Blue and Gold Illustrated

Dec 19, 2020

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

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34 DEC. 19, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED made even after his backup, Jake Ven- ables, who started in the first matchup and stripped the football from Book near the goal line, likely broke his arm. "Skalski was just sore," Swinney said. "He felt a little sore at the begin- ning [of the game] and so we really just kind of held him out, really kind of precautionary." Clemson had a similar strategy for a few other defensive starters. Cor- nerback Andrew Booth missed the contest due to a bruise on this thigh. Linebacker Baylon Spector — who leads the team in tackles (62), among them 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks — left the game early with an injury, but in his postgame press conference Swinney said he was fine. Several other players didn't even make the trip to Blacksburg in the hopes that they'll be 100 percent healthy come the postseason, but it's unclear if that will be as soon as the ACC Championship. This includes wideouts Frank Ladson Jr. and Joseph Ngata — Clemson's two main big- bodied receiving threats. Of the duo, Ladson, who played only six snaps in the Nov. 7 matchup, is the most likely to return from his foot injury. Ngata recently had surgery to help him overcome an abdominal strain that has plagued him all season. Their replacement has been EJ Wil- liams, a 6-3 freshmen and former top- 50 recruit. He hauled in three catches for 38 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh, but was not targeted in the win over Virginia Tech. There is some talk from the na- tional media that junior wide re- ceiver Justyn Ross, who torched Notre Dame in the 2018 Cotton Bowl with six catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns, could return for the ACC Championship, but Swin- ney stated there's no truth to that. Even if a few Clemson starters are still out on Dec. 19, the Irish have their work cut out for them. Hav- ing won the previous five ACC titles, this is the Tigers' sixth straight trip to Charlotte, and in their last three ap- pearances they've won by an average of 37 points. "I don't think anybody's won six conference titles in a row at this level, and I don't think anybody's even been to six in a row," Swinney said. "It's a really unique opportunity for our team and our program." At the time of press, no reputable sportsbook has produced gambling odds for the ACC Championship — but the consensus expectation is that the Tigers will be favored. Advanced statistics tend to agree with this senti- ment. ESPN's SP+ views Clemson as the nation's second-best team, with the third-ranked offense and sixth- ranked defense. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is No. 4 with the ninth- ranked offense and defense. It's unusual to play a team twice in the same year, something Notre Dame hasn't done since facing LSU during the 1997 regular season and later in the Independence Bowl. That year, the Irish won the first matchup 24-6 before falling to the Tigers in the postseason, 27-9. "As it relates to playing a team a second time, there are certainly pluses and minuses on that," Kelly said. "You learn the strengths and weaknesses of each team. "So maybe what you lose in terms of tendencies and breaking tenden- cies, you pick up and get a better in-depth knowledge of where to at- tack and having complements off of that. I really think it's a push on both sides." ✦ GAME PREVIEW: ACC CHAMPIONSHIP Junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is widely regarded as the top overall player in college football, missed the earlier showdown with the Irish while recovering from COVID-19. PHOTO BY DANNIE WALLS, ICON SPORTSWIRE/COURTESY ACC MEDIA 2020 CLEMSON SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 12 at Wake Forest W, 37-13 Sept. 19 The Citadel W, 49-0 Oct. 3 Virginia W, 41-23 Oct. 10 Miami W, 42-17 Oct. 17 at Georgia Tech W, 73-7 Oct. 24 Syracuse W, 47-21 Oct. 31 Boston College W, 34-28 Nov. 7 at Notre Dame L, 47-40 (2OT) Nov. 28 Pittsburgh W, 52-17 Dec. 5 at Virginia Tech W, 45-10 Dec. 19 vs. Notre Dame* (ABC) 4 p.m. * ACC Championship in Charlotte, N.C. 2020 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 12 Duke W, 27-13 Sept. 19 South Florida W, 52-0 Oct. 10 Florida State W, 42-26 Oct. 17 Louisville W, 12-7 Oct. 24 at Pittsburgh W, 45-3 Oct. 31 at Georgia Tech W, 31-13 Nov. 7 Clemson W, 47-40 (2OT) Nov. 14 at Boston College W, 45-31 Nov. 27 at North Carolina W, 31-17 Dec. 5 Syracuse W, 45-21 Dec. 19 vs. Clemson* (ABC) 4 p.m. * ACC Championship in Charlotte, N.C.

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