Trevor Matich has a right to his opinion when picking who will win Saturday’s ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The ESPN analyst believes No. 2 Notre Dame will knock off No. 3 Clemson in the rematch of what was the best game in college football in the regular season.
The Irish (10-0, 9-0 ACC) knocked off Clemson, 47-40, in double-overtime on Nov. 7 in South Bend.
However, the reason Matich gives for Notre Dame beating Clemson (9-1, 8-1) is not a good one and some can accurately argue he is wrong. The longtime ESPN analyst, who played college football at BYU and played in the NFL for 12 seasons, says the Fighting Irish will win because they have more playmakers in more places.
“That sounds strange to say but they do,” he said. “On the defensive side of the ball, the first time, they fully stuffed Travis Etienne and the running game. Etienne averages five per carry. And that is not five yards, but five feet per carry.
“The defensive line of Notre Dame is just as good as Clemson’s when Clemson’s D-line is at full strength, but Notre Dame has the best individual playmaking linebacker in Jerimiah Owusu-Koramoah and the best individual playmaking safety in Kyle Hamilton.”
Granted, Notre Dame did shut down Clemson’s running game, but what Matich did not say is how Clemson freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei passed for 439 yards and two touchdowns against Kyle Hamilton and the Notre Dame secondary and had a seven-point lead until 22 seconds to play in regulation. The Tigers were also missing starting left guard Matt Bockhorst, who got hurt in the second quarter, on the offensive line.
By the way, Uiagalelei’s 439 yards is an all-time record against a Notre Dame defense.
Matich also underestimates how much of a difference maker defensive tackle Tyler Davis is, as well as middle linebacker James Skalski and strongside backer Mike Jones. All three missed the Notre Dame game earlier in the season due to injuries.
Then there is Trevor Lawrence, who also missed the first meeting because of COVID-19 protocols. Though Uiagalelei had a monster game in his second career start, he missed some throws Lawrence likely does not miss, plus, because the freshman was not total healthy when they played the Irish, Lawrence will be a bigger threat in the running game which should give running back Travis Etienne a little more space.
“Now having Trevor Lawrence back in huge. D.J. Uiagalelei threw for over 400 yards and did some great things but he missed some opportunities, especially on third down and especially under pressure,” Matich said. “The thing is though Ian Book has more answers within his tight end and receiver group that Trevor Lawrence does. He has more guys that can do more things and more options when things tend to breakdown. It kind of made me tear my hair out to come to this conclusion but Notre Dame wins this game.”
Again, though Notre Dame is talented, it is hard to discount the fact Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers lit up the Irish secondary. Rodgers had a team-high eight receptions for 134 yards, including 99 yards after the catch. Powell has a career night, catching six passes for a team-best 161 yards.
Etienne also caught eight passes for 51 yards and also ran for a touchdown, while Braden Galloway had three catches for 46 yards. In all, the Tigers had eight players catch at least one pass. Notre Dame, though its tight ends played well, had just six receivers catch a pass, and one went for minus-2 yards.
Clemson could also could get wide receiver Frank Ladson back from an injury and freshman E.J. Williams has emerged as another target for Lawrence, who threw to nine different plyers against Pitt.
In other words, Clemson has playmakers all over the place.
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