In each of the past five seasons, Clemson has made the College Football Playoff, joining Alabama as the only two teams to accomplish such a feat in the CFP era.
But the Tigers, who are coming off a loss to No. 2 Notre Dame last week, would like to make it six years in a row. However, to do that, Clemson will need to win each of its remaining three games against Florida State, Pitt and Virginia Tech, plus win the ACC Championship Game, which will likely be a rematch against the Irish.
Clemson, who is ranked No. 4 following the loss to Notre Dame, is more than capable of doing it. However, there is some concern. The Tigers (7-1, 6-1 ACC) gave up 519 total yards to Notre Dame, including 209 on the ground.
Granted Clemson was without three of its defensive starters to start the game and it lost more as the game went on. The question is how long will it take for the Tigers to get healthy again and when will defensive tackle Tyler Davis (lower leg injury), middle linebacker James Skalski (groin) and strongside backer Mike Jones (hamstring) get back on the field?
Jones has missed the last two games, while Davis and Skalski have missed the last three. The good news for Clemson is it has this Saturday off before heading to Tallahassee, Fla., on Nov. 21 to play Florida State.
“They have to get healthy on defense,” ESPN analyst Greg McElroy said Tuesday on College Football Live. “We talk about Trevor Lawrence and that is fine, but they were also without Tyler Davis on the defensive line, James Skalski, their quarterback of the defense and middle linebacker, has missed the last couple of games and is going to be out for an extended period of time with a groin injury. So, they have some problems on the defense side of the football.”
Those problems were amplified against Notre Dame. Without those three in the game, the Irish pounded Clemson with the running game and with Jones out, they took advantage of freshman Trenton Simpson and the matchup with tight ends in the passing game.
Tight end Michael Mayer had five catches for 67 yards in the game. Skalski’s replacement, Jake Venables, had issues containing quarterback Ian Book all night on scrambles. Book threw for 310 yards, as well.
“That defense for a second straight week has given up those plays to the outside in man-to-man coverage that really makes you wonder down the road,” ESPN’s Joey Galloway said. “If they do get to the playoff and play Ohio State or Alabama, maybe even a Florida if they get in, those teams that have the ability to go downfield outside, could be an issue for Clemson.”
McElroy’s concern for Clemson comes more on the inside, where he says the Tigers are just not as strong on the defensive line as they have been in recent title runs. Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns, including a 65-yard touchdown run on the first official play of the game without Davis playing.
“When you look at Clemson over the last couple of years, and guys we gave them so much credit to their offense and rightfully so, but this team was built from the inside out and right now on the inside, at linebacker and along the defensive line and even sometimes at safety, they are not quite what we have come to expect from them,” he said. “So, there is still some growing to do from Clemson’s defense.”
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