Clemson tries to approach each game with the same mindset, that every game is the most important one of the season because it is the next one.
However, senior linebacker James Skalski admitted he could tell there was a different level of intensity within the team heading into Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against No. 2 Notre Dame, which third-ranked Clemson dominated en route to a 34-10 win and its sixth straight conference title.
The Tigers had no shortage of motivation as they aimed to avenge their gut-wrenching loss at Notre Dame in the teams’ regular season matchup on Nov. 7. But adding extra fuel to the fire in the days leading up to the rematch was some smack talk from the Irish.
“I sensed a different level (of intensity) with this whole team,” Skalski said after the game. “We treat every game the same way, don’t get me wrong. But when you listen to some of the things they were saying leading up to this game, they pushed some buttons I think they wish they shouldn’t have pushed.”
Skalski was apparently referring to what Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book told ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit in an interview for Saturday’s College GameDay show.
Book basically guaranteed a victory for his team and implied he was glad to face Clemson for a second time so the Irish could “quiet” those who doubted they could beat the Tigers again with Trevor Lawrence, Skalski and others who didn’t play in the regular season matchup back in the lineup for the ACC title game.
“I’m excited that all those guys are back, and we can play them, and have all those people be quiet once the game is over and we get this win,” Book said.
Instead, it was the Clemson defense that quieted Book and Notre Dame’s offense Saturday.
Book was limited to 219 yards passing and had negative-35 yards rushing when factoring in the Tigers’ six sacks, while the Irish managed only 263 yards of total offense, including just 44 yards rushing.
Skalski said ever since Clemson’s 47-40 double-overtime defeat in South Bend last month, Clemson had been looking forward to the chance for another shot at the Irish in the conference championship game.
“Ever since that loss, we knew if we took care of business and they took care of business, we were going to see them again, and we were really happy that we got to see them again,” Skalski said. “It’s been an exciting two weeks getting ready for these guys. We couldn’t wait to play today, and it definitely showed.”
Skalski, the quarterback in the middle of Clemson’s defense, missed three games during the regular season because of a groin injury and played only five snaps in the Tigers’ final regular season game at Virginia Tech on Dec. 5 because his groin was sore.
After not being able to suit up in the first meeting with the Irish, Skalski especially enjoyed getting out on the field Saturday when he recorded five tackles, including a sack on Notre Dame’s first possession that forced a field goal attempt.
“I had a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s been a rough couple of months for me, just with injury and being out and frustration. So, I was dialed in and I was ready to go. It was really fun being out there and calling the defense for the guys.”
Along with Skalski, starting defensive tackle Tyler Davis and starting linebacker Mike Jones were in the lineup on defense Saturday after being sidelined for the regular season contest at Notre Dame due to injuries.
Davis made his presence felt in the game with four tackles, including two solo and 1.5 for loss, against an Irish offense that averaged 1.5 yards per rush and went 3-of-12 on third down.
“We knew when we’re at full force and we’re firing on all cylinders what we can do to people,” Skalski said, “and like I said, that showed.”
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