Brent Venables had this to say to Mackensie Alexander, "We are going to find out what you are made of." Alexander's statement of being the best corner in the country will be put to the test on October 3rd when Notre Dame comes to town boasting likely first round pick Will Fuller and a talented corps of wide receivers. So far, Clemson's defense has been pretty close to lights out good. Venables has unleashed a fury of blitzes the last two games and placed a great deal of faith in the back four to hold up in man coverage. Outside of really two plays from Louisville, the secondary for the Tigers has been more than up to the task. Notre Dame has by far the best skill talent the Tigers will face this year, including Florida State, and this matchup will go a long way to determining the victor.
Venables declared Fuller to be "by far" the best receiver he's seen on tape over the last couple of years. I would have to agree with him from my own observations. Fuller has made huge plays in every game so far this year and can win a one on one matchup even if the coverage is tight. Now, the GT game featured some push off separation technique from Fuller, but if the yellow isn't flying then you better be ready to deal with it. Fuller is a Sammy Watkins level talent. Here is a little video showing his array of skills.
ND's first touchdown against GT came when the Yellow Jackets decided to only rush four guys. The Irish OL, which is also the best line the Tigers will face this year, easily held up the rush and allowed Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer to go deep to Fuller for the score. Notice on this play GT was defending a 3rd and 20 and gave Fuller about a 12 yard cushion. Fuller blows by the GT corner and then shows tremendous ball skills to adjust to the underthrown ball. This reminded me of Rod Gardner toying with North Carolina defensive backs in Chapel Hill in 2001. Mack will have his work cut out for him, but my suggestion would be to try to be physical with Fuller at the line of scrimmage and reroute him as much as possible. Of course, Notre Dame throws a myriad of formations out there and will move Fuller around. My biggest worry is if they find a way to match him up on Ryan Carter in the slot. Luckily Venables is a great coach and will at least anticipate a lot of this action from the Irish.
Like most games, Clemson will attempt to stuff the Irish run game and force them to throw it to move the ball. It will be a long night if this doesn't happen. The Tigers have not been shy about bringing T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse up close to the line of scrimmage, but doing so here leaves the corners on an island against Fuller and his capable mates Corey Robinson and Chris Brown. Luckily the Tigers have had the luxury of practicing against Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, and company all summer and August camp. The Irish will make some plays, but the Tigers must limit the big ones and not have colossal breakdowns like giving up a bomb on 3rd and 20. Cordrea Tankersley played his best game as a Tiger at Louisville, and the team will need him to be strong again, especially if he draws Fuller on a matchup.
I'm sure there will be a lot of NFL attention paid to this game as high level prospects battle it out. This type of "good on good" is hard to find sometimes. Alexander really has had the better of just about everybody he's faced, with the possible exception of Greene from FSU (and the infamous slip play), though it can be argued Alexander won that a lot more than he lost. Louisville was able to slip behind him once on Thursday and Alexander had some issues with the bigger GT targets Smelter and Waller last year. Alexander is surely a man who loves competition and a challenge and will no doubt be hyped up for this one.
There will be more on this next week as we get into the previews for the game. I already believe this Notre Dame team is superior to their 2012 team that lost to Alabama. Dabo Swinney said then that he would have loved to play them, and the Tigers would have likely run away with that game. This year's game is much more even in talent as the Irish have guys who are very good and not just overrated recruits. Having viewed all of the important opponents so far this year, I certainly rank this game as the toughest on the schedule simply because how Notre Dame's strengths line up with Clemson's. One of those is having a high level WR to go at our high level DB.