The College Football Playoff will be kicking off in Dallas with the Cotton Bowl Classic between #2 Clemson and #3 Notre Dame. It’s not surprising to see Clemson make it here again as they have become a mainstay in the College Football Playoff, even with a true freshman starting for the majority of the season. Notre Dame is a little bit more surprising to see at this point, but they were able to navigate their independent schedule without losing a game. It also feels unique to have two teams matching up in a game of this magnitude that made quarterback changes during the season.
Clemson offense vs Notre Dame defense
This will be fun. Notre Dame has a top-10 defense while Clemson has a top-five offense. Notre Dame is good at all levels of their defense, but the strength of their defense is the front seven, which could be huge because they could get after Trevor Lawrence, which is something they will absolutely have to do if they want to have a chance at winning this game. That will also help because Travis Etienne has emerged as the go-to running back for Clemson, running for over 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns.
On the outside, Clemson has a number of weapons with Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers, Hunter Renfrow and Justyn Ross. That will be a lot for the Notre Dame secondary to have to contend with, considering the Tigers will also have Trevor Lawrence, who has been great in his freshman season, throwing them the ball.
Now what will be good for Notre Dame, is that lead by Jerry Tillery, they have a number of guys that can get to the quarterback so Clemson will have to contend with more than just one good pass rusher. The Irish also have tackling machine Te’von Coney at linebacker and that’ll help while dealing with the running game.
Overall I think this Notre Dame defense can keep them in the game. They are a very sound unit and I don’t see them coming out and not being able to stop anything even given how good this Clemson offense is and how explosive it’s been since Trevor Lawrence has been the starting quarterback.
Notre Dame offense vs Clemson defense
Notre Dame was able to take their offense to the next level this season when Brian Kelly decided to replace Brandon Wimbush with Ian Book.
But in this matchup you have to start with the suspension of Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence is a more-than likely first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft and he’s one of the more dominant defensive lineman in college football. His numbers might not necessarily show that, but that’s because he plays on the inside and because he’s surrounded by three other potential first-round picks on the line. If there’s a team that has the depth to overcome a loss like that, Clemson would be one of them, but you still don’t want to lose a sure thing in Lawrence.
Now in this battle, the Notre Dame offense relies a ton on balance. If they want to be able to consistently move the ball on this Clemson defense, they will need to be balanced in the run and pass game with Ian Book being effective and being able to use play action, but they will also need all of their receivers to step up and make plays. Miles Boykin is the teams leading receiver, but he’s only sitting at 803 yards this season, so he hasn’t been dominant, but they have other guys that can do a good job. They also have guys like Dexter Williams, Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong that are playmakers and have been able to do it this season running and catching the ball.
Notre Dame will have to come out and try and establish a running game in this one. I’m not saying they need to run for 180 yards, because if they’re going to win it’ll ultimately come down to Ian Book having a big game, but a running game will make it easier on Book, plus it’s more feasible now than it was before Dexter Lawrence was suspended.
I’m giving the special teams edge to Notre Dame in this one. Neither team has been very dynamic in the return game this season, but Justin Yoon has been the better kicker this season than Greg Huegel has been and Tyler Newsome has been the better punter.
The Dexter Lawrence suspension will have an impact. Anytime a player of that caliber isn’t going to be on the field it’s going to have an impact, but I think Clemson will have the depth to overcome it and even without Lawrence they’re still the better overall team by a good amount and I think the rest of that defensive line will take their play up another notch knowing Dexter Lawrence won’t be there. I also don’t think the stage will be too big for Trevor Lawrence, because really no stage has been too big for the freshman this season.