The Notre Dame Fighting Irish dispatched an overmatched Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets team yesterday afternoon by the score of 31-13. While the game was another dominating effort, another yawner against an inferior ACC opponent did little to move the needle for Irish fans. For the majority, the game seemed like it simply needed to be gotten through in order to turn their full attention to the Clemson Tigers.
In what will be the biggest game at Notre Dame Stadium since the 2005 USC game, Notre Dame finds itself in a must-win position. Looking to defeat a Top 5 opponent for the first time since 2005, Notre Dame needs to show up Saturday night and claim a victory against one of the nation’s elite programs.
The first thing in Notre Dame’s favor is the fact that Trevor Lawrence will not be playing this upcoming weekend. In case you have been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, Lawrence will be held out of the game due to COVID-19 protocol. Thus, freshman quarterback, D.J. Uiagalelei will be making his 2nd career start (1st on the road). While Uigalelei was a 5-star prospect less than a year ago, Ian Book is a 3rd year starting quarterback sporting a 26-3 career record. While Uiagelelei’s talent is far superior to Book’s, Book’s experience should provide the Irish an advantage come Saturday night. One of the biggest complaints against Book is that he is a game manager and can’t “win the big one.” Saturday night will provide the 5th year senior one of his biggest opportunities to silence his critics once and for all.
Furthermore, Notre Dame’s talent and experience along the offensive line should allow the Irish to impose their will on a battered Tigers defense. Starting linebacker James Skalski will most likely miss the game this coming week due to injury. In addition, starting defensive tackle Tyler Davis and starting linebacker Mike Jones Jr. are both nursing injuries that forced them to miss this past weekend’s game against Boston College. Star defensive end Xavier Thomas will also miss the 1st half of the game due to a targeting infraction incurred in the 2nd half of the Boston College game. In total, the Clemson defense could be missing 3 of its preferred 11 starters and will miss a 4th for half of the game. With all of these absences coming within the front seven of the defense, the Irish should be able to impose their will throughout the game and run right at the Tigers without fear.
Moreover, Notre Dame will be bringing in one of the best defensive units in the country. As it stands now, Clark Lea’s group holds the following rankings: 4th best scoring defense nationally, 4th best 3rd down defense nationally, 10th best opponent yards per play average nationally, and 7th best opponent quarterback passer rating nationally. Granted, Notre Dame hasn’t faced an elite offense yet this season. However, the team appears to be playing assignment sound football and have shown a penchant for forcing opponents to string together long drives to score. Having the ability to limit explosive plays is paramount when facing a team with the offensive firepower like Clemson.
Lastly, it is clear that Brian Kelly and Notre Dame have been building for this game all season long. Even before COVID forced major adjustments to the 2020 schedule, the true measuring stick of the season was going to come against Clemson. Kelly was bold enough to allude to the need for his team to elevate their level of play prior to the Pittsburgh game in anticipation of what was coming down the line. This is the type of contest that Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz would win. For all the talk and preparation being put into this game, it is time for Kelly to notch a signature victory. Although the weather conditions and reduced seating capacity certainly eliminates some of the home field advantage for Notre Dame, the program is riding a 22 game home winning streak. What will it say about the ceiling of Kelly’s program if he comes up short again in another big game?