Notre Dame Football Primer: Rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship

The stage is set for the “Game of the Year Part II” in Charlotte, North Carolina. Notre Dame and Clemson delivered the most-watched college football game of the year in November, and the rematch is highly anticipated. On Saturday, Brian Kelly leads the #2 Fighting Irish into a top-3 showdown against a healthy #3 Clemson Tigers team. This time around, a conference championship and playoff berth will be on the line.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: Saturday, December 19th at 4:00 pm ET on ABC
  • Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Matchup History: The Irish are 2-3 all-time against the Clemson Tigers (Last Meeting November 7th: Irish won 47 to 40)
  • Current Odds: Clemson -10.5

Weather Forecast

The current forecast for GameDay shows a 15% chance of rain with a high of 49 degrees and a low of 35.

Clemson Details:

  • Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
  • 2020 Record: 9-1 (8-1)
  • 2019 Record: 14-1 (9-0)

Clemson Storylines:

Dabo Swinney’s Tigers have been dominant in ACC Title games. Clemson has won the last five straight ACC championships, and the three most recent matchups have not even been close, with victories of 38-3, 42-10, and 62-17. College football fans are certainly hoping and expecting a more competitive contest this weekend.

The Atlantic Coast Conference will sure be glad they let the Irish join this fall because this title matchup is by far the most awaited game of the weekend and likely of the season.

Heisman candidate Trevor Lawrence is back. In 8 games, Lawrence is 173 for 250 (69.2%) with 2,431 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. On the ground, the Clemson quarterback has 44 rushing attempts for 121 yards (2.8 yards per carry) with 6 rushing touchdowns.

The junior quarterback typically does not have to utilize his legs unless necessary, such as the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State last season, where he had 16 rushes for 107 yards and a rushing touchdown.

Key players return to the Tigers starting lineup. Linebacker Mike Jones Jr., linebacker James Skalski, and defensive tackle Tyler Davis all missed the first meeting in South Bend. Mike Jones Jr. was back against Virginia Tech two weeks ago and recorded 8 tackles against the Hokies. Starters Skalski and Davis are projected to be back for the ACC Championship Game this week.

Notre Dame Storylines:

Can the Irish beat Clemson twice in one season? It is unusual for the independent Notre Dame Football program that they are facing an opponent more than once. If Brian Kelly wants to guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoffs, he will have to beat the Juggernaut Clemson Tigers again.

There will be several players back for the Tigers this weekend, but Notre Dame has also improved during the past several weeks and even added Braden Lenzy back.

The running attack will be the key to victory. Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines were the difference in round one. The Irish tallied 208 rushing yards, while the Clemson Tigers were held to 34 rushing yards. Travis Etienne had 18 carries in that meeting for a total of 28 rushing yards.

Both teams will undoubtedly adjust for this second matchup, but the game will still be decided in the trenches.

Clark Lea will prepare for a new quarterback under center. Even though Clemson put up 40 points back in November, no one would argue how tremendous the Irish Defense performed. When the Irish Offense could not get going in the second half, the defense was able to keep them in the game.

D.J. Uiagalelei threw for 439 passing yards in South Bend, and it is uncertain just how much of a difference Trevor Lawrence could have made. Expect the Irish to get the best shot from Dabo Swinney’s Tigers, as this is a must-win for Clemson.

Head-to-Head Matchups:

Notre Dame Offense vs. Clemson Defense: The Fighting Irish are scoring 38 points per game, while the Clemson defense is holding opponents to 18 points per game this fall. Tommy Rees aced his test last month when the Irish scored 47 points on the Tigers and shut down their exotic blitzes.

As mentioned earlier, the Clemson Defense will be adding several key players, and the Irish are also without star center Jarrett Patterson for the remainder of the season. But Ian Book has brought this offense to new heights, and I give Notre Dame the advantage in this matchup.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Clemson Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: The Clemson Tigers are scoring 46 points per game. Conversely, Clark Lea’s defense has been holding opponents to 17 points a contest. Notre Dame completely shut down North Carolina a few weeks back, who just put up 62 points on Miami. In an era of high scoring games, the Irish may have the best defense in the country.

On the other side, Clemson returns one of the best quarterbacks in college football history and Travis Etienne, who does not want to repeat his performance against Notre Dame. Many points were scored in the first meeting, giving the Tigers a slight advantage.

Advantage: Clemson

Special Teams: Clemson’s kicker, B. T. Potter, is 16 for 21 on the season with a long of 52 yards. In contrast, Jonathan Doerer is 14 for 20 with a long of 48 yards.

When these programs met back in early November, kicking was a significant factor, with a combined 8 field goals made. Special teams could determine the outcome of this historic game.

Advantage: Tie

My Prediction:

The rematch has finally arrived. Brian Kelly has an opportunity to win a conference championship and solidify another spot in the College Football Playoffs. At the same time, Dabo Swinney’s Tigers have a chance for revenge and make it into the playoffs for the 6th straight season. The entire college football world will be watching this colossal showdown on Saturday afternoon.

Balanced Notre Dame Football team. The Irish have won games in a variety of ways throughout the season. Notre Dame had a strong running attack early on, and the passing game has become a significant strength as well, led by captain Ian Book. Defensively, Clark Lea has had the Irish prepared all season with NFL talent all over.

Brian Kelly and the Irish are big underdogs once again. I believe they are tired of hearing who is returning for Clemson and will be motivated to prove the skeptics wrong.

Prediction: Notre Dame 37 Clemson 34

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One Comment

  1. Fair and balanced post, Frank. I also agree 30+ will be necessary to win.
    Motivation for both will be there. More do or die for Clemson; but still NDs credibility is questioned, despite 10-0, and with impressive wins vs. Clemson and NC.I also agree, like most games, the outcome will be affected by who controls the LOS.
    What I hope plays into this rematch is the lack of close games Clemson has had to overcome; if ND doesn’t get blown out in any early quarter (that deadly second quarter when CB Love went down) and not have to come back from more than two scores, the depth (like what paid off in their first meeting during the 2nd OT) and experience of winning the close ones could be an advantage for the Irish.

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