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College Football Game of the Week: Clemson vs Notre Dame (ACC Championship)

Photo By: Matt Cashore - USA Today Sports

Written By: Ryan Lippert|@Lippert42

I believe I can speak for football fans across the country when I say that this college football season has really flown by. We have reached conference championship week as many teams are still fighting for either a last hope at the College Football Playoff or simply a better bowl bid. While there are many exciting matchups to look forward to this weekend, there is one that will likely be the most important game of the season so far. The third-ranked Clemson Tigers look to avenge their only regular-season loss to the second-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Not only is the ACC title on the line but this game will have a huge impact on the final College Football Playoff standings as well. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at this week’s College Football Game of the Week between the Clemson Tigers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Trevor Lawrence Brings Another Element to this Rematch

While the first matchup between these two teams was still a great game, there was one huge thing missing for Clemson. Backup quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei showed some promise against the Fighting Irish but he still isn’t Trevor Lawrence. When he has been in action this season, Lawrence has been the top tier quarterback that we all expected him to be. He has thrown for 2,431 yards with 20 touchdowns and only three interceptions while also rushing for 121 yards and six touchdowns. His top target this season has been senior wide receiver Amari Rodgers who has 61 catches for 845 yards and 6 touchdowns. Sophomore Frank Ladson Jr., senior Cornell Powell, and junior tight end Braden Galloway have also been very involved in the passing game.

Lawrence will be up against a Notre Dame secondary that has been solid so far this season. They have allowed 214.8 passing yards per game and only 8 total passing touchdowns while coming away with 6 interceptions. Their secondary has been led this season by promising sophomore free safety Kyle Hamilton who has been all over the field this season both against the pass and the run. He is joined by seniors Shaun Crawford at strong safety and Nick McCloud at corner with freshman Clarence Lewis at the other corner. Junior TaRiq Bracy will also be in the rotation at corner.

To go along with the passing game, the Tigers also have a future NFL running back in Travis Etienne coming out of the backfield. Etienne has continued to impress this season, carrying the ball 148 times for 758 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has also been a big factor in the passing game, tied for second on the team with 41 receptions for 512 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Etienne will have his work cut out for him this weekend as he is facing a very stingy Notre Dame run defense. The Fighting Irish have allowed only 99.7 rushing yards per game and 10 total rushing touchdowns this season. Their front seven is led by senior outside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah who leads the team with 49 tackles and 9 tackles for loss. He will be joined in the linebacker core by fellow senior Drew White at middle linebacker and junior Shayne Simon on the weak side with junior Bo Bauer also seeing time in the rotation. In front of them, the defensive line will consist of all seniors with Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji at the ends with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa at tackle and Kurt Hinish at nose.

Kyren Williams Looks to Have a Repeat Performance

While the Fighting Irish have been great on all levels, one of their most pleasant surprises this season has been the breakout year from sophomore running back Kyren Williams. He has led Notre Dame’s rushing attack with 180 carries for 1,011 yards and 12 touchdowns. In their regular-season matchup with the Tigers, Williams had himself quite a night, rushing for 140 yards and 3 touchdowns off 23 carries. Freshman Chris Tyree and junior C’Bo Flemister should also see some occasional carries.

Although they failed to contain Williams the last time they played, this Tigers front seven doesn’t lack talent by any means. They have allowed 105.4 rushing yards per game and only 7 total rushing touchdowns this season. This group has been led by junior Baylon Spector who leads the team with 62 tackles and is second with 9.5 tackles for loss. Spector will be joined at linebacker by senior James Skalski in the middle along with sophomore Mike Jones in an outside linebacker/nickel role. In front of them, they have a very talented and still young defensive line. This line features two outstanding true freshmen in defensive end Myles Murphy and tackle Bryan Breese. Murphy leads the team with ten tackles for loss and is tied for a team-leading 3.5 sacks. They will be joined on the line by two sophomores in K.J Henry at end and Tyler Davis at tackle. Senior Nyles Pinckney will also be in the rotation at tackle.

While Williams has had a great year on the ground, the Fighting Irish have also had an outstanding season passing the ball. Senior quarterback Ian Book has continued to be the leader of this offense, throwing for 2,382 yards with 15 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. His top target this season has been senior wide receiver Javon McKinley who has 37 receptions for 660 yards and 3 touchdowns. McKinley is joined in the passing attack by seniors Ben Skowronek and Avery Davis, along with a very promising true freshman tight end in Michael Mayer. Skowronek leads the team with 5 receiving touchdowns.

Book will be up against a Tigers secondary that has been strong this season. They have given up 196.6 passing yards per game and 11 total passing touchdowns while coming away with 13 interceptions. Their secondary has been led by senior free safety Nolan Turner who leads the team with 3 interceptions. He will be joined by sophomores Lannden Zanders at strong safety and Sheridan Jones at corner with junior Derion Kendrick at the other corner spot.

Final Predictions

As I have already pointed out, this is the biggest game of the season so far in relation to the College Football Playoff. With another loss, Clemson is likely eliminated from the top four so they have the most to lose here. However, Notre Dame isn’t going to just roll over as they will want to make sure their spot is 100% secure. I see this game being an exciting back and forth matchup like it was in the regular season. Book will show his true leadership and make plays to keep the Fighting Irish in this game. Unfortunately on the other side, Trevor Lawrence will show how big of a difference he makes in this game. I have Lawrence stepping up big in the clutch to help the Tigers pull away with a hard-fought 31-28 victory. Make no mistake about it, this game could go either way very easily and even with the loss, I still see Notre Dame making the College Football Playoff and having a chance to compete with anyone.

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