Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly feels his fourth-ranked Irish team has the basic pieces in place – an experienced offensive line, an athletic defense and a veteran quarterback in fifth-year senior Ian Book – that it needs to compete against No. 1 Clemson when the two squads take the field for tonight’s primetime showdown in South Bend.
Notre Dame is running the football for an average of 231.0 yards per game and ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 10.3 points per game, while Book has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 1,225 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception to go with 212 yards rushing and five more scores on the ground.
“I don’t think the basic tenants of college football or any football has changed – if you can control the line of scrimmage, you’ve got a chance,” Kelly said during an interview with Maria Taylor and Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN’s College GameDay show. “We’ve got a veteran offensive line that played in the 2018 College (Football) Playoff against this Clemson team. They were a bunch of sophomores. Now they’re a bunch fifth-year seniors. So, you’ve got a mature group on the offensive line. You’ve got a defense that has pieces. In other words, they have athleticism on all three levels.
“So, when you’re talking about these kinds of games, you want an athletic defense and you want an offensive line that can control the ball. If you have those two pieces, and a veteran quarterback, you’ve got the pieces that you can go out and you can play anyone. Now you’ve got to go execute and you’ve got to make plays. But as a coach, if you have those three pieces together, you’ve got a good chance.”
In recent years under Kelly, the Irish have had chances to play in the college football spotlight in big-time games, including last year against Georgia in Athens and the 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson.
While Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC) lost those contests, Kelly believes his players are ready for the opportunity that awaits them at home with tonight’s top-four matchup against the Tigers (7-0, 6-0).
“Look, we’re talking about performance and playing on the big stage, and we’ve had to up our performance level when we get these opportunities,” Kelly said. “So, we’ve been working towards that. It’s been a lot of work to get to this level, and we feel like we’ve got a football team that can perform at that highest level.”
Through six games this season, Kelly has seen his team start to form an identity.
“I think right now, our identity is starting to define itself is that they can make plays when they’re called upon,” he said. “I want to see more playmaking ability, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and those guys are waiting for that opportunity. I think the other thing is play fearless. They have got nothing to worry about. There are bigger things out there than playing college football. So, play fearless. And then I think the last thing is play with some energy, play with some juice, and I think those three things together, that’s your identity.”
The Clemson-Notre Dame game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium and will be televised on NBC.
Another championship season is underway for the Tigers. It’s time to gear up for another year of Clemson football.
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