Winning the battle at the Line of Scrimmage is arguably the #1 most important determinant for winning a Football game at any level. So, on the surface, the title of this article is very basic and surface-level. However, when you delve into Notre Dame and what has made the Fighting Irish “tick” this season, you must look no further than at the Line of Scrimmage. For the Tigers to advance to their 3rd championship game in 4 years, they will need to win the Line of Scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Why is it so important in this specific matchup? For starters, Notre Dame will probably have the best front 7 Clemson has played up to this point. How will Clemson’s Offensive Line look when it hasn’t necessarily handled the pressure from elite front 7’s in the past particularly well? Texas A&M and Boston College are the two best front 7s Clemson has played this season, and in both instances the Tigers struggled to protect Trevor Lawrence while failing to assert their dominance in the run game. Some of this is down to the opposing Defensive Coordinators’ strategy of forcing Trevor Lawrence/Kell Bryant to beat them, but it also speaks to the OL’s inconsistency. The Offensive Line will have its hands full on the 29th, most likely with Irish Defensive Tackle Jerry Tillery, Defensive End Julian Okwara, and Linebacker Te’Von Coney. All 3 likely have NFL futures, especially Tillery, who is being projected by many as a 1st round pick in the upcoming draft. The 6’6 Tillery will be Notre Dame’s biggest pass-rushing threat, and needs to be the primary concern for Clemson to contain at the Line of Scrimmage.
Clemson needs to get ETN involved in order have a balanced attack and help their true Freshman QB. Up to this point, Notre Dame has been strong against the run so it’s difficult to foresee Clemson having huge success on the ground, but on the flip side, Notre Dame has yet to face an elite rushing team all season. Notre Dame has not played a team all year with an Offense capable of having multiple dimensions. This makes it more difficult to evaluate the Golden-Domers, but not impossible. What we do know is that the Irish have not yet seen a Running back as explosive as Etienne, nor have they seen an Offense as balanced as Clemson’s. That is something Clemson needs to be able to take advantage of. Notre Dame can not be allowed to pin their ears back and constantly pressure Trevor Lawrence, or else it will be a long night for the true Freshman. The Tigers’ Offensive Line has shown improvement over the last month or two especially in the run game; this improvement will be tested against a talented ND front 7 that includes a few future NFL draft selections.
However, the other side of the ball is even more important for Clemson, and it’s also the area of the field where the Tigers hold a distinct advantage. Three games illustrate the blueprint for stopping the Notre Dame offense, and they are the Irish’s games against Pitt, @Northwestern, and @USC. In all 3 instances Notre Dame failed to get Running-Back Dexter Williams or its rushing attack going. Despite Ian Book’s emergence this season, that Offense’s bread and butter is still the running game, so if you can take it away and make Ian Book beat you with his arm, you have a very good shot of defeating Notre Dame. Ian Book has been incredibly accurate and efficient this season, but their Offense is heavily reliant on balance and long drives. This is not an Offense that plays as well from behind the sticks, and that is something Clemson’s Defensive Line can have a huge impact on come game-time.
That’s not to say that Notre Dame does not have a talented Offensive Line, because on paper they’ve recruited the position very well, however, they have struggled in pass protection this season. These issues have been most prevalent along the interior of the line, which as you might’ve guessed is a huge advantage for a team that possesses interior Defensive-Line talents like the Tigers. If Clemson can completely shut down the run, it is going to be a VERY long day for Notre Dame, as it would then force Ian Book into constantly dropping back and having to deal with pressure from the most dominant Defensive Line in College Football. While USC is not as talented as Clemson’s front 7 is, they were able to shut down the run game in the first half and had tremendous success as a result.
First Half Stats:— Daily Trojan Sports (@DT_Sports) November 25, 2018
Rushing Yards: USC 45, ND 32
Receiving Yards: USC 244, ND 178
Completion % - Daniels 83.9, Book 66.7
USC still hasn’t allowed Notre Dame inside the red zone.
Dominating the Line of Scrimmage is usually a perquisite for victory, and that’s especially true in this matchup. Imposing their will at the point of attack in this matchup will be essential for both teams seeking a national championship birth. Clemson’s Offense having a balanced attack is crucial both in terms of getting Etienne in a position to be the game-changing talent that he is, but also to take the load off of Trevor Lawrence in passing situations. Furthermore, if Clemson is able to blow up Notre Dame’s run game and force Ian Book to beat the Defense with his arm, they can tee off on the Irish’s pass protection and wreak havoc consistently. I expect Clemson’s Defensive-Line to handily win its battle, but the Offensive-Line will probably take more time to settle into the game. This will be a more physical game than many believe, however, it is a physical matchup that ultimately favors Clemson.