When Clemson and Notre Dame met on Nov. 7, one of the biggest differences in the game, besides the turnover margin was third down. Like the turnover margin, it did not go too well for the Tigers.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney knows his team has to change that on Saturday when they face the second-ranked Fighting Irish in the ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“We’ve got to play better, no question about that on both sides,” he said Friday as part of the ACC Championship Game press conference.
The Tigers (9-1, 8-1 ACC) rank third in the ACC in third down offense, converting 45.8 percent of the time. However, in their 47-40 double-overtime loss, the offense was just 4-for-15. Its worst performance of the season on third down.
Defensively, they were not any better. Clemson allowed Notre Dame to convert on 10 of its 19 opportunities that night, also its worst performance of the season.
Opponents are averaging just 30.8 percent of their third downs this year, which ranks second in the ACC, behind, you guessed it, Notre Dame (10-0, 9-0 ACC).
Thanks to quarterback Ian Book’s ability to scramble and a running game that averaged 5.1 yards per rush, the Irish was able to stay ahead of the changes and had third-and-medium or short situations all night long.
“The biggest thing is, we’ve got to be more precise on third down,” Swinney said. “We just have to be disciplined with our eyes, disciplined with our alignments and leverage on defense a little better with our recognition.”
Swinney says the same goes for the offense, too. Clemson lacked a running game in the first meeting, rushing for just 34 yards on 33 carries. Running back Travis Etienne had 28 yards on 18 carries, the lowest output of his career.
The result, Clemson was in third-and-long situations for much of the night. Again, like on defense, Swinney said the offense has to be more precise.
“We’ve been a really good third down team on both sides, all year. With the exception of that game, we were not very good,” he said. “So definitely it is a key, key part of that game and, and something we got to do a better job of.
“Our guys are excited about that opportunity, but it just comes down to execution. It’s fundamentals, it’s technique, it’s the little things. Nothing major.”
Clemson and Notre Dame are expected to kick off at 4 p.m., and the game will be televised on ABC.
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