Notre Dame v. Clemson – Key Matchups

Jaylon Smith - Notre Dame LB
Photo: Mike DiNovo // USA TODAY Sports

All eyes will be on Death Valley Saturday night when the undefeated Irish face their toughest test of the season thus far versus Clemson. The Tigers also come into the game undefeated with a 3-0 record. The primetime showdown promises to be a physical one as players on both teams have already exchanged remarks via Twitter and in the media. Whichever team does more talking with its play will make one of the biggest statements of the young college football season and emerge as a true championship contender. The following are the key matchups the Irish must control to defeat Clemson:

Will Fuller versus Mackensie Alexander

Saturday night will feature one of the best individual matchups of the college football season when Fuller and Alexander face off. Alexander is the self-proclaimed best cornerback in college football, while Clemson’s defensive coordinator Brent Venables called Fuller the best receiver in the country. Alexander is a true lockdown corner who will be able to stay with Fuller on deep routes for the most part, likely needing safety help less often than most corners would. If Fuller can make plays downfield and draw safety Jayron Kearse over to help Alexander it will open up the box for C.J. Prosise as well as allow more room for other receivers to make plays.

Ronnie Stanley versus Shaq Lawson

Star left tackle Ronnie Stanley will face one of his toughest tests of the season in defensive end Shaq Lawson. Stanley is one of the leaders of a dominant Irish offensive line that has allowed the Irish to run the ball well and avoid sacks. Lawson has NFL skills and can cause havoc in the backfield with 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss through three games this season. With DeShone Kizer making his first road start it will be especially important that Lawson is contained so the run can be established and a clean pocket can exist for the Irish quarterback to throw the ball downfield.

Jaylon Smith versus Deshaun Watson

In another excellent matchup one of the country’s premier linebackers will try to contain a talented dual-threat quarterback. Smith is one of the best athletes in college football, which should allow him to limit the damage Watson can do scrambling as well as being able to get after the Tigers quarterback in the pass rush. The Irish will likely use Smith to spy Watson as they did to Tyrone Swoops of Texas and turn him into a pocket passer. If this succeeds the Irish could force Watson into bad decisions throwing the football as he already has three interceptions on the season.

KeiVarae Russell versus Artavis Scott

Notre Dame defensive back KeiVarae Russell is no stranger to matching-up against elite receivers, and he will face another one in Clemson’s Artavis Scott. Russell has picked up where he left off after missing all of last season due to a suspension and is once again Notre Dame’s best defensive back, with a knack for making crucial plays. Scott is a big-play threat and is Watson’s favorite target, with 20 receptions on the season. If Russell can contain Scott’s big play ability and make Clemson nickel and dime their way downfield the Irish defense will be in good shape to succeed.

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  1. My favorite all time college football play is the wheel route. Norm Chow used to run it with great effect when he had Reggie Bush. When Bush was in the slot, you could see him coming. But wheeling Bush out of a running back set was almost unfair, minimally sadistic.

    The play works. Notre Dame experienced it when Adoree Jackson did it to Greer Martini last year.

    Prosise with the ball in space? Oh, yeah!

  2. This is a solid article, but it’s missing one Key Matchup:

    BJ vs. Youtube

    That’s where our games are won or lost. GO IRISH!

  3. I’ve addressed this with BK. The first of our scripted plays is the Statue of Liberty followed by the fumble rooskie for the 2 pt conversion.

  4. I’d split Fuller wide weak side, then guage if their going to bring pressure quickly to Kizer and match Alexander man on Fuller, which is likely. Audible Fuller, then Procise draw, or let Fuller run off Alexander and hit Procise on the weakside wheel route.

  5. Southside. Ed Ansner (great character acting) & Mary. Great show. So many now wouldn’t even know it existed. Have read on numerous sites. Really appreciate this one. Only site I have commented in. Long time Fans who remember highs and lows. Ego’s not so large. (Fans & good writers). Bickering toned down. Just would like to know what the hell happened to Burgandy’s pal- David.

  6. Agree 45 , Burgandy don’t say much — but still knows his football if pressed to reveal that. Years ago back in high school we had a big pep rally in the gym Friday after school. The student body was going crazy awaiting introductory of the varsity football team–the noise was at 747 aircraft engine level. Then our foot ball coach came on stage(a look a like Ed Asner from Mary Tyler Moore Show)—The crowd went silent as he approached the microphone. He said , “All I gotta say ——– is all—- I —– gotta say.” The student body went nuts and noise level could be heard from blocks away. Go Irish

  7. Burgundy. Truly enjoy your comments. Humorous and dryly keeping it (us) to the obvious perspective. Thanks.

  8. The “fog of war”

    Man, the philsophers say is a “risible” beast with the ability to laugh, rare among primates. They may have gotten it wrong. Man has a compulsion to predict: weather, stock markets, football and other games. Even the Mayans and Jehovah’s witnesses wre not immune. And if forecasting the result is not enough many are compelled to predict the internals.

    Notable prognosticator Baron Von Clausewitz however stated:

    “War, and its enlightened brother, college football, is in the realm of uncertainty: three quarters (that’s 75% for the Clemson calculus students dropping by) of the actions on which war or college football is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.”

    Now on the subject of fog, we await our board laureate, Bruce Johnson.

  9. Jack – you nailed it.

    The key to this game isn’t Kizer throwing the ball 40 times all over the field. It’s the rushing game getting close or 200 yards on the ground, limiting turnovers and taking shots down the field. Everything about this ND offense flows from the offensive line – and its tenacity.

    I don’t think playing mind games on the edge with Fuller is where this game is won. Clemson knows ND can run. They know that is how ND has won all of its games – by establishing the run and using it for the downfield passing game.

    I want an old school, 60 minute a$$-kicking by the ND lines. Win or lose, make sure Clemson feels it for several days after the game.

  10. This game will play into ND’s strength due to the weather. The O-line needs to go out and shove them 5 yds back. Let the backs run all over them. It is going to be a down pour just like the UVA game and they need to show up and control the line of scrimmage.

    The weather also plays a role in the ability to pass and plays to the strengths of the ND linebacking core. It should be a good game and close, for you old school guys 5 yds and a mud

  11. One of you is really Mike Sanford on here in disguise right? A fan couldn’t come up with these brilliant play designs on their own. This is like a behind the scenes pass into the coaches meeting room. Fascinating stuff!

  12. No Fn Turnovers! The Irish offense has done a great job so far limiting the turnovers. The defense on the other hand hasn’t had much luck in creating many turnovers.

  13. Frankly, I don’t think Alexandeer can carry Adoree Jackson’s toothbrush as a cover corner.

    Jackson is the best collegiate cornerback I’ve seen since Patrick Petersen played corner for Les Miles at LSU.

    Once upon a time in America,. Bill Russell was asked how he would “handle” Kareem Jabbar. An irked Russell, and Eagle with a beard if ever there was one, raised an eyebrow and said “young man, you have he question backward!”

    Notre Dame will run their stuff. That is Venables problem. Alexander, simply, is just not that relevant.

  14. To join in on the fantasizing. I loved to see them just simply run at him. Also put big tightends in front or even behind Fuller and pound on him throughout the game. Then take shots on him downfield after he has had to fight through blocks and make tackles. Lock down corners need to be banged on. Of coarse this is assuming he his on Fuller each play. Thanks. You played ND Clemson. You know them now!!!!!

  15. uh, uh, southside, not even close.

    Two options on the first play. both involve Kizer yelling at and pointing to Fuller. One option is to have him do a short curl, stopping, and then having Kizer pumpfake to Fuller who spins and turns past an upfield charging McKenzie.

    The other starts the same way with Fuller running a short curl or short out with the same Kizer pumpfake and then looking between the hashes for a streaking very fast Christ Brown who runs a post pattern.

    Taste 6 Clemson!

  16. Biggest game of the year for both undefeated teams. Will DeShone Kizer be able to break the tough Clemson defense for some points. That to me is the key, you score enough points, 21 or more, and hope our defense holds up. I believe Clemson’s d has held opponents to under 20 per game. Go Irish!

  17. Next you could write about Gallman. That guy is good. A tough matchup for ND’s D line. ND will need to tackle well in order to keep this guy from pushing for those extra tough yards because he’s strong and he’s fast, fast enough to take it to the house alla UMass RB who did so. Schmidt will have to play a smarter game and react better vs Clemson than his play vs UMass

  18. I think this could be one of those games where weather and field conditions could be a factor for both teams.

    The Clemson area has already been subjected to several days of steady to heavy rain which is currently forecast to continue through Saturday night.

    Add in that the playing surface is natural grass and a 50% chance of rain during the game, and I would think that some special preparation and a few tweaks to a game plan that allows flexibility and adaptability is probably a good idea.

  19. Nice bit of “strategy” by Fuller to get into Alexander’s head with some mild trash talk. Pressure is on this potential All-American corner back playing before his home crowd and millions on TV. First offensive play for Irish should be a Kizer to Fuller 10 yarder. Just a teaser to start off with — or maybe go for the bomb on first play of the game. Show this Clemson CB a taste of Fuller’s speed right away. See if their safety is drawn over in help coverage right away. Go Irish

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