Ranked #9 in the preseason, Clemson’s expectations for 2023 have been dashed as they have limped to a record of 4-4. They have faced two common opponents with the Irish thus far and lost to both of them. Last week at NC State the Tigers fell 24-17 and in week one they lost at Duke 28-7. The Tigers also have lost to 4th ranked Florida State 31-24 and at Miami 28-20. Their only power five wins have been at Syracuse, 31-14 and at home against Wake Forest, 17-12.
Last year they had run to 8-0 record and #4 ranking when ND took them out 35-14 at Notre Dame stadium. Since the start of that night in South Bend, Clemson has struggled to a record of 7-7.
It is difficult to explain the slide in the Clemson program. Since 2015 Clemson has appeared in 6 national playoffs and have won two National championships in 2016 and 2018. Head Coach Dabo Swinney has been outspoken in his dislike of the use of the transfer portal to build his roster, preferring to build his team almost exclusively through traditional recruiting and player development.
At home Clemson has been particularly tough to beat. Until late last season they had won 40 straight games in Memorial Stadium, also known as “Death Valley”.
An analysis of Clemson’s national rankings statistically paints a picture of a team that has played solid defense but has struggled to finish drives and not protected the football well.
Quarterback Cade Klubnik is in his first season as the full-time starter. He is a 64% passer, and has thrown for 1,947 yards, 13 TDs and 5 interceptions. He is mobile in the pocket and will run the football. He has gained 259 sack adjusted yards and scored 3 times on the ground.
Junior Will Shipley is the leading ground gainer with 515 yards and 3 TDs but he is in concussion protocol and may not be available this week. Another Junior Phil Mafah is next up and he has been nearly as effective as Shipley.
Junior Beaux Collins and Freshman Tyler Brown have been the top two receivers. They have put up nearly identical numbers and have combined for 62 catches for 805 yards and 4 TDs. 6-6 TE Jake Briningstool is a solid weapon he has 31 catches for 344 yards. Klubnik likes to throw to his running backs and they have combined for 35 catches on the year.
Clemson is 121st nationally in red zone efficiency, scoring just 71% of the time. They have lost 10 fumbles, one of the worst marks in the nation.
The Tiger defense gives up just 21 points per game and an average of just 99.1 yards per game on the ground. They are led by All-American linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. who is having another stellar season and leads the Tigers in tackles. Edge rusher TJ Parker has notched 4 sacks. Cornerbacks Sheridan Jones and Nate Wiggins lead a pass defense that is allowing just 167 yards per game, the 9th best mark in the nation.
Despite high hopes and a pre-season top 10 ranking, Clemson’s season has gone south and there have actually been calls for the ousting of Dabo Swinney from fans. Make no mistake though, there is plenty of proven talent on the roster that has kept the Tigers close in each of their four losses. One of those losses was to #4 Florida State by just one score and the game was decided in overtime. Add to that how difficult Clemson has been to defeat at home and it is not hard to make a case for a Clemson win this week.
The Irish are catching a break with the noon kickoff and may also catch a break if Will Shipley is unavailable to run the ball. Notre Dame’s defense should fair well in the trenches against a so-so Tiger offensive line and that will limit Clemson’s scoring opportunities. Offensively the Irish showed good growth last week against Pitt by getting the ball down field to its wide receiver group and quickly out to the edges to deal with pressure.
Expect two motivated football teams this week. ND has a lot left to play for in 2023. Clemson is loaded with talent and in front of the home fans they will be looking to salvage something from a once promising season.
The defenses are the headliners in this one with a slight edge to the Irish. On offense the Irish, despite the loss of leading pass catcher Mitchell Evans also have an edge.
Notre Dame is a 3 point favorite and the over/under is 45.5.
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: ND 24 Clemson 17