Many expected a close game between the then #1 ranked Clemson Tigers and the #4 ranked Fighting Irish when the two teams met in November, but what many probably didn’t expect was the most exciting college football game of the 2020 season.
The Irish edged out Clemson in a double OT thriller that even Dabo Swinney acknowledges shouldn’t have been as close as it was. A few Notre Dame mistakes late in the second half made for exhilarating drama late.
The two teams will meet again tomorrow, only a little over a month since the last meeting, which would suggest the game would look pretty similar, but there will be quite a few changes from their first meeting that could impact how this game turns out.
Trevor Lawrence is full go
Clemson was without a few players in the first matchup due to the Covid-19 plague, but none more notable than the most talked about player in college football over the past three years in Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence was the biggest quarterback recruit in a decade and has lived up to the hype every step of the way. He’s more than likely going to be the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft and is considered the best prospect since Andrew Luck.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the 2018 playoff matchup between the two teams is when the country got its first real look at the star QB as he shredded the talented Irish D for 327 yards and 3 TDs.
Lawrence will play Saturday, but his impact may be minimal. His backup DJ Uiagalelei threw for over 400 yards and accounted for 3 total TDs in the November matchup.
Clemson’s real benefit is the availability of their full playbook, which they probably didn’t have in November with a freshman in Uiagalelei.
Battle in the Trenches
Notre Dame’s main point of dominance in the Tigers’ first matchup was its offensive line bullying the Clemson front seven the entire night. The Irish ran for over 200 yards against the Tigers, who had no answer for the Irish’s massive men upfront.
As hard as it is to believe, Lawrence might not have been the most significant loss from Covid that night, but instead a few of the key players for the Clemson defensive front.
Starting defensive tackle Tyler Davis and starting linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones Jr. will all be back in their usual spots for the Clemson D on Saturday. Davis will be the best D-tackle the Irish have seen this season, and Skalski is considered the captain of the Clemson D.
This factor alone would suggest the battle in the trenches will be a little different this time and add in that the Irish have been banged up along the offensive line since the first matchup.
Starting center Jarrett Patterson was lost for the season a week after the Clemson game, and his backup Zeke Correll has been dealing with an ankle injury. Not to mention that 3-year starter Tommy Kraemer is recovering from an appendectomy.
Both Kraemer and Correll are expected to play, but it’s hard to see Notre Dame showing that same dominance they did in the November matchup.
“Neutral” field versus Home field
The 2020 College football season is different in many ways, but perhaps the biggest is the absence of stadiums filled with 80,00 screaming fans. Clemson didn’t have to deal with a full stadium of Irish faithful, but home field is still home.
Clemson still had to travel to South Bend, which takes a toll physically and mentally. The advantage will be flipped this week as the Irish will travel over 700 miles to Charlotte.
Bank of America stadium might as well be Clemson’s second home as Tigers will take only a 2.5-hour bus ride to a stadium they’ve won the past couple of ACC championships at.
There will only be around 5,000 fans allowed in this game, but the travel is an advantage and could be a difference in the game.
Clemson and Notre Dame’s rematch will look different, but that doesn’t mean the Irish won’t win. Notre Dame could’ve won the first game going away, but a bad drop, a bad penalty, and a bad fumble let the Tigers back into the game.
At this point, all we can do is play the game and see what happens, and that game cannot come soon enough.