For Clemson to beat Notre Dame Saturday in the ACC Championship Game, Dabo Swinney said his team has to match the second-ranked Irish’s physicality up front.
“We have to play with more precision than what we did defensively,” Swinney said. “When we did that we played pretty well. But when we were poor with our leverage and poor with our eyes and peaking in the backfield and again, not fitting things properly, they can expose you quick.”
Notre Dame exposed No. 3 Clemson on the first play of the game when running back Kyren Williams went 65 yards for a touchdown. The Fighting Irish finished them the game with 209 rushing yards, the most allowed by the Tigers all year in a single game.
“We have to set the edge better and we have to fit it better. We have to tackle better,” Swinney said. “We have to make the layups. I mean, we had some layups that we did not make. They are going to make plays. This is a championship game.”
The good news for Clemson (9-1, 8-1 ACC) is that it will have a couple of guys back on defense that were not available to make the plays in the first meeting between the two top three teams. Since the Irish’s double overtime victory on Nov. 7, the Tigers have welcomed back All-ACC defensive tackle Tyler Davis, starting middle linebacker James Skalski and strongside backer Mike Jones.
The Tigers will also have defensive end Xavier Thomas available for the whole game this time around. Thomas missed the entire first half because of a targeting penalty in the Boston College game the week before and played just 11 snaps against the Irish.
As Clemson got healthier up front, Notre Dame (10-0, 9-0 ACC) has got a little weaker along the offensive line. Starting center Jarrett Paterson is out for the season, while his replacement sophomore Zeke Correll (ankle) was banged up against North Carolina and did not play against Syracuse.
Senior Josh Lugg moved over from right guard to start at center against Syracuse and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said he will make a game-time decision on who will start between Correll and Lugg.
“This has really been about getting Zeke back to a position where we feel like he’s at hundred percent,” Kelly said. “I would say that he’s getting really close in practice. You know, we were on the field, as I had laid out for you guys, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and by Saturday, we all felt that he was really close to being a hundred percent.
“I think it then becomes a situation where has he played enough football for us to feel like, with the one game that he played then got injured versus, you know, Josh playing two games. Can they both help us at that position? I think that’ll be a game day decision. I think they’re both going to continue to get reps at the center position, and then we’ll take that right into game day.”
Notre Dame is also expecting to get fifth-year senior Tommy Kraemer back after he had an emergency appendectomy.
“Kraemer’s good to go. He’s been taken all the reps at the right guard position,” Kelly said. “I feel real good about where he is. And Jayson as well. Jayson’s been getting a lot of reps and he’ll be ready to play. We’re just rounding him back into game shape.”
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