Brian Kelly began his press conference to preview today’s ACC Championship fired up.
“Let’s go! Let’s go play! Enough statements,” Notre Dame’s head coach said in his opening comments. “I don’t know what else to say. We made it through testing. We’ve had to test six times to get to this game, so enough talk. Let’s go play.”
And play they will.
The second-ranked Irish will play No. 3 Clemson at 4 p.m., from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte with the ACC Championship, as well as a berth in the College Football Playoff, on the line.
“Both teams are excited to play. This is what you’ve worked for all year,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “This is our next goal, to win this league and you know that’s really our only focus, you know just focusing on this moment, doing our job and being grateful for this moment. So, we’re excited about it. Yeah, it’s time to go play.”
The key on Friday, for both coaches, was to make sure their team was to play today, despite wanting to play on Friday. For Notre Dame, who has always been an independent, it is especially important considering this is the first time the Irish have ever played for a conference championship and some thing they may never do again.
“We remind them. You know, and they’ve got a pretty good sense,” Kelly said. “We’ve played a lot of big games at Notre Dame, so these guys have been in big games before. This is another big game for them and they’re on national TV all the time. So, they understand how they need to emotionally stay centered, leading up to the big games, and so they’re not playing the game on Tuesday or Wednesday. They do a really good job, and we do a really good job of making sure that we channel that. Today is focused Friday, so they’ll stay focused on what’s important now.”
At Clemson, things are different. The Tigers are looking for their sixth straight ACC Championship and the 20th overall ACC title. Overall, Clemson owns 25 conference championships throughout its storied history.
“Just routine, you know, our normal routine,” Swinney said in making sure his team is not ready to play too early. “We’ve been doing the same things we’ve done the last years and years and years to get ready. It’s very consistent in how we prepare, very consistent in how we how we build up to that moment. And so, really just same things. We’ve played in a lot of games where there’s a lot of hype and those type of things, but you know we just do what we do.”
Who has the edge?
Third down conversions: The Tigers rank third in the ACC in third down offense, converting 45.8 percent of the time. However, in their 47-40 double-overtime loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 7, 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. Clemson opponents are averaging just 30.8 percent of their third downs this year, which ranks second in the ACC, behind, you guessed it, Note Dame. 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.
Turnover margin. Clemson has done a great job all year of winning the turnover battle. The Tigers rank 11th nationally and second in the ACC in turnover margin at plus-10 on the season. The Irish is not too shabby either with a plus-6 number, fourth in the ACC. In South Bend, this was an area Clemson struggled and lost for the only time this season. The Tigers turned the ball over two times, both fumbles, which led to 10 Notre Dame points. The Irish even returned one fumble for a touchdown.
Running the ball with success and stopping the run. The Tigers averaged just 1-yard per carry in the first meeting, its worst rushing performance ever under head coach Dabo Swinney. On the other side, Notre Dame averaged 5.1 yards per carry, thus the Irish totally owned the lines of scrimmage. That has to change in the second game. Swinney said earlier this week his team has to match Notre Dame’s physicality, saying the Tigers were outplayed in both areas in the Nov. 7 game. Having left guard Matt Bockhorst back on the offensive line will help, as will having James Skalski, Mike Jones and Tyler Davis back on defense. Bockhorst was hurt early in the game at Notre Dame and did not return, while Davis, Skalski and Jones did not play.
Bottom Line: Clemson will not run for many yards today, but it needs to at least rush for 100. If the Tigers can get to 100 yards on the ground than the opportunity for winning increases dramatically. Clemson’s game plan on defense will be simple, make Book beat them with his arm, not his legs. I can see both happening and as long as the Tigers win the turnover battle and improve on third down, then a sixth straight ACC Championship is very doable.
Score Prediction: Clemson 34, Notre Dame 20
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