Recently, our friends at Irish Sports Daily asked me to participate in an interview to give Notre Dame fans a perspective on what Clemson fans might think of the Irish and head coach Brian Kelly.
On Thursday, ISD’s Matt Freeman, one of the best reporters on the Notre Dame beat, returned the favor and answered my questions on what he feels Notre Dame fans think about the Clemson program and head coach Brian Kelly.
This question-and-answer is the second of a three-part series with Freeman.
Are Notre Dame fans excited about Clemson making the trip to South Bend this year, and why?
Freeman: “They are excited because one of the top programs in the country is coming to South Bend. Notre Dame consistently has big games, but this one has been circled. The two programs rarely play each other, so that’s part of it, but they also see it as a measuring stick.”
Are Notre Dame fans worried Clemson is going to take over South Bend much like Georgia did?
Freeman: “There is some concern… Notre Dame’s administration learned a lot from the Georgia game and I believe there will be some things in place to help prevent 35,000 Clemson fans being in the stadium. Clemson travels well, but will fans want to spend money to go to Notre Dame over another CFB Playoff game or National Title?”
Is the Notre Dame program better than it was in 2018 and why?
Freeman: “It’s better. The culture is stronger, and they learned a lot about themselves as a program against Clemson in 2018. Will Notre Dame make the CFB Playoff again or go 12-0 in 2020? It’s doubtful, but if the Irish finish 11-1 or 10-2, I’m not sure it’s a regression from 2018 for them as they caught some breaks in 2018.”
Can Notre Dame compete with Clemson this year?
Freeman: “It will be interesting. I’m not sure it will be 30-3, but I’m not sure it’s going to be a one-score game in the fourth quarter. I think if you talked to Clemson players following the Cotton Bowl, they would say Notre Dame competed and played physical as well as anyone that year, including Alabama. I do believe the Cotton Bowl would have been closer if Julian Love didn’t have his mystery injury as Donte Vaughn was exposed for big touchdown after big touchdown. (Yes, Will can vouch for me on that one. Ask him to tell you what I texted him during the game and then what proceeded to happen.) Notre Dame’s issue is they lost two captains in starting safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott and a four-year starter at cornerback in Troy Pride Jr. They got in one spring practice, so the secondary didn’t get the reps needed to grow. Now, the Clemson game is in November so experience shouldn’t be an excuse for the Irish, but at the same time, Notre Dame lost 14 practices to catch those kids up in an area Clemson will have a considerable advantage on paper.”
How has playing ACC teams helped Notre Dame in recruiting or has it?
Freeman: “It’s helped to a point. Playing in ACC country every year is just another thing to sell kids. Notre Dame has always recruited Georgia and North Carolina hard, but it’s opened the door in Virginia the last two to three recruiting classes. Notre Dame’s hurdle is getting a kid like Will Shipley to leave the area, which is something they just haven’t been able to do with much consistency. They’ve been able to pull top talent from Atlanta, but landing a top kid from the Carolinas remains to be seen. So, it’s helped them a little bit more, but Notre Dame has to recruit nationally, so it’s not been a huge difference.”
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