STS: Shakin the Southland
OFD: One Foot Down
STS: I was a heavy buyer on the pre-season Notre Dame hype this year (I rarely am), but the Malik Zaire injury sapped by enthusiasm. Additionally, watching Texas, Georgia Tech, and Virginia lose last week shifted my perspective on how much stock to put into Notre Dame's wins. Notre Dame is currently ranked #6 in the AP and #7 by the coaches. With what we know now, would good would you say Notre Dame is relative to their national rankings?
OFD: I think ND is certainly a top 10 team after having watched them the first 4 weeks. The performances of their opponents are definitely underwhelming, but it's college football, and I think the difference between team 1 and team 50 isn't that great, all things considered. Notre Dame went out and manhandled Texas and Georgia Tech, and survived on the road against Virginia despite a rough performance by the secondary. They've shown the ability to beat some pretty solid football teams and take care of business when everything isn't going perfectly.
As an Irish fan, I have been very surprised by the limited impact that the injuries seem to have had on this team. In 2012, when ND went to the BCS National Championship game, any one of the injuries from this season would likely have tanked the entire season. In 2015, with the quality of depth that Brian Kelly has built in South Bend, there's been a really impressive lack of drop-off from the backups now getting significant playing time. Notre Dame is all around a better, more complete football team now than they were in 2012, built to withstand the rigors of the whole season.
STS :With Zaire out, DeShone Kizer has stepped into the starting QB role and seems to be getting the job done. What should Clemson worry about with Kizer under center?
Kizer has done a great job of stepping right into the same offense that Zaire left, the minor difference being fewer called runs from the QB position. OC Mike Denbrock isn't afraid to call Kizer's number in the right situation, but he's not getting QB power calls regularly like Zaire was. The talent around Kizer is probably what Clemson should concern themselves with the most. Notre Dame's offensive line has proven thus far to be one of the better lines in the country, CJ Prosise has taken to the running back position, and Will Fuller leads an extremely deep WR corps. Kizer's job is to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers and let the other 10 guys on the field do the rest.
STS: Starting RB Tarean Folston left the season opener against Texas after just three carries, but C.J. Prosise has been superb in his stead. He's averaged over 9.0 YPC in his last three games. What style of back does Notre Dame bring into Clemson with C.J.?
OFD: C.J. Prosise was an entirely unknown quantity at RB, having never played the position. With the logjam at WR, and Greg Bryant transferring out of Notre Dame before the season started, they shifted Prosise to serve as (what many thought) a small-role backup for Folston. Irish fans everywhere have been thoroughly impressed with Prosise's natural ability to run the ball. He's not a bruiser, but he runs between the tackles extremely effectively - he relies on his patience to find the hole, and with his quick feet, he is able to burst through when it opens. Once he is in the open field, he's a hard guy to catch, and is likely the second fastest person on ND's roster (behind Will Fuller). Thus far, the only gripe with Prosise is that he is an upright runner, but he doesn't seem to have a lot of the problems that other upright runners have, so it's a bit of an "if it ain't broke" situation.
STS: What Notre Dame strength or Clemson weaknesses gives you hope that Notre Dame can earn the road win? Conversely, what Clemson strength or Notre Dame weakness worries you most?
OFD: I think Notre Dame's strength along the offensive line will be what they rely on to win this game. Ball control and clock control will likely be a big part of the strategy, and if they can start popping off 8+ yard runs as the game wears on, I think they'll be in a great position to close out the game. If my feel for the ND coaching staff is right, they'll trust the O-Line to win this game for them.
The weakness of Notre Dame that worries me the most is our secondary. Specifically, the play of our safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield. Poor tackling, late breaks, busted coverages, it's been a bit of a mess thus far this season. Add in the fact that it is likely Notre Dame's thinnest position group, and it's a cause for concern heading up against Deshaun Watson.
Conversely, I think the Clemson strength that worries me the most is the play of their secondary. Notre Dame fans have been pretty consistently wowed at what Will Fuller can do, as he always seems to be able to get behind the last line of defense, but the strength of Clemson's corners give me a little pause in thinking that Will Fuller will be able to do what he's always done. Notre Dame may have to rely on some of their other playmakers (Torii Hunter Jr, Alize Jones, Chris Brown, Chris Robinson) if Clemson bottles up Fuller.
STS: After Notre Dame took care of business last weekend, ESPN's College GameDay show announced they'd be broadcasting from Clemson for the big 8pm ABC game against Notre Dame.
In 2013, we opened the season with a home game against Georgia that also brought GameDay to campus. Over eight million households tuned in to watch Clemson win that game. What is so shocking to me is that the very next weekend, a mediocre Notre Dame and less than mediocre Michigan battled and topped that rating. The Fighting Irish are a ratings machine. Give us some perspective. How huge is this stage?
OFD: This stage is pretty big for the Irish - in a season where preseason playoff hopes are still alive, this game has been circled from the start as the first true barometer of what the rest of the season will look like. This game feels an awful lot like the ND-FSU game from last season, which did an 8.5 overnight rating. I'd expect a ton of eyes on this game as likely the biggest game of the season for Notre Dame. They've played extremely well on the big stage recently under Brian Kelly, and I'd expect the same this weekend.
STS: If you'd like to make a prediction, we are all ears (well... eyes since we're reading).
OFD: Absolutely - though take this with a grain of salt as I haven't watched any film, etc. or done any breakdowns of Clemson this early in the week.
I think ND comes into this game looking to pound the ball and control the clock, keeping their somewhat shaky defense off of the field as much as possible. They'll throw everything they have at Deshaun Watson to try and confuse him into making a couple huge mistakes at the expense of giving up several big plays. ND's offense will be able to move the ball, and as long as they can finish in the red zone, will be successful enough to win the game.
What the game will come down to is can Notre Dame's defense force enough mistakes from Clemson's offense to turn the tide of the game? I say yes, Deshaun Watson will throw a bad interception along the way that gives ND a slight edge they carry through the 4th quarter behind CJ Prosise and the offensive line.
Notre Dame 27, Clemson 24
STS: A big thank you to Patrick Burns for giving us some good information from someone who follows Notre Dame religiously. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out One Foot Down, which will have our answers to their questions on Friday.