Playing Notre Dame means a lot to Clemson starting left guard Matt Bockhorst on a personal level, and after the way the two teams’ first meeting went earlier this season, he is especially glad to have the chance to face the Irish again this weekend in the ACC Championship Game.
Bockhorst, a Cincinnati native, grew up a Notre Dame fan, attended games in South Bend as a kid and made multiple visits to the school as a recruit. However, the Irish never offered the former four-star prospect, and that figures to serve as extra motivation for Bockhorst on Saturday in Charlotte – along with the fact the Tigers are looking to avenge their double-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Nov. 7, and the offensive line is aiming to correct the issues it had in the ground game the first time around.
And of course, adding to the importance of Saturday’s game for Bockhorst and the Tigers is that it carries plenty of College Football Playoff implications, with Clemson sitting at No. 3 in the latest CFP rankings and Notre Dame one spot ahead at No. 2.
“I never want to make my own situation bigger than the opportunity we have as a team, but it is something that matters to me,” Bockhorst said to reporters on Monday. “And to get the opportunity to play a team twice in one season is very rare in college football, let alone two teams ranked as highly as we both are. So, the implications of this game and just the national spotlight that’s on this game, it’s a huge spectacle, and this is what college football is all about.”
Bockhorst knows he and his team wouldn’t have gotten the chance to go up against the Irish two times this season had Notre Dame, traditionally an independent, not joined the ACC in this year when the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the college football landscape.
“To be a part of something like this, especially with getting the opportunity to play a school like Notre Dame that’s so rich in their tradition like they are, it’s a great opportunity, and certainly did not expect to have the opportunity to play them twice,” Bockhorst said. “In literally any other year in college football, we wouldn’t have that opportunity. But this has been a pretty crazy year to say the least, and you can never just predict what’s going to happen next. So, to have that opportunity again and hopefully correct the outcome this time is all we can ask for, and for me, just trying to stay healthy.”
Unfortunately for Bockhorst, the first game did not go as planned for the 6-foot-4, 315-pound redshirt junior as he went down with an injury in the second half and had to leave the game. So, he is hoping to stay on the field for the duration of the game this Saturday.
“Obviously a lot of that’s out of my control,” he said of injuries, “but I know myself and all the other guys are really looking forward to having this opportunity this weekend.”
It’s no secret that if Clemson wants to win the grudge match against Notre Dame and earn its sixth straight ACC title, being more productive running the football will go a long way toward that.
The Tigers managed to rush for only 34 yards on 33 attempts in the regular season matchup, while running back Travis Etienne was bottled up to the tune of just 28 yards on 18 carries, though he did score on a 3-yard touchdown run that gave Clemson the lead late in the fourth quarter before Notre Dame responded with a touchdown drive of its own to tie the game and send it to overtime.
“I think it’s pretty obvious we need to improve upon that performance, and I know all the guys who played in that game and the coaches as well have taken that to heart and are doing their best to improve upon that,” Bockhorst said. “I think the biggest thing that we also need to acknowledge is that there was some good things. I think we started off the game with a good run there, a counter, we were backed up. But then throughout the game, we weren’t able to consistently get things done.
“And I know a lot of it – it might sound cliché – but a lot of it comes down to very little things like how big your splits are or hand placement or this step should be six inches in a different direction. So, there’s a lot of little things that can be corrected that we’re hoping will translate into a more effective running game.”
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