Clemson 101: 'the sequel'
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
Clemson is 9-1, and they are ranked #3 in the latest CFP rankings. Of course, the Irish defeated them in double overtime five weeks ago to hand the Tigers their first regular season loss since October 13, 2017.
Another loss to the Irish likely would knock them out of the college football playoff, for the first time since 2014.
QB Trevor Lawrence, was out with a Covid issue in November, but he is back. And in two games played since, he has performed like his old self leading Clemson to a 52-17 win over Pitt and a couple weeks ago a 45-10 thrashing at Virginia Tech..
On the season he is completing 69% of his passes good for 2,431 yards and 20 TDs with just 3 interceptions. Lawrence can be an effective runner having crossed the goal line 6 times via the rush.
In his 3-year career Lawrence has thrown 86 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions. He is 6-6, 220 pounds and has been the presumed someday number 1 overall NFL draft pick since his freshman year. That day is very likely to come next Spring.
The Tiger offense of course does not stop at the quarterback position. Senior Travis Etienne who was mostly held in check by the Irish in November, will be looking to rebound from that performance. On the season he has piled up over 1270 combined rushing and receiving yards and has scored 14 touchdowns. He has not however had a 100 yard rushing day since October 10th.
Amari Rogers leads a deep receiver corps with 61 catches for 845 yards and 6 touchdowns. Cornell Powell is also dangerous, and he has 41 catches and has seen the end zone 5 times. Last month against the Irish he caught 6 for 161 yards including a 53-yard touchdown.
The Tigers are number two nationally in scoring at 46.1 per game and 10th in total offense.
Defensively they are loaded. 9th in total defense, 16th in scoring defense. They are among the best in the nation with 93 tackles for loss and with 38 sacks.
The Tigers have picked off 13 passes, and in total forced 22 turnovers, 2nd most nationally. Linebacker James Skalski and defensive tackle Tyler Davis both missed the first game but are back. The veteran Skalski has been called the quarterback of the defense and Davis pretty much demands a double team in the middle.
Balance on offense, pass rush, run stoppers, turnovers. There just aren’t many weaknesses here. Key matchup: 3rd down. In the first game Clemson was an anemic 4-15. The Irish stopped them cold, and holding Travis Etienne to just 28 yards rushing was a big reason why. The Irish will once again look to shut down the running game in an effort to keep Clemson behind the chains and to get their offense off the field with 3rd down stops.
Back to near full strength, Clemson will be better than they were in November. For the Irish to hold serve, they will also need to be better, the most likely source of improvement would come in the form of their still evolving passing game. If Book, Skowronek, McKinley and company continue on their since mid season upward trajectory, this will be another barnburner.
Clemson is favored by 10 1/2 points, over/under is 60.
FIP pick: Clemson 34 Notre Dame 27