Christian Wilkins says Notre Dame will be the best team No. 2 Clemson has faced this season.
The Tigers will play No. 3 Notre Dame on Dec. 29 in the College Football Playoff Semifinals at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. Like Clemson, the Irish is undefeated, going 12-0 to reach the CFP for the first time.
“In some respects, they may be better or other teams may have done better, but collectively this is the best team we will have faced,” Wilkins said. “They are really talented, have a strong line and good backs. Two good quarterbacks and great receivers on the outside.
“They are really capable of beating us, but we just have to make sure we prepare and keep the focus on us. We win the game now. We can’t just show up on the 29th. They are talented and very well coached with good technique.”
Notre Dame is led by quarterback Ian Book, who jumped started the offense when he started over Brandon Wimbush in Week 4 at Wake Forest. The Irish scored 56 points that Saturday in Winston-Salem, and the offense has never turned back.
They are averaging 38 points and more than 450 yards per game since Book took over as the full-time starter. The junior is completing 70 percent of his passes for 2,468 yards. He has thrown 19 touchdown passes and has been intercepted just six times.
Book is averaging 8.8 yards per attempt, which is better than Trevor Lawrence’s 8.0 yards per attempt.
“He is a baller, that’s how I describe him,” Wilkins said. “He makes a lot of plays with his feet and can make a lot of throws. He is a really talented player and is a big part of why they are undefeated and in the playoff.
“I have a lot of respect for him from watching film with the way he plays and makes plays. We have our work cut out for us because he is that good. We have to make sure we are in position and do our job.”
Clemson’s All-American defensive tackle says what makes Notre Dame so hard to defend is the way Book can extend plays. He is an accurate passer on the move and rarely looks to run the football, he keeps his eyes down field and waits for guys to come open if things break down in the pocket.
“It can be tough against a quarterback like this because you try to be a hero or do too much and he gets outside,” Wilkins said. “If we play within the game plan, we should be fine, but you never know because he is a baller.”
Then there is the element of surprise. Wilkins expects the Irish to throw a few things at them that they have not seen on film. Similar to what South Carolina did in the regular season finale when the Gamecocks put up 600 yards and 35 points against the Tigers’ top 5 defense.
“With all this time, somebody can hit you with anything,” he said. “You have a lot of time to prepare and see things that they didn’t do well with. We have to prepare for any and everything they can throw at us.
“We have done a lot of self-evaluation to improve.”