No. 1 Clemson travels to No. 4 Notre Dame on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. ET prime-time matchup on NBC.
It’s a huge piece of the College Football Playoff puzzle.
The Tigers (7-0) won’t have quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who will miss his second straight game after testing positive for COVID-19 last week. Freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei led a comeback against Boston College in Lawrence’s place last week, and Clemson is still favored to win at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish (6-0) remain unbeaten in their first season in ACC play, and Ian Book can add a signature victory to an otherwise under-appreciated career as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. These teams might meet in a rematch in the ACC championship game, but even without Lawrence this should live up to the top-five billing. With that in mind, here’s a closer look at Saturday’s showdown.
Clemson vs. Notre Dame odds
Spread: Clemson -5.5
Point spread odds: Clemson –120, Notre Dame +100
The Tigers opened as a four-point favorite, but that line has bumped up more than a point. It would get close to a touchdown before kickoff.
Clemson vs. Notre Dame all-time series
The Tigers are 3-1 against the Irish. The teams split a home-and-home series in 1977-79. Clemson beat Notre Dame 24-22 on Oct. 2, 2015, a game that is known for coach Dabo Swinney proclaiming that it was “BYOG” — Bring Your Own Guts.
Clemson beat Notre Dame 30-3 at the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl Classic on Dec. 29, 2018.
Three trends to know
— The Irish are 2-4 ATS this season, but this is their first game as an underdog in 2020. Notre Dame is 4-2 S/U and ATS as a home underdog since Brian Kelly took over in 2010.
— The Tigers are 2-5 ATS this season, but this is the first game they have been favored by single digits. Clemson is 16-14 ATS as an away favorite in the College Football playoff era.
— Notre Dame is 2-5 all time when the No. 1 team in the AP Poll visits Notre Dame Stadium. The last game was the “Bush Push” against USC in 2005. The past four matchups against No. 1 have been decided by seven points or fewer.
Three things to watch
— D.J. Uiagalelei. The freshman quarterback settled in nicely in the second half against Boston College last week, and he established a connection with Cornell Powell. The pressure increases on the road, and it will be interesting to see how early offensive coordinator Tony Scott tests Notre Dame in the deep vertical passing game. Running back Travis Etienne, who had seven catches for 140 yards last week, will be involved as a pass-catcher early.
— Big-time running backs. Top-five showdowns often come down to the running game. Notre Dame has allowed just 4.1 yards per carry and four rushing TDs, but they haven’t faced a running back on the level of Travis Etienne, who had 14 carries for 109 yards for the Irish in the playoff semifinal two seasons ago. Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams averages 5.7 yards per carry, but Clemson allows just 2.7 yards per carry with three rushing TDs this season.
— Turnovers. Notre Dame has a +3 turnover ratio this season, and Book has thrown just one interception on 150 pass attempts this season. Clemson has forced 13 turnovers this season and has a +6 ratio as a team. Uiagalelei didn’t have a turnover in his first start, and those are the things that can feed an upset-minded team on the road.
Stat that matters
Book is 26-3 as Notre Dame’s starter, and those losses were to Clemson, Georgia and Michigan the past three seasons. In those three losses, Book has completed 54 of 106 passes for 508 yards, two TDs and three interceptions. Without Lawrence on the field, the pressure is on Book to be the better quarterback in this game.
Clemson will jump to a quick lead in the first quarter, and Uiagalelei will settle in with the short passing game. Book will respond with a TD pass to tight end Michael Mayer in the second quarter, but the Tigers’ pass rush will strengthen as the game wears on. Clemson will take control in the third quarter with a pair of scoring drives and hold in the fourth quarter for yet another big victory against the Irish. Who’s ready for the rematch?
Clemson 31, Notre Dame 22
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