Brian Kelly thinks Clemson fans and the media might be reading too much into the fact the Tigers will have perhaps four starters back this time when they take on his Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.
Clemson, of course, was without quarterback Trevor Lawrence, linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones and defensive tackle Tyler Davis in the Irish’s double-overtime victory in South Bend on Nov. 7. The Tigers also had several players banged up during the game, who are expected to be healthy for Saturday’s rematch at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“But, you know, I think when we start to look at one player making a difference. I think we might be reading a little bit too much into it,” Kelly said. “It’s the ability for all eleven players to play at a high level, and if he’s playing well, but three or four other guys aren’t playing at the same level, you know, it negates it.”
To Kelly’s points, the Tigers do play at a high level when those four guys are in the game. Clemson is 33-1 when Lawrence starts behind center, while the defense is without a doubt a different beast with Davis, Jones and Skalski in the lineup.
The Tigers (9-1, 8-1 ACC) have not lost a game with any of those guys in there. In fact, Clemson’s defense seems to smoother its opponents when Davis and Skalski are playing.
Davis has missed five games this year due to injury, but in the five games he played in the Tigers not only went 5-0, but they held their opponents to 12.8 points and 264.6 yards per game.
In the seven games in which Skalski has played, Clemson is 7-0 and is allowing 12.4 points and 271.7 yards per game.
“Well, Skalski obviously is a quarterback for their defense, so you know he certainly makes a difference,” Kelly said. “The other thing, he has is size, you know, so he makes a difference. You have to plan for him, certainly, as somebody that you know physically has a different makeup as well.
“So, his size, his leadership, you know, certainly is going to make a difference. Jones has obviously got the athletic ability to play in their defense, in a manner that allows them to do more things.”
And that explains why Clemson fans and the media are reading a lot into the return of Lawrence, Davis, Skalski and Jones in the rematch.
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