The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have their work cut out for them on Saturday night as they host the undefeated Clemson Tigers. It’s a game that could determine where the Irish end up, come bowl time, and after an impressive win against Syracuse. The Tigers have had the benefit of a bye week to prepare for this contest.
This is only the fifth regular-season meeting between the two schools with the two teams splitting the previous four games. Just two years ago, Notre Dame and Clemson met twice during the season, the first time also at home for the Irish. Although the Irish won a wild 47-40 double overtime shootout, the Tigers controlled the rematch in the ACC title game, winning 34-10.
Below are some of the key matchups to watch on Saturday night:
QB Drew Pyne vs. Clemson Defense
Pyne had a relatively quiet afternoon against Syracuse completing nine of 19 passes for 116 yards. He was most prominent during the final two minutes of the first half when he threw his only interception, then bounced back to throw his only scoring toss. If the Irish can establish a running game in this contest, Pyne will likely have a low-key evening.
The Tigers are only allowing 19.9 points per game but have struggled at times to stop opposing offenses. They allowed 45 points to Wake Forest in a wild overtime battle on Sept. 24, then gave up over 200 yards on the ground against Florida State. The Irish will no doubt pore over Clemson’s game against Syracuse since only a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback spared the Tigers from an upset defeat.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB D.J. Uiagalelei
After forcing only turnovers in the first six games, Notre Dame defenders have collected two apiece in their last two contests. The interception to start the Syracuse game jump-started another strong defensive performance in which the Irish gave up less than 300 yards on the day. Simply neutralizing Clemson might be Notre Dame’s best hope in this matchup.
Uiagalelei is a mouthful to say and is usually a handful on the field, due to his ability to both throw and run the ball. The Irish got a look at him two years ago when Trevor Lawrence was unavailable with the then-freshman throwing for over 400 yards. He’s coming off a game in which he was taken out when the Tigers were struggling but that stumble was likely a minor glitch Notre Dame should ignore.
LT Joe Alt vs. DE Myles Murphy
Alt has been the most consistent performer on a line that’s only allowed 11 sacks this season. Eight of those came in the first four games, which indicates that this unit has found the right formula for protecting Pyne. Alt has the all-important task of protecting Pyne’s blind side against a player who leads the Tigers in sacks.
In his third season at Clemson, Murphy continues to be a force up front and leads the Tigers in sacks with 5.5 on the year. He has the quickness to get into the backfield whether it’s a run or pass, which explains why he’s poised to reach double-digits in the tackles-for-loss category. He had an uncharacteristically quiet performance against Syracuse, something the Irish hope to see continue.
MLB J.D. Bertrand vs. RB Will Shipley
Bertrand only had five tackles against Syracuse, making one of those stops behind the line and also knocking away a pass attempt. He still leads the Irish in tackles for the year and should be busy on Saturday night, considering how much use Clemson gets out of Shipley. How well he does in that matchup could determine who ends up with the win.
Shipley is coming off his best performance of the season after rushing for 172 yards against Syracuse, the fourth time he’s broken the century mark in 2022. He enters this game with the exact same rushing yards he compiled in 10 games last year. His 50-yard scoring run against the Orangemen gave the Tigers the lead for good. He’s also a threat when Uiagalelei needs a receiving option.
TE Michael Mayer vs. SLB Barrett Carter
Mayer only had three catches against Syracuse but he’ll undoubtedly see more action if the Notre Dame running game hits a snag. He’s again the leading receiver for the Irish and has been a safety outlet for Pyne, thanks to the big target he presents and his ability to get open. However, he needs to be one of multiple passing options for Pyne to make him more dangerous.
Carter sat out Clemson’s game against Syracuse while recovering from a concussion but is expected to play. Turned down the chance to play for the Irish during the recruiting process and currently ranks among the Tigers’ leading tacklers. He manages to make stops behind the line and in coverage. Also has the versatility to play multiple positions while delivering solid hits.