Blue and Gold Illustrated

Dec 19, 2020

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

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38 DEC. 19, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI THE SECOND TIME AROUND: DEFENSIVE EDGE? This year 's ACC Championship Game versus Clemson will mark only the second time since 1902 that the Fighting Irish will face the same team twice in one season. The other was in 1997 versus LSU, a 24-6 vic- tory at Baton Rouge in November, and then a 27-9 defeat at the Inde- pendence Bowl a little more than a month later. According to research by Wikipe- dia, rematches that occur in confer- ence championship games (begun by the SEC in 1992) have seen the regular-season winner — as Notre Dame was on Nov. 7 with a 47-40 double-overtime victory versus then No. 1-ranked Clemson — also post a 29-16 record in the league title game against the same foe. In bowl games, though, the advan- tage has been with the regular-season loser, who has produced a 15-7 re- cord in the rematch. (Two other bowl games had ties in the regular season.) Notre Dame and Clemson also are vying for a national title this season, and in four previous bowl games where No. 1 was on the line between two teams that had met in the regu- lar season, the loser in the regular season avenged its loss in the bowl each time. The most recent was in 2011, when Alabama lost 9-6 at home to LSU in November, but then won 21-0 in the national title showdown between them. In his final three seasons at Divi- sion II Grand Valley State (2001-03), Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly twice played Saginaw Valley in re- matches from the regular season. In 2001, Kelly's Lakers won 38-7 in the regular season but had a more difficult time in the playoff game be- fore prevailing 33-30. In 2003, Grand Valley State lost 34-20 to Saginaw Valley during the regular season (its lone defeat) — but then won the rematch 10-3 in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, before winning their second straight Divi- sion II national title. Kelly then was hired to be the head coach at Central Michigan the following year. From his experience, Kelly said don't be misled by the 47-40 double- overtime score in the first game — because he believes the defenses will have a much greater say this time, as it did for his GVS squad in 2003. "You learn so much about your opponent — both teams do — that sometimes when you play a second time it makes it hard to move the football, because the defense gets the edge the second time," Kelly said on Dec. 7. "Those are probably the things that I've learned in the re- matches, that the defenses tend to get a little bit of an edge against you because they have seen you and they know a little bit about where they can lean on you a little bit. "That's why it's about physicality for me. It's about playmakers mak- ing plays, and then fundamentals — because these games are generally going to be close, hard fought, and separated by one score, and some- times low-scoring games." IN THE TRENCHES Unlike in the 30-3 loss to Clemson in the 2018 College Football Play- off, the areas this year where we felt Notre Dame matched up well with the Tigers — and were even superior — was along both lines. Whereas Clemson had four new starters along the offensive line, the Notre Dame defensive line was com- prised of seasoned and all fifth- or fourth-year seniors, plus quality depth to keep fresh legs. Meanwhile, whereas Notre Dame's offensive line had the most starting experience in school history, Clem- son's defensive front was banged up and a little young, including top freshman recruits Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy. Those differences were manifested GAME PREVIEW: ACC CHAMPIONSHIP Top STorylineS All-American running back Travis Etienne was held in check by the Notre Dame defense in the prior meeting, gaining only 28 yards on 18 rushing attempts. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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