. Though not by much, I think a win is possible if Pyne and the rest of the offense come together, and the defense works its magic. Maybe even a punt block or two by the special teams. If not, it could all crumble. But I do love a good underdog story.
Notre Dame 28, Clemson 24
Liam Coolican – Associate Sports Editor
Everything had to go right for Notre Dame to knock off Clemson on that fateful night in South Bend in 2020, and they still needed double overtime. This year’s edition of the Irish is nowhere near as good as they were two years ago when they made the Playoff. I don’t believe Clemson is at the same level as the other undefeated teams at the top of the rankings such as Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee, but what they have shown is an impressive ability to close out tight games. They have won three one-score games, whereas Notre Dame is 2-2 in such contests.
Clemson also boasts one of the nation’s top run defenses, limiting opponents to under 90 rushing yards per game. That doesn’t bode well for Notre Dame, who has relied more and more on the running game over the past several weeks. In the win against Syracuse, the Irish carried the ball 54 times compared to just 19 pass attempts. The Irish’s success will more than likely depend on Pyne, and the coaching staff does not seem to have a great deal of faith in him.
I haven’t seen anything from Pyne (or, frankly, any receiver other than Mayer) to suggest that the passing game will be more effective against Clemson. I do foresee the Irish defense making life tough for Uiagalelei and the Tigers’ offense, but it won’t be enough to overcome the offensive shortcomings.
Clemson 20, Notre Dame 10
Emily DeFazio – Associate Sports Editor
This is the game where the blind optimism that can come with being a Notre Dame fan starts to come into question. Do I want the Irish to win? Absolutely. Do I think they will? Blind optimism would say we’ve got a fighting chance. Reality, not so much. While Notre Dame came out on top against the Tigers in 2020, they used every minute of play allowed to do so and had some pretty miraculous plays in the process. Not to mention, star quarterback Trevor Lawrence was out for the count with COVID. This year, undefeated Clemson’s then-backup quarterback will take the field again, this time as an experienced starter.
I think Notre Dame has been too sporadic this season to be able to completely predict what will go down. The Irish have lost to unranked teams that were supposed to be an easy win on their home schedule but dominated top-20 units while away. Pyne has gotten some traction as starter, but the offense’s passing game (sans Mayer) has not been developed enough. The run game will not be able to carry the team as it did at Syracuse.
However, that match against the Orange is a large contributor to my glimmer of hope. The Tigers trailed the Orange until late in the fourth a few weekends ago, and the Irish just notched a decisive victory in the Dome. If Syracuse is a measurable factor, the Irish should be able to give Clemson a run for their money. Time will tell if it will be enough. The Irish have had scattered moments of excellence. I can only hope that same magic that took over the stadium in 2020 makes a reappearance Saturday night.
Notre Dame 29, Clemson 28