Notre Dame may or may not return to being an independent in football next year, but if they do, their season in the ACC has been a memorable one. There is one more step to make it a perfect run through the conference, and that step requires beating the Clemson Tigers for the second time this season.
The 10-0 Fighting Irish, ranked #2 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings, are assured of a playoff spot regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game in Charlotte, which kicks off at 4 pm ET on ESPN. The same cannot be said for #3 Clemson (9-1), who could conceivably drop behind Texas A&M and out of the top four if they fail to win their sixth straight ACC title.
The two teams played one of the best games of the season when they met in South Bend on November 7, with Notre Dame scoring with 22 seconds left to force overtime and then prevailing 47-40 in two overtimes against a Clemson team that was missing star quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Will Lawrence lead the Tigers to another conference title and lock down their place in the CFP, or will the Fighting Irish score a second win and leave Clemson to sweat it out until Sunday? Here’s a look at each team and some important factors for those looking to bet on the game.
Clemson Tigers Preview
College football fans and bettors have grown used to seeing Clemson be a dominant force over the last several seasons under Dabo Swinney. This year is no different, but the absence of Lawrence against Boston College and Notre Dame is where their mask of invincibility slipped enough to leave them needing to win in Charlotte to be sure of a sixth straight CFP berth.
In Lawrence’s eight games, however, the Tigers have been dominant on both sides of the ball, which is also the case for most of his 33 starts at Clemson, in which the team is 32-1. Lawrence, the projected #1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, has shown why that projection is being made, completing 69.2% of his passes for 2,431 yards and 20 touchdowns, with only three interceptions in 250 attempts.
Running back Travis Etienne returned for his senior season as opposed to turning pro a year early, and while he has been solid, he has not been as lethal as he was in 2018 and 2019, when he ran for over 1,600 yards in both seasons. He has only two 100-yard games, has not hit the 100-yard mark in the last six games, and his average of 5.1 yards per carry is a big drop from the 7.8 yards per carry he averaged in his first three seasons. That said, he is still very much a weapon and has shown his value in the passing game, catching 41 passes for 512 yards (both career highs) and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Tigers had a rough outing in South Bend, giving up 518 yards. but they have been mostly dominant otherwise. Notre Dame and Virginia are the only two opponents that have recorded more than 350 yards against Clemson, who has held five opponents under 300 yards. Clemson is 7th in the FBS in total defense (302 yards allowed per game), 11th in rushing defense (105.4 ypg), and 25th in pass defense (196.6 ypg). They are also tied for 2nd in the FBS with 22 takeaways, tied for 7th with 13 interceptions, and tied for 11th in fumble recoveries with nine. Tiger defenders have been regulars in opposing backfields, registering 93 tackles for loss to rank 2nd in total tackles for loss and third in tackles for loss per game and racking up 38 sacks to rank 2nd in total sacks and third in sacks per game.
Clemson does not have any major injury concerns, but two are in their linebacking corps. Jake Venables, son of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, broke his arm against Virginia Tech two weeks ago and is out for the season. Also, James Skalski has been dealing with a groin injury and could be limited against Notre Dame. If he is, sophomore Kane Patterson will take on a key role.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Preview
The defense has been a hallmark of Notre Dame’s success this season as well. The Irish are eighth in rushing defense (99.7 ypg), 12th in scoring defense (17.1 ppg), and 14th in total defense (314.5 ypg). They are also tied for sixth in fumble recoveries with ten, eighth in total tackles for loss (81), and 11th in tackles for loss per game (8.1). Against Clemson, the Irish were stellar against the run, limiting the Tigers to 34 rushing yards on 33 attempts and holding Etienne to 28 yards on 18 carries, his lowest total since 2017.
Notre Dame has had a productive year offensively as well. Their offense is almost perfectly balanced, averaging 239.3 passing yards per game and 235 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Ian Book has not put up the big numbers he did last year, but he has not needed to. That said, he has been solid, completing 63.3% of his passes for 2,381 yards and 15 touchdowns. Book has also been a big threat with his legs, rushing for 465 yards and eight touchdowns. Most of all, he has made few mistakes, throwing only two interceptions in 286 attempts.
Having a reliable ground game is part of why Book has not needed to overwork his arm. The Irish are led by Kyren Williams, who has run for 1,011 yards and 12 touchdowns. That includes a 140-yard, three-touchdown performance against Clemson, in which the sophomore set the tone early with a 65-yard touchdown scamper 33 seconds into the game and scored both of his team’s overtime touchdowns. Williams has also been one of Book’s regular targets in the passing game, catching 24 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown.
See Bovada for updated lines and odds.
Spread: Clemson -10.5 (-105), Notre Dame +10.5 (-115)
Moneyline: Clemson -400, Notre Dame +300
Total: Over 60 (-110), Under 60 (-110)
Key Trends & Odds
- Clemson is 17-1 in their last 18 regular-season games against ranked teams, with the only loss being this season’s loss to Notre Dame. Including College Football games, the Tigers are 23-4 against ranked teams dating back to 2015.
- In Trevor Lawrence’s Clemson career, he is 8-1 in starts against ranked teams. The only loss was last year’s CFP title game loss to LSU. In those nine games, Clemson has outscored opponents 324-142. That is an average of 36 points scored and 15.8 allowed.
- Notre Dame is 4-10 against top-10 teams in Brian Kelly’s tenure. That includes a 1-4 mark against top-5 teams, with this season’s win over Clemson being the lone win.
- Clemson has scored at least 37 points in every game this season, including eight games with at least 41 points. Clemson’s team total is 34.5 at Bovada (O -125, U -110)
- Notre Dame has scored at least 31 points in eight of their 10 games this season, including six in a row.