Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeny, now in his 15th season has his team ranked #4 in the first CFP and undefeated at 8-0.
Idle a week ago their last game was against a familiar to Notre Dame opponent, Syracuse. In that game Clemson had to put up 17 unanswered 4th quarter points to come from behind and win 27-21. Earlier in the season Clemson had to go to two overtimes to defeat Wake Forest, and managed just a 6 point victory over Florida State.
DJ Uiagalelei is in his second full season as the starter behind center. But it should be noted that five-star freshman back-up Cade Klubnik came in the Syracuse game in the 3rd quarter and led the comeback. Uiagalelei on the season is a 64% passer and has thrown 17 TD passes and just 4 interceptions. He is the team’s second leading rusher with 350 yards on 89 carries good for 4 TDs. Postgame Dabo Swinney reaffirmed that Uiagalelei was still the starter, but don’t be surprised if he has a short leash. Klubnik is also a dual threat guy and against Syracuse he was 2-4 passing for 15 yards and gained 15 yards on 6 rushes.
Former Notre Dame recruit Will Shipley is a 5-11 205 sophomore who has been outstanding in the running game. Shipley averages 8.1 yards per carry on 123 carries, 739 yards and 10 scores. In the second half against Syracuse he took things over, scoring on a 50 yard scamper and finishing the day with 172 yards.
The Clemson receiving corps features two 6-3 wideouts in Joseph Ngata and Beaux Collins and 5-11 Antonio Williams. Williams who lines up in the slot and is just a freshman, has the best volume numbers of the three with 29 catches for 364 yards and 2 TDs. Clemson also utilizes the tight end and they have two of them putting up numbers. Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool are both in the 6-6 range and have combined for 35 catches and 7 TDs.
The most impressive national rank for the Tiger offense is average points scored at 37.1 per game, 19th best out of the 131 FBS schools.
Defensively the good news for Irish fans is that long time Tiger defensive coordinator Brent Venables has moved on to the head coaching position at Oklahoma. The bad news is that the 2022 Tigers are loaded with NFL prospects, give up a stingy 19.9 points per game and compared to Syracuse, they are big and physical up front and will present a stiff challenge to ND’s offensive line.
All four starters (as well as their back-ups) are sack threats. Myles Murphy and K.J. Henry man the defensive end slots and they have combined for 7.5 sacks. 6-2, 300 Defensive tackle Tyler Davis has 4 sacks and the other tackle, 6-5, 305 Bryan Bresee (who has missed time due to injury) has 1.5. This group has also accounted for 26.5 tackles for loss (TFL). Overall Clemson is averaging 8.2 TFL per game, 7th best in the nation.
The Clemson linebackers are another good news/bad news deal. The good news is long time leader of the defense, James Skalski has finally graduated but the bad news is that this year’s linebacker group is very athletic. All-American candidate Trenton Simpson leads the pack with 47 tackles on the year and opposing running attacks are averaging less than three yards per carry.
As a group the Tigers are young in the secondary. They have picked off seven passes but are allowing 244 yards passing per game, ranking them 86th nationally in the category. Clemson has shown some vulnerability to the screen game.
Special teams are outstanding and they are keyed by 5th year senior B.T. Potter who has hit 15 of 17 field goals on the year. ND leads the nation with it’s five blocked kicks, but Clemson is right behind with four. ND and Brandon Joseph may be able to find some yards to gain in the punt return game. The Tigers are 85th in punt coverage, giving up 8.75 yards on average.
Clemson has certainly earned their ranking and 8-0 record, but they are not quite the team of a few years back. Their defense is not as dominant and a lot is dictated by how well Uiagalelei plays. For most of the season he has looked much improved after struggling last season, in fact he has been terrific. There was some backsliding against Syracuse and he tossed two interceptions and it landed him on the bench. What that does to his confidence is anybody’s guess.
The Irish also have issues at the quarterback position, as Drew Pyne has been erratic accuracy wise the last three games. To have a chance in this game, the Irish will need Pyne to revert to North Carolina/ BYU form and to have to have a credible passing threat beyond Michael Mayer. Without that, Clemson is equipped to hold the Irish run game at bay. Defensively, ND should be able to hold the scoring down, if they stay on their trajectory of the last few weeks.
Defeating the Tigers would be a tall order, but the Irish are capable of playing well enough to do so. Unfortunately the four quarter effort they would need has not yet made an appearance in 2022.
Clemson is a 3.5-point favorite and the over/under is 44.5
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: Clemson 27 Notre Dame 20