Leading up to this weekend’s rematch with Clemson for the ACC Championship, we had the opportunity to exchange some questions with the fine folks over at Tigernet – one of the oldest college football sites on the net (established in 1995).
David Hood, Senior Writer for TigerNet.com, the Tigers’ oldest and largest website shared his insights with us on his impressions from Round 1 and his thoughts on Round 2. David. has covered the Tigers off and on since 1992, but full-time since 2008, and is a member of the College Football Writers Association.
Note: We had a Q&A run on Tigernet earlier today as well. Check it out!
1. What surprised you the most about Notre Dame in the first meeting and how does whatever that was impact your thoughts on the rematch?
The thing that surprised me – not a big surprise but still something to see – was how that offensive line simply owned the line of scrimmage. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables brought a variety of blitzes and changed coverages and they were all stuffed at the line. When Clemson was so dominant a few years ago it was because the Tigers had those veteran guys on the defensive line (all NFL draft picks) who were dominant. This time, the dominance was on the Irish side of the ball.
It’s a lot of fun to watch a group like that, one that is well-coached. The defensive line for the Irish was just as dominant and completely stuffed the Clemson running game to the tune of 34 carries for 33 yards. That’s another veteran group that has played a lot of football. As Dabo Swinney says, a bunch of grown men. This Notre Dame team reminds me of those teams who make the NCAA Basketball Tournament and have a deep run because they’ve played a lot of football together.
2. Ian Book has been a polarizing figure for Notre Dame fans – some love him and point to his program-record win totals while others point to his physical limitations as limiting Notre Dame’s ceiling. What are your thoughts on Book – specifically compared to the QB you saw in the 2018 Cotton Bowl?
Ian Book was the surprise of the night, that’s for sure. I remember watching him in the 2018 matchup in Dallas and thinking that he just never looked in control of the offense. Even earlier this season it looked like the passing game was a mixed bag and there were times when he looked very average.
And then the light seemed to come on and he has been fantastic. What surprised me the most was his escapability. Sure, they used him a few times on designed QB runs, but for the most part, he was running all over the yard and making plays with his legs and buying time and it was a thing of beauty. It’s just obvious he is a veteran guy with poise, and he gets it.
Clemson will have to spy him next time out.
3. What have your thoughts been in general on Notre Dame’s inclusion in the ACC this season?
I love it and I wish the Irish would join the conference full-time as a football member. I have been friends with the great Tim Bourret (proud Notre Dame alum who was the Sports Information Director at Clemson for 35 years) for a long time and we’ve had a lot of discussions about Notre Dame’s football independence and the special rivalries with schools like Southern Cal and Navy.
But I feel like the ACC really needs Notre Dame to give the conference that extra elite team it so badly needs. Miami isn’t back, Florida St. has fallen off of a cliff, and there really doesn’t appear to be a team anywhere close to what the Irish can offer. But in this age of the College Football Playoff and the extra data points, I believe joining the conference would help the Irish, as well.
And if was ACC Commissioner for a day, I would move away from divisional play and go with the model used this year where the top two teams meet in the ACC Championship Game. That’s a win-win for everybody and drops one of those meaningless early-season games that no one wants to see.
4. What is the biggest difference you noticed in Notre Dame’s roster from that 2018 Cotton Bowl versus the November 7 contest in South Bend.
Speed. I contacted another writer prior to that game in Dallas and asked his opinion about Notre Dame’s roster (he had seen them in person), and his response was, “Think Big 10.” He went on to say that it was an offense built on ground and pound without a lot of elite speed at the positions where you need elite speed.
That conversation started before Clemson played Ohio St. in the Fiesta Bowl back in 2016. The coaches all told us that the Buckeyes simply weren’t at an elite level when it comes down to team speed. One told me that he knew from watching Ohio St. play Michigan that season that Buckeyes didn’t match up. After that game, Ohio St. went out and started to recruit the players that can compete with Alabama and Clemson.
I sent him a message after the game in early November and said, simply, “They don’t look like a Big 10 team anymore.”
5. What’s is the biggest difference for Notre Dame fans to know about Clemson from the first game and the rematch this weekend?
This is a Clemson team that finally has back most of its pieces. The Tigers were without two top wide receivers, a defensive end, the starting defensive tackle, two starting linebackers, a starting quarterback, the backup running back, a starting corner, and several others were nicked up heading into the game. At one point in the fourth quarter, Clemson was down seven defensive starters and three critical backups on the defensive side of the ball. There were freshmen running around everywhere.
Most of the veterans are back. Clemson didn’t play for three weeks after that game, played two weeks, and now has had two more weeks to get healthy. From everything we’ve heard, all but one of those guys (wide receiver Joseph Ngata) should be ready to go.