Looking back on the top-four matchup between Clemson and Notre Dame on Nov. 7 in South Bend, everyone talks about how banged up the Tigers’ defense was in their 47-40 double-overtime loss, and rightfully so.
But it wasn’t just Clemson’s defense that dealt with injuries and was missing several important players.
Offensively, the Tigers were without quarterback Trevor Lawrence, as he was still in COVID-19 protocol, while running back Travis Etienne, even though he played, was not at 100 percent either, according to what ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor reported this past Saturday.
Meanwhile, a couple of Clemson’s key weapons on the outside were hampered by injuries. Sophomore wide receiver Frank Ladson played only six snaps before hurting his foot, and fellow sophomore wideout Joseph Ngata played 24 snaps but was limited physically by a nagging abdominal injury. Starting left guard Matt Bockhorst also left the Notre Dame game with a knee injury.
The good news for the Clemson offense is that it should be locked and loaded – and much more healthy – when the third-ranked Tigers face No. 2 Notre Dame again in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 19 at Bank of America of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Lawrence will be on the field this time around after his bout with the coronavirus, and Etienne figures to be fresh following this bye week ahead of the conference title game. Bockhorst was able to return for each of the last two games, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said recently he expected Ngata to be back by the ACC Championship Game following surgery to relieve pain and discomfort in his abdomen. Ladson was still day-to-day as of last week, but is questionable to return as well.
Notre Dame’s defense – which allows only 17.1 points and 314.5 yards per game, both top-15 totals nationally – will once again present a stiff challenge for the Tigers. But it looks like Clemson’s offense will be well-equipped to provide the firepower the team needs if it is to get past the Irish in the rematch.
“They were very disciplined, fast, sound and they did their job and they made it tough for us,” Clemson wide receiver Cornell Powell said on Monday. “We really had to go out there and execute, and it was just a great game. Competition was at an all-time high, and I’m really looking forward to next Saturday.”
Even though Clemson’s offense didn’t have Lawrence and wasn’t completely healthy in the first meeting, the Tigers still managed to amass 473 yards of offense, 22 first downs and averaged 10 yards per pass behind freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who threw for 439 yards and two touchdowns on a 29-of-44 clip.
However, Clemson did turn the ball over three times and ran for only 34 yards against an Irish defense that ranks seventh nationally in rushing defense allowing an average of 99.7 yards per game.
But previewing the rematch in two weeks, Powell says you can throw all the stats from the first game out the window.
“Every week you have to prepare and get better,” said Powell, who posted six receptions for a then-career-high 161 yards in the regular season contest against Notre Dame. “We’ve played a couple games since Notre Dame and they’ve played a couple games, so you have to go back to the drawing board and start fresh. You can’t go in there with the mindset that I did this or I did that, and he’s going to do this or he’s going to do that. Stats, touchdown catches, they don’t roll over from week to week. So, you have to go back and visit film and study it and get to know your opponent, and start from fresh all over again and go in with the mindset that you’re trying to dominate.”
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