Clemson is always excited to clinch a berth in the ACC Championship Game. In fact, it has become a rite of passage for the Tigers.
Since Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson program 12 years ago, the Tigers have played for the ACC Championship eight times, counting their Dec. 19 appearance in the title game against No. 2 Notre Dame. This will mark Clemson’s sixth straight appearance in the conference championship game.
However, this appearance might mean a little something more for the third-ranked Tigers. Why? Because they get a second shot at the Irish.
Notre Dame (10-0, 9-0 ACC) upset the Tigers in South Bend on Nov. 7, thanks to a 47-40 double-overtime victory. It was a game Clemson felt like it let slip away after it rallied from 13-points down to take a seven-point lead with 3:33 to play.
The Tigers could have put the game away in the final two minutes, but the offense failed to execute and run out the clock in regulation, while the defense uncharacteristically allowed a 91-yard touchdown drive in the final seconds to force overtime.
“I would say we are going to be extra ready, especially because we are getting ready to play them for the second time,” linebacker Kane Patterson said. “Usually, you only get to play a team one time and that is it. So, I think having that film from when we played them the first time, and us being able to go back and look at the mistakes from being able to play them the first time and fix those.”
Notre Dame ran for a season-high 231 yards on the Clemson defense and had 519 total yards, which was also a season high for yards allowed.
Since then, Clemson (9-1, 8-1 ACC) has won its last two games to force a rare re-match in the ACC Championship Game, including this past Saturday’s 45-10 victory at Virginia Tech. The Tigers dominated both Pitt’s and Virginia Tech’s offenses, forcing eight turnovers in the two games combined.
“We were really excited because we will have a rematch against Notre Dame. We have been wanting that rematch for a while now,” Patterson said. “It was a very close game the last time, and we will make sure that we are super prepared for everything they have on this go around.”
The Tigers have a couple of reasons to be optimistic about the rematch. First off, they will be healthier. Though linebacker James Skalski’s health (groin) is in question after he missed most of the Virginia Tech game, Clemson should have just about everyone else available on defense.
Clemson was missing Skalski, defensive tackle Tyler Davis and linebacker Mike Jones on the Nov. 7 evening in South Bend. They also lost safety Lannden Zanders early in the game and then several other players went down as well. Zanders is still questionable to play in the rematch.
Secondly, Clemson has Brent Venables as its defensive coordinator and typically when having two weeks to prepare for an opponent, he comes out with a special package just for them.
“As you know, he is a very creative defensive coordinator,” Patterson said. “So, he always has something up his sleeve for sure. I know he is going to have something for them that will be very specific for Notre Dame.
“So, with this extra time… I think we will be more focused on Notre Dame.”
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