The Notre Dame Fighting Irish face their toughest test of the 2020 regular season when the Clemson Tigers come to visit for a nighttime matchup. The two teams last met in the 2018 national semifinals, a game the Irish would be happy to forget. Things haven’t changed much for this contest with Clemson sporting a 7-0 record and Notre at 6-0 on the year.
For the second straight week, the Irish played a road contest and had limited competition, knocking off the George Tech Yellow Jackets, 31-13. Meanwhile, the Tigers got a cold slap in the face during the first half of their home clash against the Boston College Eagles before coming back for a 34-28 win. This game will again have a gaping absence for Clemson since Heisman favorite Trevor Lawrence will again be out after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Below are some of the key matchups to watch:
QB Ian Book vs. Clemson Defense
Book hasn’t taken too many chances this season, Having thrown just one interception. Still, he’s come dangerously close to a number of pickoffs, something he has to avoid against Clemson. He gives the Irish some mobility behind center and has a number of talented passing options that he needs to take advantage of in order for the Irish to win.
Regardless of whether it’s the run or pass game, Clemson’s defense ranks right up there with Notre Dame, with the Tigers allowing opponents just 2.7 yards per rushing carry. The eight touchdown passes they’ve allowed have been largely negated, with just one team having gained over 400 yards in a game this season. That was Virginia, who lost 41-23 on October 3.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB D.J. Uiagalelei
Over the past three weeks, the Irish have only allowed an average of 211 yards per game and give up just 23 points. Maintaining that level of performance will be difficult against a team like Clemson, but the Irish are coming off a five-sack effort that included none stops behind the line and a pair of forced fumbles.
The Irish will have trouble trying to pronounce Uiagalelei’s name, but are more focused on limiting his production. Last Saturday, he completed 30 of 41 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 25 yards on six carries and one score. Going on the road in prime time against a national championship contender will provide a much stiffer challenge for the freshman.
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah vs. RB Travis Etienne
Owusu-Koramoah leads Notre Dame when it comes to tackles-for-loss with si on years and hopes to use his tremendous speed to stop Etienne or at least slow him down before he gets going. He’s got the versatility to also drop back on passing plays, but he and Drew White will need to zero in on Etienne for the entire game.
The best running back the Irish have faced in 2020 is having another solid season, rushing for 606 yards and nine touchdowns, while also collecting 29 receptions for two additional scores. On the running side, he’s averaging 5.9 yards-per-carry and already has two seasons of rushing for over 1,600 yards on his resume, thanks to his game-breaking speed.
DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji vs. LT Jackson Carman
As the edge rusher, Ogundeji zeros in on the opposing quarterback’s blindside, which could turn to be important when dealing with a freshman signal-caller facing a serious rush. Ogundeji’s numbers are modest with just 10 tackles on the year, but three of those were sacks, with constant pressure one way to deter an offense that’s averaging 46.1 points per game.
Protecting that blindside will be Carman, one of the chief reasons why Lawrence and Etienne had already racked up nearly 2,900 yards of combined offense before last week. Tiger quarterbacks have only been sacked 11 times in 281 pass attempts, with 21 touchdown passes and a rushing game that’s averaging 4.5 yards on every carry.
LT Liam Eichenberg vs. DE Myles Murphy
Eichenberg has been adept at keeping Book on his feet, though the Notre Dame line as a whole has allowed 11 sacks on the year, including two against Georgia Tech. He’s got the size and has been consistent enough to be a possible first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft and the Irish are hoping he comes p big in this game.
Murphy is a true freshman who’s more than lived up to the recruiting accolades he had when making his decision to come to Clemson. The Tigers have a boatload of players who have contributed to at least one sack this year, with Murphy at the top of the list with 3.5. He’s got size, speed, and figures to be a handful for Eichenberg.