Blue and Gold Illustrated

Dec 19, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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32 DEC. 19, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY ANDREW MENTOCK F resh off a surprise Gatorade bath celebrating a 45-10 win over Virginia Tech Dec. 5, Clem- son head coach Dabo Swinney fielded questions from the media wearing an orange, long-sleeve T- shirt and matching ball cap. A hand- ful of inquiries were related to how the Tigers dismantled the Hokies, but Swinney spent much of his postgame rambles addressing team injuries. This type of interrogation was ex- pected. Finishing the regular season with a 9-1 record earned the Tigers a rematch with the Notre Dame Fight- ing Irish in the ACC Championship on Dec. 19 in Charlotte, N.C. After the Irish defeated the Tigers 47-40 in double overtime on Nov. 7, a com- mon narrative shared by talk radio pundits is that, with a healthy roster, the Tigers would have reigned victo- rious in Notre Dame Stadium. So naturally, reporters were curi- ous about every bump and bruise impacting Clemson's rotation play- ers. As it turns out, there were plenty of ailments to ask about. "Hopefully, we can have every- body healthy and ready to go," Swinney said. "Obviously, we had a bunch of guys that didn't play in that game, so getting those guys ready to go is No. 1." The most notable absence from the first contest was quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the 6-6 Thor look-alike with a thunderbolt for a right arm. Heading into the season he was the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, but two weeks before playing Notre Dame the first time, Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19. Thanks to an idle week and can- cellations, Lawrence has played in only two games since returning from quarantine. In his first game back, a 52-17 win over Pitt, he completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 403 yards with two touchdowns. But on a frigid evening against the Hokies' aggressive defense, he connected on just 12 of his 22 passes for 195 yards with one touchdown and one pick. In fact, Lawrence has appeared mortal in many of his appearances this season. Many have scoffed at the notion of Ian Book entering the Heisman discussion, but he's actu- ally No. 7 in Total QBR — a statistic that evaluates every aspect of quar- terback play. Lawrence is a couple of spots behind him at No. 9. It's also difficult to imagine Law- rence having a greater statistical im- pact in the rematch than his backup did on Nov. 7. Freshman phenom D.J. Uiagalelei completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 439 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. If anything, Notre Dame should be better prepared for Lawrence thanks to firsthand knowledge of what Clemson likes to do schematically. "The system [the Irish saw against Clemson with Uiagalelei under cen- ter] is the system that they run," head coach Brian Kelly said. "There may be a little bit more activation of quarterback runs, but the scheme up- front, we're well aware of what that scheme is in terms of the quarterback run scheme. "So just being a little bit more locked into some quarterback runs, perhaps, would be the only slight difference." Still, there's a reason Lawrence is considered the best NFL quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and has a 33-1 record at Clemson as a starter. The win at Virginia Tech elevated him past former Tigers signal-caller DeShaun Watson (32-3) for the most wins as a starter in program history. "After 125 years of Clemson foot- ball, it's just a privilege and an honor to be a part of this group, and to have the honor to coach Trevor Lawrence, who is now the winningest quarter- back in school history," Swinney said. "What a neat moment in the locker room and just typical Trevor; very humble and thankful and apprecia- tive of opportunities that he's had." The bigger improvement for the Tigers in round two could be on the defensive side of the ball. In the first matchup, Clemson was dealing with even more injuries on defense. Three front-seven starters were missing: defensive tackle Tyler Davis, and linebackers James Skal- ski and Mike Jones Jr. In particular, Davis and Skalski were tough losses, because they may be the team's most important defensive players. Swinney is well aware of this and appeared to take extra precautions against Virginia Tech and pulled Skalski at halftime. This decision was GAME PREVIEW: ACC CHAMPIONSHIP The Fighting Irish defeated the Tigers 47-40 in double overtime in the first meeting Nov. 7 in South Bend, in large part because of their dominance in the trenches that led to a 208-34 advantage in rushing yards. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Facts & Figures CLEMSON VS. NOTRE DAME Game Info Date: Dec. 19, 2020 Site: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET Television: ABC Radio: This game can be heard on Notre Dame's IMG affiliates. Series Facts: Clemson leads 3-2, but Notre Dame won the last meeting 47-40 in double overtime on Nov. 7 in South Bend. Head coaches: Clemson — Dabo Swinney (139-32, 13th season); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (102-37, 11th season). Noting Clemson: The Tigers have reached the national championship game in four of the past five years (capturing the crown in both 2016 and 2018) and won at least 10 games in every season since 2011 … Clemson's only prior claimed national title was in 1981 … Swinney and his staff have signed a top-10 recruiting class every year but one since 2014 … Leading returning receiver Justyn Ross had offseason neck surgery that has kept him out for all of 2020 … Clemson has won the last five ACC title games … The Tigers have lost only three regular-season games since 2015 … No Clem- son player has ever won the Heisman Trophy. ROUND TWO Clemson hopes to add some reinforcements for its heavyweight rematch with Notre Dame

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