Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

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

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36 NOV. 4, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: CLEMSON BY JACK SOBLE CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE Clemson features two fairly efficient running backs in junior Will Shipley as the bell cow (4.7 yards per carry) and junior Phil Mafah as the com- plement. Mafah has only 57 carries to Shipley's 106, but he's been more dangerous at 6.2 yards per rush. Pro Football Focus likes Mafah more, giv- ing him a 106.3 elusiveness rating to Shipley's 54.6. What makes Clemson's run game worse than it was down the stretch last season is sophomore quarterback Cade Klubnik's surprising lack of effec- tiveness. Klubnik looked very good with his legs last year, totaling 36 carries for 176 yards, adjusting for sacks. He was advertised as a lethal runner out of Austin (Texas) Westlake in 2022, but in 2023 he's av- eraging 3.7 yards per carry on 56 attempts compared to 4.8 last season. That's a big difference for a dual- threat quarterback expected to make a Year 2 leap. It also doesn't help that Clemson's six primary offensive linemen (sophomore Tristan Leigh and freshman Collin Sadler have split time at left tackle) average a PFF run-blocking grade of 59.2. That's the main reason why the Tigers average a middling 4.3 yards per attempt this season. Notre Dame has shown occasional lapses in tack- ling, but the Irish have done most things well on defense and that includes defending the run. The Irish allow 3.5 yards per carry and while they don't produce much havoc — they're tied for 93rd in the country with 5.1 tackles per game — they are tied for No. 27 in the country in fewest rushes of 10 or more yards allowed. Notre Dame rarely lets running backs reach the third level. Shipley has a lofty reputation and Mafah has looked really good this season, but Notre Dame's defensive line and linebackers have been better than the Tigers' offensive line. Advantage: Notre Dame CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE This, right here, is the biggest mismatch in the game. Notre Dame's pass defense has been terrific all season, ranking eighth in the nation in yards per attempt allowed at 5.5 through Week 8. Mean- while, Clemson was 84th at 7.0 yards per attempt on offense. It's easy to blame Klubnik, but the truth is he hasn't had a lot of help. The Tigers are a solid pass-protection team, only allowing 14 sacks. Four of those six primary offen- sive linemen have PFF pass-blocking grades better than 70, led by junior left guard Marcus Tate at 88.4. Right guard has been an issue, with senior Mitchell Mayes posting a 20.5 pass-blocking grade this season, but the real trouble has been at wide receiver. On PaPer Sophomore quarterback Cade Klubnik threw for 1,684 yards with 13 touchdowns and just 3 intercep- tions during Clemson's 4-3 start. PHOTO COURTESY CLEMSON ATHLETICS

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