The Tigers will be favored by about 5.5 points as they head up to Notre Dame. Despite being the technical favorites, all the pressure is on Notre Dame in the most highly ranked matchup in ACC history.
The big story surrounding the game is that Clemson will be without star QB Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19, had mild symptoms, and recovered enough to travel with the team, but still needs to pass cardiac testing protocol before he can play.
After DJ Uiagalelei’s strong performance against Boston College, Trevor’s absence is far less concerning than when the news first broke. What may be more concerning is all the big contributors potentially out on the defense. We know starting middle linebacker, James Skalski, will miss the game with a groin injury. We also know that defensive end Xavier Thomas, who was just starting to get more snaps, will miss the first half against Notre Dame due to a targeting call in the second half of the Boston College game.
As of this writing, what we do not know for sure, is whether or not defensive tackle Tyler Davis and SAM linebacker Mike Jones will play. This very well may swing the game.
Notre Dame’s offense is predicated on running the ball and passing to the tight ends. The Fighting Irish are 11th in the country in rushing yards per game (231). If Notre Dame can control the clock and get themselves in third-and-short situations, they’ll be right where they want to be. Two of the most important pieces in preventing that from happening are big DT Tyler Davis and the versatile linebacker Mike Jones.
With that context you can see why this is such a must-win game for Notre Dame. If Clemson is to lose, they can lick their wounds (literal and figurative) during their open date the following week. They’ll then get their roster healthy for a stretch run against Florida State, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech. If they can win all three of those - which they’ll be heavily favored to do - they will get a second chance against Notre Dame. That rematch would presumably come with a healthier roster and in a neutral site.
For Notre Dame this is their big chance. Ian Book has never lost at home. They’re getting Clemson without their star QB and potentially their best defensive player (Tyler Davis). If they can’t beat Clemson now, their chances of winning without those advantages are very slim.
While this game is vastly more important for Notre Dame, Clemson still has a lot to gain with a win. For one, a win would all but lock up a playoff spot. The Tigers would likely only need to win just three of their final four games to punch their ticket. Additionally, a win sets them up to earn the #1 seed if they win all of their final four games. That’s a big deal because it could be the difference between playing Cincinnati or Texas A&M instead of Alabama or Ohio State for the semi-final.
Clemson can lose and still be in a solid position to make the playoff and win a National Championship, but a win puts them in the catbird seat, making them a near lock for a playoff spot and the front-runner for an advantageous playoff path.