This is Notre Dame’s first appearance in the college football playoffs since its inception four years ago. Conversely, this marks Clemson’s third straight playoff appearance. Each time, Clemson was the one or two seed and it is 2-1 SU and ATS in its playoff openers. This is the fewest amounts of points that Clemson has been favored by this season.
How They Got Here
Notre Dame didn’t play in a conference championship, but it did go undefeated. Coach Brian Kelly is 6-4 all-time in bowls. Clemson also went undefeated and dismantled Pittsburgh 42-10 in the ACC Championship. Coach Dabo Swinney is 7-5 all-time in bowls.
Why Notre Dame Can Win/Cover
The best defense that Clemson has faced according to defensive S&P+ is Boston College, which ranks 28th. Notre Dame ranks fourth. The Irish boast the eighth-best pass defense. Julian Love is one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s best defensive back. He holds Notre Dame’s career pass breakup record and he broke up 15 this season. Fellow cornerback Troy Pride excels at limiting big plays, owning the nation’s best in completion percentage on go routes. Notre Dame’s toughest opponent passing-wise was Stanford, which ranks seventh in passing S+P+, and the Irish limited quarterback K.J. Costello to his season low in passer rating. Also, the Irish run defense ranks 18th and held Pitt’s 11th-ranked rush offense to 3.9 YPC. Notre Dame is 4-1 ATS this season against ACC opponents.
Why Clemson Can Win/Cover
Clemson boasts the top-ranked rush defense. It limited Pitt, the only team to have two 1,000-yard rushers, to 4.0 YPC. Notre Dame is relatively run-dependent, ranking 49th in run play percentage. This year, it’s had to deal with an injured guard plus the departure of two first rounders from its offensive line, of its offensive line coach, and of star running back Josh Adams. Notre Dame ranks 74th in rushing S&P+. Unlike Clemson’s offense, which hasn’t scored fewer than 27 points, Notre Dame’s has repeatedly proven stoppable and teams stop it by limiting its rush attack. For example, Pittsburgh limited Notre Dame to 19 points when it held the Irish to 2.1 YPC. Notre Dame is 0-3-1 ATS when rushing for fewer than 130 yards.
Common Opponent/Series History
Clemson escaped Syracuse 27-23. In that game, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was injured and the team’s third-stringer, who was playing college football for the first time, led the team to victory. Clemson also ran for 293 yards. Notre Dame beat Syracuse 36-3 later in the season by forcing turnovers and executing a balanced offensive attack. Notre Dame barely escaped Pittsburgh, which kept it one-dimensional on offense. Conversely, Pittsburgh could not limit Clemson, which produced 419 yards of offense and, further aided by turnovers, scored 42 points, while limiting Pitt to 10. Both teams demolished Wake Forest and Florida State.
Notre Dame vs Clemson Betting Prediction
The Irish will struggle to move the ball because Clemson’s top-ranked rush defense will keep it one-dimensional. Pitt and USC limited Notre Dame’s run attack without the advantage of a Tigers defensive line that allows the lowest frequency of 4+-yard runs. Notre Dame scored 19 against Pitt and 24 against a USC team that had to blitz more defenders than Clemson will need to. The Irish are not equipped to exploit Clemson’s weakness on defense, the deep ball. Clemson’s defensive line ranks sixth in sack rate. So, Ian Book, whose quick release facilitates Notre Dame’s misleadingly good pass protection stats, won’t be able to wait for his receivers to get downfield. His best ones, Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin, are slow 220-pounders. Conversely, South Carolina is the only team to frustrate Clemson’s defense and, unlike Notre Dame, has a quarterback with a history of success on deep passes and superstar speedsters at wide receiver.
When Notre Dame stopped moving the ball against Vanderbilt, the Irish pass defense necessarily resorted to zone coverage, allowing Commodore quarterback Kyle Schurmur to achieve a season-high 326 passing yards in a nail-biter. Clemson boasts a generational talent in quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is extremely efficient and mistake-aversive, a running back in Travis Etienne, who averages over eight yards per carrying, a number of five-star talents at receiver like Tee Higgins, and a highly-ranked offensive line. Clemson’s offense possesses a balance that Notre Dame’s defense has not seen. It will challenge the Irish from the start and eventually put this game to rest.