The Rematch, 2.0, Round Two, whatever you want to call it, it’s here. Clemson versus Notre Dame for the ACC Championship is happening this Saturday at 4:00pm in Charlotte, North Carolina. After an instant classic the first time these two teams met this season, with the Irish coming out victorious in double overtime, this game is sure to pack a punch as well. Now, rematch games are usually lower scoring as both teams have had significant game film to study up on and find the tendencies of their opponent and it’s also very hard to beat a team twice in once season. Neither of these things have to be true though. I personally don’t believe that Clemson-Notre Dame round two will be that low scoring of an affair. Yes, both defenses are great, but both offenses have the tendencies to put up a lot of points as well. When it comes to having to play a team twice, that’s where I don’t have any statistical breakdown, would splitting the series be a smart pick…probably. Am I really going to predict Clemson to win this game? You will have to wait and find out.
The narrative surrounding this rematch seems to focus mainly on the Tigers and the talent they have returning to the field this time around. Likely number one NFL draft pick, Trevor Lawrence, will be under center for the Tigers providing the Irish defense with a new task as opposed to containing freshman phenom DJ Uiagalelei last time. I expect Lawrence to have better command in the red zone and an improved ability to launch the long ball, compared to what the Irish saw against Uiagalelei, but it is imperative to remember that Uiagalelei put up 439 yards in the air and accounted for 3 touchdowns in the first matchup. That is an incredibly impressive stat line and I find it hard to believe that Lawrence will put something up that is significantly better. With Lawrence coming back, one thing that I don’t think is getting as much talk as it deserves are the athletes that Notre Dame has on defense. Kyle Hamilton and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have not and are not getting the praises that they deserve. These are two of the most explosive athletes in college football and I expect both of them to make plays on Saturday. With Hamilton being one of the nation’s top safeties, he still has not recorded an interception this year and Saturday would be the absolute perfect time to get one. The quotes coming from the Clemson players throughout the first matchup were in regards to how hard the Irish defense was hitting and I am confident that the hits will keep coming. With the rather unfortunate news that Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator, Clark Lea, will be departing the University to pursue a head coaching opportunity at his alma mater of Vanderbilt, I am hoping that this doesn’t hinder the performance of the Irish defense.
Offensively, Ian Book is really (and I mean really) taking shape. He is playing with the confidence that a high level quarterback needs. Granted, he’s probably not going to command an NFL offense like Trevor Lawrence will in the near future, but I believe that the job of a college and NFL quarterback are completely different. There have been plenty of great college quarterbacks that have gone on to win huge bowl games and/or National Championships and not had the best NFL careers. I’m not saying that Ian Book isn’t going to have a good NFL career, but I am saying that he has the makeup, talent, and weapons around him this year to win these sorts of big games. Book is not one to fold under pressure so a scheme driven by the brains of Offensive Coordinator, Tommy Rees, should (fingers crossed) bode well for the Irish. For the Irish to have success here, it will come down to controlling the line of scrimmage, making sure the running game gets going, and exploiting any weaknesses in the Clemson secondary. I expect for the Tigers to look to take away the short crossing routes over the middle, forcing Book to look more downfield. For this to be successful for the Irish, Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek will have to have another big performance.
Something worth considering for Saturday’s matchup is that the projected weather in Charlotte is actually going to be colder than it was in South Bend during the first showdown. Will that have any effect on the game? Who knows, but it is worth noting. I understand that it is extremely hard to beat a team twice in one season but I just do not want to pick against the Irish this year. This team feels special and I want to keep the winning going. Although Clemson is currently a 10.5 point favorite, I don’t expect the outcome to be that large. I think this game will go down as another instant classic and man, would I love to see the Irish win. Similar to the first time around, I am picking with my heart, not my head. I will take the Irish to win round two with a final score of 33-30. Who ever would have thought that we would get to see Notre Dame playing for a conference title? Go Irish. Beat Tigers.