We have arrived at what was originally expected to be the marquee game on Clemson’s 2022 schedule. While Clemson is 8-0 and eying a return to the College Football Playoff, Notre Dame has had a disappointing season and sits at 5-3.
They haven’t been all bad, but they’ve been extremely up-and-down. They lost on the road to Ohio State by 11, which easily qualifies as a “quality loss,” but their other two losses came at home to 4-4 Marshall and 3-5 Stanford. On the flip side, they went on the road and beat arguably the two best non-Clemson ACC teams, UNC and Syracuse, by 13 and 17, respectively.
To dig deeper, we’ll start by looking at the recruited talent on each team. We’ve taken the two-deep depth chart and pulled in the 247 recruiting ratings. We count the starters as two-thirds of the average and the reserves as one-third. Blue chip prospects are defined as those who are four or five-star recruits in the 247 Composite. In addition to star ratings, 247 provides a more nuanced four-digit score, so we’ve charted that as well:
This first chart shows the percentage of players on each team’s offense that were four or five-star prospects. Clemson starts two former three-star recruits on offense: Jordan McFadden and Davis Allen. Both are seniors and well above-average players now. Notre Dame starts just one three-star on offense. Clemson has two former three-stars as back-ups (Trent Howard and Brannon Spector), while Notre Dame has four plus a former walk-on.
By using the full four-digit 247 ratings we can get a little more granular. Now you can see that Clemson has slightly out-recruited Notre Dame on the offensive side of the ball.
Things aren't so slight when we flip it over to the defense. Clemson has a notable advantage with 84% of the defense as former blue-chippers as compared to just over half for Notre Dame.
The story doesn’t change much when looking at the full four-digit 247 Scale. Simply put, Notre Dame’s defensive players weren’t as highly rated recruits as Clemson’s were.
Recruiting is a big part of the input. Let’s look at the output:
Both teams are solid defensively, ranking in the top 25 of the F+ advanced stats rankings. On offense, neither is a world-beater. The Tigers rank 24th while Notre Dame is all the way down at 58th. Clemson isn’t especially explosive on offense and it can be hard to win at the highest level when your offense requires long drawn-out drives to score. 12 teams average >1 yard per play more than Clemson:
- Ohio State (7.75)
- TCU (7.57)
- Tennessee (7.40)
- Georgia (7.24)
- USC (7.17)
- Oregon (7.15)
- UCLA (7.08)
- North Carolina (7.05)
- Alabama (7.03)
- North Texas (7.01)
- Florida State (7.01)
- Florida (6.91)
While that’s not ideal for National Championship contention, Notre Dame’s issue is more troublesome. They’re averaging just 5.51 yards per play and converting third-downs at a worse clip — something that becomes all the more critical without the explosive plays.
Clemson averages 185.4 yards per game on the ground (41st) while Notre Dame averages 186.6 (39th). While they’re dead even on the ground, there is a big disparity in the passing game with Clemson averaging 236.1 yards (71st) and Notre Dame only averaging 196.4 (106th).
Neither team has a WR corps that catches your eye like Ohio State does (and ironically they are both coached by Clemson alumnus — Tyler Grisham at Clemson and Chansi Stuckey at Notre Dame). Even still, the Irish’s wide receiver production lags behind Clemson. Lorenzo Styles leads the group with just 292 yards, only two more than Clemson’s third-leading receiver Beaux Collins. Both teams have quality tight ends, though it is worth nothing Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer is a legitimate superstar and likely top-10 NFL draft pick.
Clemson's offensive line play has been solid of late; Notre Dame always has a good offensive line and this year is no exception. That leads us to quarterback.
Although DJ Uiagalelei is coming off a very poor performance against Syracuse, his numbers still blow away Drew Pyne’s. He has 610 more passing yards and four more TDs with the same number of INTs (4). His 64.1% completion percentage also tops Pyne’s 61.8% as does his 7.7 yards per attempt vs. Pyne’s 7.2. After Clemson’s offensive struggles last season, we shouldn’t be quick to forget that QB struggles often point to larger systemic issues, but if we focus on Pyne, we see he has really been struggling over the past three games. He has not topped 50% completion in any of them and only surpassed 200 passing yards against UNLV throwing for just 151 against Stanford and 116 last week against Syracuse.
Notre Dame’s best wins (UNC, BYU, and Syracuse) are all away from home. That makes Notre Dame Stadium a bit less scary. That’s a lot of factors pointing to a big Clemson win, but the betting line opened at Clemson -3.5.
The Tigers are the better team. They should win this game and they probably deserve to be favored by more than 3.5 points. The recruited talent charts indicate that Notre Dame has the potential to be very dangerous if they can hit on all cylinders. Unfortunately for the Irish, they are poorly equipped to attack Clemson at their weakest points. Clemson ranks just 86th in passing defense with 244.6 yards per game allowed. Wake Forest’s spectacular receivers burned Clemson numerous times, but the Irish don’t have those kind of receivers. They like to run the ball and hit their tight end with more methodical drives. That’s unlikely to work against Clemson’s front.
Assuming DJ Uiagalelei bounces back and plays like he has all season prior to the Syracuse game, Clemson should win and cover the tiny spread. If another turnover fest ensues, it will spell trouble. Unlike Syracuse, Notre Dame has too much size and talent to be run over if the passing game falters. Clemson needs to bring its A-game (or at least its B+ game). If they do, the Tigers should reach 9-0.