2020 Game #7 Clemson Fighting Tigers
HERE COME THE IRISH
Careful readers should note the “#7” does not reflect the current rank for the Clemson football team. No, Clemson is currently #1.
The Irish return to Notre Dame Stadium for the long-awaited match against the Clemson Fighting Tigers led by Heisman Trophy candidate QB Trevor Lawrence. As any ND fan, even a casual ND fan attired in a leisure suit will know, Trevor contracted COVID-19 and will not play. While that is indeed unfortunate, NBC’s Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy would really like to see Trevor play because if he does not (and will not) Mike and Tony must face the plausible prevalent pronunciation pressure presented by the proper appellation of QB D.J. Uiagalelei and his backup Taisun Phommchanh. Mike and Tony might prefer to call them #5 and #7.
For the Irish to prevail in this game, they cannot permit many of the following:
The Irish must not let Travis Etienne run free. Travis is the real deal and Coach Lea must have his lads ready to contain him. My suspicion is that “Wu” will be Travis’ sidekick for much of the game, and when “wu” is gone woo, woo, then Kyle Hamilton will be Travis’ traveling companion. Make no mistake about it, Travis is the real deal. But I already said that.
Trevor Lawrence is not the only Clemson starter who will not make it to the starting gate, nor even play due to injury. The middle of the Fighting Tiger defense in particular will be without the services of their best linebacker, James Skalski, best starting defensive tackle, Tyler Davis, and strong side starting linebacker, Mike Jones. Also scratched from the starting gate, but just getting a late start, will be starting defensive end, #3 Xavier Thomas, targeted for targeting Phil Jurkovic in the second half of the Clemson win last week over the Boston College Eagles.
But lest you think those missing defenders will put Clemson at a disadvantage, remember (1) Clemson has depth and (2) the defense is coordinated by Brent Venables. But even with all the scratches and the late start, the Clemson defense can field five 5-star recruits in the defensive line alone, including true freshman and overall #1 2019 recruit in #11 Bryan Breese. By contrast Notre Dame has only three 5-star recruits on its entire roster. Venables has coordinated the Clemson defense since 2012 to the tune of a record of 101 wins versus 12 losses. With his skill, experience and reputation, he will have an overwhelming advantage over Irish 1st year Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Or, so the pundits predict!
Well, so-called Irish fans lament the persistent absence of a vertical passing attack. Indeed, it is absent, even persistently so. But for the Irish to win, they will need to limit the number of Clemson possessions. This can happen with Irish possessions of 4 to 6 minutes that feature run, run, run, TE pass, run, drag route pass, run, run, run. But Venables will know this so the Clemson D will crowd the line and short routes to limit that aspect of the Irish offense. But that, loyal readers, will open the floodgates that will permit the unexpected “over the top” QB to high school QB” (and ND jack-of-all-trades) vertical pass from #12 (Ian Book) to #3 Avery Davis who will double his uniform number with that 6 point passing TD. Or might there be a jet sweep with Avery carrying the ball when, lo and behold, he passes back to a wide-open Book for a 6, that being a “sort of over the top” high school QB to QB? Yes, indeed, this will happen or my name is not Joe Montana!!
Clemson has been coached by William Christopher Swinney since he replaced Tommy Bowden as head coach midway through the 2008 season. That elevation from wide receiver coach to head coach triggered his head coaching career. Clemson fans were, shall I say, less than enthused with his elevation. Evidencing that what do fans know? It has worked out hasn’t it?
Who among you would have known his given name of “William”? That, indeed, would be a good trivia question. So, let me give you a trivia question about Dabo that I will answer at the end of this material. If Clemson defeats the Irish, Dabo will join Amos Alonzo Stagg, Ara Parseghian, Jimmy Johnson and Nick Saban in a rather select group. So for Trivia Question #1; what is the distinction for that select group?
Clemson, of course, will be without Lawrence. Trevor who was a 5-star recruit. Alas, so was Uiagalelei. And Phommachanh? A mere mortal as a 4-star. Ian Book was, as his detractors are quick to note, just a 3-star. Brian Kelly’s detractors are quick to note the Irish have not been able to recruit a 5-star QB during his Irish coaching career. The current Irish roster has a TOTAL of three 5-star recruits. Can you name them for Trivia Question #2.
With a loaded roster and experience on the big stage against top talented opponents, both in season and in the College Football Championships, Clemson will be a tough out. Other talented players to watch are “lightning quick”, wide receiver Amari Rodgers (like Xavier Thomas a #3) who also returns punts (can’t let that happen!), wide receiver Frank Ladson, Jr (#2), stud left tackle Jackson Carman (#79) (Man, at 6’ 5” and 325 lbs he is just like a Car!), running back Lyn-J Dixon (#23) who also is the kick-off returner, and TE Braden Galloway (#88). (Candidly I listed Galloway in order to bemoan the absence of the Irish Braden. Sadly, Lenzy will not be able to add his speed to the Irish offense which will be somewhat hamstrung due to his strained hamstring.)
An intriguing Clemson recruiting attribute (of course perhaps not quite as appealing as the gridiron success and opportunity to play for National Championships to get a ring!), is the family atmosphere that permeates the roster fostered by the genuinely “good guy” Dabo who has two sons on the roster Will (#22) and Drew (#81) who are wide receivers and holders for place kicks. Venables also has two sons on the roster, Jake (#15) and Tyler (#12) who may be on the field at the same time as linebackers. And let us not overlook the fact that every Notre Dame fan’s favorite big game color commentator, former Ohio State QB Kirk Herbstreit has twin sons on the roster, safety Jake (#86) and wide receiver Tye (#37). Wonder how Kirk felt last year when Clemson played Ohio State in the College Football Playoff with his sons on one sideline and his “heart” perhaps on the other sideline?
The last time Notre Dame defeated a #1 ranked opponent was 1993 when the Irish defeated the Florida State Seminoles 31-24. Although some say it should be 2005 when the final score of the “Bush Push” game ended up in the loss column by 31-34 to USC.
Coach Kelly has not led the Irish to win in a “Big Game”. There were reasons. The Alabama Championship Game revealed the Irish did not have the necessary players, whether as starters and certainly not the necessary depth. The talent disparity was less evident in the big losses to Ohio State and Clemson, but more on the Clemson loss will follow. Both Georgia games were competitive with not significant talent disparity, particularly in the second one. The 2019 Michigan loss was . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . !!! Inexplicable!
Notre Dame has been soundly criticized for the 2018 loss to Clemson 31-3. That game turned late in the second quarter when ND lost cornerback Julian Love. Not enough depth!! But the next Clemson game was a 44-16 pasting over Alabama in the National Championship game. Did not hear much criticism of Alabama. Oh well.
The late 1950’s were not a stellar time for Notre Dame football. But during that time there was a TV/radio jingle that comes to mind. Here it is (sort of).
Full Steam! Full Steam! Full Steam!
Full Steam? A little DABO’ll do ya!
Full Steam! The Irish-O make in thru the air!
Full Steam! The Irish-D will all pursue ya!
They love to get a loss for Clemson oh so rare!
With apologies to all of you, Trivia Question #3 is, what product was marketed with the actual jingle!
The Irish are faced with an unfortunate dilemma. An Irish win will be denigrated due to the absence of Lawrence and the many defenders. If they lose, the naysayers will provide an unending chorus of “overrated” and “they missed out on getting Clemson when shorthanded”.
The Irish are giving 5.5 points. The over/under is 52. This will not be a blow-out! It will come down to which team plays better in the 4th quarter. I say it will be the Irish.
“. . . And Our Hearts Forever. . . “
(Especially when the Irish win!)
Trivia Question #1. These coaches won their first three games against Notre Dame.
Trivia Question #2. Tommy Kraemer, Michael Mayer and Jordan Johnson.
Trivia Question #3. Brylcreem.