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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Clemson Tigers Week

Pat Rick is on PTO today, so he’s just sending a quick 5400-word email summary as cover for this week...he will respond when he returns to work tomorrow!!!

Okay wow...this is going to be the most Mr. Obvious statement of the century, but HOT DAMN is it nice to take PTO on the Monday after a huge wedding weekend.

God knows I’m still massively exhausted/hungover from all the hustle and bustle and drinking and dancing and small-talking, and there’s nothing more satisfying after all that than to wake up late on Monday, turn off Microsoft Outlook notifications, and order some brunch on Uber Eats while watching the first episode of the new season of White Lotus.

I should take Mondays off with no actual travel/plans involved WAY more often.

Okay, well I guess since I canceled today’s meeting due to me being on PTO, I better go ahead and polish up that email draft I wrote hastily on Friday in order to send out to everyone today in place of the call. Time to knock this out and then go right back to my couch.*

*Pat Rick Note: I do not endorse nor actually ever practice the concept of doing work while on PTO. Those days should be sacred to everyone when they take them, and anything happening at our jobs can wait until tomorrow or be handled by someone else. Stop letting work bleed into your rare and critical relaxation/recovery time — it’ll be there when you get back.

Hmmm okay let’s do this.

*presses “Edit Draft” button*

Good afternoon, team!

I appreciate you all being flexible as I took today off to recover from a very fun wedding weekend for my girlfriend’s sister — I can confirm that that much drinking and dancing hit VERY different after 30!

Please see below for a detailed, comprehensive email and slide deck for this week in place of our usual call. I’m going to run through each slide here as we normally would, but since we aren’t live to discuss anything in more detail, please reach out to me with any questions, comments, or concerns you have on the material and I can get back to you tomorrow when I’m back in the office!

Okay, let’s dive in.

Alrighty, so first let’s take a look at Last Week’s Results:

As you can see above, there was A LOT to be positive about after this past week, with our Notre Dame Fighting Irish going to the Carrier JMA Wireless Dome and putting a nice, neat little beatdown on the then-16th ranked Syracuse Orange by a final score of 41-24.

The biggest story of the day, of course, was running back Audric Estime very much getting his groove back.

I’m not sure anyone at this point can seriously argue that Estime is anything less than the best back on the team, and so it was discouraging to see him struggle mentally the last few weeks with his fumbling issues, as it was clear from his demeanor and from coaches’ comments that he was being quite hard on himself throughout that 3-fumbles-in-4-games stretch.

But, kudos to the coaching staff for believing in their guy and continuing to feed him the rock, as he absolutely repaid them handsomely on Saturday by carrying the ball 20 times for 123 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns at a 6.2 yards-per-carry clip. That performance puts Estime at 558 yards rushing and 5.6 yards per carry on the year, and ups his rushing touchdown total to 8. The kid can PLAY and it’s exciting to know that we get at least one more year of his fantastic brand of massive, bruising, but surprisingly quick/nimble rushing in an Irish uniform.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Along with Estime, I want to note RB Logan Diggs here as well, as he’s quietly having a really nice year after a lot of people essentially disregarded him after his Fiesta Bowl and early 2022 struggles. The poor kid was a freshman playing against an elite defense last January and then got hurt heading into the season, so it was probably pretty premature for anyone to claim he couldn’t hack it. He’s proving that now, running 20 times for 85 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown on Saturday to up his season totals to 431 yards and 4.5 YPC.

If Estime is the “thunder” in this offense, and if Chris Tyree is hypothetically the “lightning” with his speed (would be real nice for that lightning to strike a couple times this Saturday, eh?), then Diggs has I think cemented himself as a perfect complement to both as the wind/rain, depending on the game.

He’s a consistent nuisance for opposing defenses, never being the loudest or flashiest guy in the Irish backfield (how has he only scored 2 TDs this year???) but just smoothly darting in and out, juking and twisting and driving for extra yardage to wear down the defense and keep the chains moving.

Over the course of a game, he’s just that constant just-more-than-a-drizzle rain keeps dropping down on the defense, or that annoying and constant wind that keeps blowing straight through them, making their eyes water and messing up their hair. It’s been fun to see his impact the last 5 games (415 yards, 4.94 YPC, 4 receptions, 70 yards, 2 total touchdowns) and to see him really carve out a critical role in this offense.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Before I finish talking about Estime and Diggs, I gotta give that offensive line another shout-out for another really nice game, paving the way for 56 carries, 246 rushing yards, 4.4 YPC, and 3 rushing touchdowns all while also only allowing 1 sack of Drew Pyne. Those kinds of numbers you expect to see the Irish put up against a team like UNLV, but to see them do it against a Syracuse defense that has looked pretty good this year is really encouraging.

Speaking of encouraging, it was fun to see Deion Colzie get a bit more into the mix this week, reeling in 3 passes for 44 yards. Colzie came into the year hurt and despite being back for a little while now, he’s had limited opportunities to make a mark and hasn’t been able to get much separation and make plays. It was really nice to see the big former blue-chip wideout make some plays, and hopefully by year-end he and Tobias Merriweather will both be legitimate threats for opposing defenses to deal with.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Final offensive positive to note: ND put up 41 points — well, 34 — despite their quarterback throwing 9-for-19 on the day for just 116 yards. Just think what this offense could do if Tommy Rees and Drew Pyne can find a way to more consistently attack defenses through the air, considering what the running game is doing right now.

Defensively, let’s start where the game started — Brandon Joseph doing Brandon Joseph things. The man certainly hasn’t been a disappointment since transferring from Northwestern, as he’s played pretty well this year. But with all the hype of his transfer and all the INT highlights from his time in the Big Ten, it was a relatively quiet first 7 games of the season for the preseason All-American safety.

So, to see him step up and pick off Garrett Shrader on the first play from scrimmage and take it back to the house, on the road against a ranked opponent, was pretty freakin’ exciting. Hopefully he can build on that and make a bunch more huge plays as the year goes on, as ND will certainly need them against teams like Clemson and USC.

Isaiah Foskey, the other preseason All-American on that Irish defense, had himself another really nice game as a follow-up to his monster performance against UNLV. After blocking 2 punts and picking up 3 sacks against the Rebels, Foskey had a “quiet” 3 tackles (2 TFL), 1 sack, and 1 QB hurry on the day.

He helped contribute to a 4-sack day by the ND defensive front, but the star of that show was Jordan Botelho, who’s seemed somewhat position-less and unable to get regular minutes on the field over his first 3 seasons with the Irish. On Saturday, though, Botelho came out of his shell and reminded everyone why we were so excited about his aggression and athleticism — he picked up 2 sacks and a QB hurry on Saturday, terrorizing the Orange especially because there’s no way they expected to have to deal with all that from him when they were focused on guys like Foskey beforehand.

Finally, one of the most important and game-changing plays of the day came from Howard Cross III and Marist Liufau. Syracuse had gone down 24-7 and lost their starting QB in Shrader to injury, but then mounted a quick and furious little rally to cut it to 24-17 and to get the ball back and once again start driving early in the 4th quarter, led by some inspired passing from backup QB Carlos Del Rio-Wilson.

Del Rio-Wilson picked up a first down with his feet to get the Orange to their 40 yard line, and then on the next play looked to connect with one of his receivers when Cross managed to get a hand on his pass as it sailed over the line. That batted ball bounced in the direction of Liufau, who made a very athletic play to make a diving interception and shift momentum completely back to the Irish after the 3rd quarter had been all-Orange. From there, ND scored two more touchdowns and a field goal and only allowed one more score, securing a 17-point win. The tide completely turned on that turnover.

Finally, let’s give Special Teams another shout-out this week, as Clarence Lewis managed to sprint from the edge and block a Syracuse punt with less than 8 minutes to play, helping set up ND’s final touchdown.

Brian Mason, the Special Teams Coordinator whom Marcus Freeman brought over from Cincinnati in the offseason, has been a revelation in the role this year, with all ST units performing pretty darn well (maybe kick return is the one area that hasn’t been great?), and punt block especially has been magnificent, with the Irish currently tied for first in the country with 5 blocked punts this season.*

*Note: next week’s opponent, Clemson, is tied for 4th with 4 on the year — that is gonna be an ELITE matchup of punt-blocking under the lights!

Okay, with all the above said, there are still a few negatives we should quickly highlight as opportunities for growth, development, and improvement.

Drew Pyne had another rough game, as we mentioned above, going 9/19 and throwing another INT to go with his one touchdown pass to Jayden Thomas. That, of course, probably limited what the receivers could do out there, but we should also note that the receiving corps once again didn’t really show up for this game, with Michael Mayer being somewhat of an exception with his 3 catches for 54 yards, but even he wasn’t adding much through the air. Simply put, that kind of passing attack CANNOT beat a defense like Clemson’s, nor will it likely be able to keep up with Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison, and the USC offense. Pyne and co. have GOT to figure some things out heading into the final third of the season — going 6/15 on 3rd down conversions just won’t cut it, folks.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Other negatives from Saturday include the ND defense letting Syracuse’s backup carve them up and nearly pull the Orange even within a quarter of having been down 24-7, and allowing Syracuse WR Oronde Gadsden II to make a few big plays to move the chains and keep the Syracuse offense on the field. I’ll also add in that the Orange wideouts dropped several passes to really lighten the load on the ND secondary, who weren’t exactly sparkling in coverage last weekend and need to be much better at home this week.

Finally, the Irish managed to commit 7 penalties for 60 yards, and although it didn’t end up really hurting them this time, it could be a major downfall for them in bigger games going forward — they’ve gotta clean that up and not beat themselves here.

Okay, with that all covered, let’s move on to a quick glance at the Scorecard for this week.

I’ll let you review that in more detail on your own, but just want to note how much green we have there this week and how encouraging that is for the next month of football. Way to go, team, and let’s keep grinding on all these items in order to take this to the finish line successfully!

Now, let’s recognize a few individuals who had a really good week...

Major congrats are in order for Audric, Logan, Isaiah, Jordan, Brandon, Marist, Howard, J.D., and Clarence — you all made some really nice plays on Saturday and really displayed leadership in helping drive the project to a big win.

Congrats, and look for a Chipotle gift card in each of your inboxes by EOD today!

Also, I’d like to give a special award of recognition to Jacob Lacey, who’s somehow still contributing to the team despite leaving it a few weeks ago. Congrats Jacob on picking up a PD despite not being in Syracuse at all, and shout out #SpookySeason for allowing Ghost Lacey to make an impact on the d-line against the Orange.

Okay, before we finally look ahead to this weekend, let’s quickly review Pat Rick’s live journal from watching the game for some additional thoughts and insights he had while watching — specifically, while watching at brunch and in his hotel room before going to a fantastic wedding that evening.

As you can see on the slide, there’s only a few key points we need to touch on here. Mainly, I want to shout-out the BBL (Backyard Baseball League...i.e. our childhood/teenage lob-pitch baseball league we ran for years) fellas that I got to have brunch with on Saturday thanks to some coinciding wedding weekends for my brother and I in Chicago this past weekend. That was a lot of fun catching up with that crew.

Secondly, I want to just provide a quick PSA not to order the breakfast nachos at Hub 51 unless you want 2-3 meals out of it or unless you’re sharing them with someone else. As someone who loves to order nachos occasionally as my personal meal, I did 0 research on the menu or on Yelp as to the size of this menu item and was greeted by a mountain of nachos that I could not finish. Sad! However, I DID finish my spiked coffee that came with a Do-Rite Donut wrapped around the straw, as that was delicious and the perfect pick-me-up before a long day of football-watching and wedding-attending.

Thirdly, our main topic of conversation at brunch was, as you can imagine, how punchable the kid is who played Justin Finch-Fletchley in the Harry Potter films. It’s something I never really thought about before, but since Saturday morning I simply CAN’T stop thinking about it. He’s SO punchable it’s ridiculous. We asked our waitress if she agreed when she came around and asked if we “needed anything” and despite her refusal to outright tell customers she wanted to punch a stranger, she did say she understood why we were saying it.

Finally, I watched the rest of the game from my hotel room before getting ready for the wedding, but first had to navigate a 7/11 that keeps its beer in locked fridges that you have to be buzzed into. The guy working there took several requests from me to actually buzz me in, but thankfully I was able to get my 6-pack of High Life tall boys and have a really nice 2nd half drinking some of them in a hotel bed as the Irish rolled to a big victory.

Okay y’all, it’s time to look forward to this weekend, i.e. the biggest game on the Irish schedule, as the Irish play host to the #5, 8-0 Clemson Tigers on Saturday night.

First, let’s just quickly review what to know about them at a high level:

Per usual, please review this in more detail offline — but for now, here are the highlights we should focus on:

1. Dabo Swinney’s real name is William Christopher Swinney, which is so freaking boring compared to his nickname and somehow that’s fitting for one of the least likable coaches in the game.

2. Clemson’s colors are orange and “regalia” and I actually love the contrast of having their primary color just named the normal color name and the weird, purple color getting a dumb name like “regalia”

3. Clemson’s mascot was apparently named by Dabo’s parents, as there was no imagination used to name it “The Tiger.” They also apparently have a mascot called “The Cub,” which leads me to believe we need to do another piece of Maury fan-fiction ASAP to uncover who the other parent of “The Cub” is, assuming “The Tiger” is one of them.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

4. Clemson has a 4-2 all-time record against the Irish and has won 4 of the last 5 meetings, with 2020’s double-OT classic at Notre Dame Stadium being the exception. Otherwise, ND’s only other win came in their 1977 national title season, defeating the Tigers 21-17.

5. Clemson has plenty of teams they’ve never been able to beat, including FBS teams that make me laugh like South Florida, Army, and Marshall (although we as ND fans can’t really laugh at that considering ND’s own 0-1 record vs. the Thundering Herd), as well as plenty of little guys like Sewanee, Oglethorpe, Jacksonville NAS, Georgia Navy Pre-Flight, and Camp Hancock. Oh, and they’re somehow 0-3 vs. Centre College in Kentucky, a tiny school that a good friend of mine played soccer at and I’m so happy for her that her school has won 3/3 against Clemson in football. Hell yeah Centre!!!

6. Clemson doesn’t have a very long list of famous alumni on Wikipedia, but it’s still a fun one, including the likes of:

  • Robert H. Brooks, founder of Hooters of America, Inc.
  • Rudolf Anderson Jr., who was the only person killed by enemy fire during the Cuban Missile Crisis (what a thing to be known for)
  • Rob Huebel, the actor whom you’ve seen in tons of stuff but whom I love most for being Tevin in I Love You, Man
  • Charlene Corley, former defense contractor who was convicted in 2007 on two counts of conspiracy
  • Dale Davis, former NBA forward/center, All-Star, and Indiana Pacer (heck yeah) who was also known around the league for having quite the package
  • Strom Thurmond, U.S. Senator from South Carolina who was the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history, and also of whom Leslie Knope reminds Councilman Milton in Parks and Rec
  • Mark Tremonti, lead guitarist for Creed (did not graduate, attended Clemson his freshman year)

Okay, now let’s look at this team a little closer and determine what kind of talent they have — specifically, in the name department.

Clearly, we’re not gonna be disappointed this week. Tons of great monikers on this roster, folks, with some personal favorites being Wise Segars Jr., Chapman Pendergrass, the last name Orhorhoro, “Wade Woodaz,” Jake Briningstool, Toriano Pride Jr., the last name Florenzo, and many more gems.

Shout out to all these parents for passing along some great names to their children so that when they became elite football players we could all enjoy those names too!

Now, let’s go into the weeds on what to expect from this Clemson squad...

The Tigers enter this game 8-0 and ranked 5th in the AP Poll, rated 11th in SP+. They have wins over Syracuse, NC State (when Devin Leary was healthy), at Wake Forest (in double-OT), and at Florida State, and although they’ve got plenty of elite talent, per usual, this certainly isn’t the same kind of Clemson team we all saw from 2015-2020.

Clemson’s offense has been pretty productive overall this year (25th in SP+), but aren’t exactly elite in now their second season removed from the luxury of having Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, etc. They’re 19th in the country in scoring at 37.1 PPG, although that’s inflated a bit by getting two overtimes to put up 51 against Wake Forest and then running it up on Georgia Tech, Louisiana Tech, and Furman.

Overall, new OC Brandon Streeter’s group has got some pretty mediocre ranks — 48th in total offense (421.5 YPG), 66th in yards per play (5.8), 41st in rushing offense (185 YPG), 52nd in yards per carry (4.55), 71st in passing offense (236.1 YPG), and T-70th in yards per attempt (7.4).

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY NETWORK

Still, though, the Tigers score a lot and are excellent at converting when they need to — they’re 21st in the country in 3rd down conversion % at 48.4%, and are excellent in the red zone with a 97.4% score %, good enough for #3 in the country.

The Irish continue to be dead last in that metric, tied with Rutgers at the bottom by allowing opponents to score in 100% of their trips to the red zone. Add in that the Tigers are 22nd in the country in red zone touchdown percentage at 71.79%, and it could be a very long day for ND if they allow the Tigers to drive down the field too easily — “bend, don’t break” won’t work in this game.

Clemson certainly prefers to run the ball, considering they’re 25th in the country in rushing attempts per game (40.75). That is most attributable to their star running back Will Shipley, a sophomore and former 5-star RB whom the Irish desperately wanted but couldn’t land. He’s run for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns while picking up a healthy 6 yards per carry, and is a weapon in the passing game too with 19 catches for 153 yards this season. He’s top-30 in rushing yards per game, top 20 in all-purpose yards, and top-15 in rushing touchdowns nationally.

Shipley’s backup is a pretty solid back as well, as Phil Mafah has run for 283 yards, 4.5 YPC, and 2 touchdowns in limited time relieving the starter. Both will likely get a lot of work this Saturday, especially so the Tigers don’t have to rely too much on the pass, which they never like to do these days.

QB D.J. Uiagalelei has played much better this year than he did in his 2021 sophomore season, throwing for 1,803 yards at a 64% completion rate while tossing 17 touchdowns and just 4 picks. Still, he averages just 7.7 yards per attempt and is just 45th nationally in QB rating, and remains the starter as of now despite being benched for true freshman Cade Klubnik two weeks ago against Syracuse.

Uiagalelei IS a capable runner due to his size, and he’s managed to add 350 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns to the equation. That plus his seniority and strong arm likely are the main reasons Klubnik hasn’t unseated him, along with Klubnik’s stats not being so hot in his very limited PT this year: 9-for-19 passing (47% completion), 85 yards, 4.5 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT, sacked twice).

Uiagalelei will look for a handful of receivers who are quite talented and capable but still nowhere near as good as the Tigers receivers from recent teams like Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, etc.

Antonio Williams leads the group with 29 catches for 364 yards and 2 touchdowns, and some familiar names come soon after him in the stat sheet, as WR Joseph Ngata (20 rec., 324 yards, 1 TD), WR Beaux Collins (18 rec., 290 yards, 5 TD), TE Davis Allen (20 rec., 265 yards, 3 TD), TE Jake Briningstool (15 rec., 163 yards, 4 TD), and WR Brannon Spector (11 rec., 123 yards, 2 TD) round out the group of passing targets.

The Tigers, though, are just 64th in the country in pass attempts per game (31.9) and aren’t great at protecting the QB, tied for 51st in sacks allowed per game (1.75). They’re a little better in terms of allowing tackles for loss thanks to how strong of a runner Shipley is (T-35th in TFL allowed per game), but overall this Clemson o-line is good but beatable for the Irish defensive front.

On the other side of the ball, Clemson once again boasts its greatest strengths on the defensive side. New defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin — who took over for Brent Venables after he left his longtime post to head up the Oklahoma program — leads a group that’s ranked #14 in SP+ and is top-30 in scoring, total defense, yards per play, and yards per attempt allowed.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Anderson Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

They’re even more elite when you look at their run defense, as the Tigers are 7th in total rushing (allowing just 87.88 YPG), 11th in yards per carry allowed (2.98), and tied for 7th in rushing touchdowns allowed with just 5 total on the year. This will be a MASSIVE test for the Irish offensive line and a massive test of Tommy Rees’s play-calling and patience, as ND will have to establish some sort of running game against an opponent who thrives on shutting that aspect of offenses down completely.

The Clemson pass defense, on the other hand, isn’t so hot. They’re tied for 22nd in yards per attempt allowed (6.4), but otherwise don’t rank super well: they’re 86th in total pass defense (244.6 YPG), 39th in passer rating allowed, tied for 70th in passing touchdowns surrendered, and 43rd in first downs allowed per game. Key names to know include safeties Jalyn Phillips (42 tackles, 2 PD), Andrew Mukuba (26 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT), and R.J. Mickens (25 tackles, 1 PD, 2 INT), and cornerbacks Nate Wiggins (11 tackles, 7 PD), Fred Davis II (15 tackles, 2 PD, 1 FR), and Toriano Pride Jr. (12 tackles, 3 PD, 1 INT).

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Add in their inability to force a lot of turnovers (tied for 63rd) and their average numbers when it comes to 3rd down conversion % allowed (48th, allowing 35.9%) and red zone scoring % allowed (T-60th, allowing 83.33%), and there could be some opportunity for the Irish here — but they HAVE to make some plays through the air and they HAVE to finish drives.

Despite not forcing many turnovers, Clemson is, as is typical with them, great at rushing the passer and wreaking havoc in the backfield, especially in the run game. They’re 28th in the country in total sacks with 22 this season, and 6th in total tackles for loss with 66 in 2022.

Those efforts are largely led by a handful of defensive linemen, namely DEs K.J. Henry (28 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR), Myles Murphy (26 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF), and Xavier Thomas (4 tackles, 2 sacks), and then stud DTs Tyler Davis (21 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 PD, 1 FR), Bryan Bresee (9 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Ruke Orhorhoro (15 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 PD). The Tigers defense also boasts a bunch of really tough, athletic linebackers (per usual), including Trenton Simpson (47 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF), Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (35 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 3 PD, 1 INT), Barrett Carter (33 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 1 INT, 2 FF), Keith Maguire (29 tackles), and LaVonta Bentley (18 tackles, 1 sack).

NCAA Football: Clemson at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Clemson D also does a decent job of forcing field goals in the red zone and is exceptional at limiting big plays, so the name of the game for the Irish will need to be stringing together methodical, efficient drives and finishing with touchdowns whenever possible.

On special teams, Clemson is rated 30th in SP+ there and the star to know there is PK B.T. Potter, who’s currently 28th in the country in field goal percentage at 88.2% on the season (15/17) and tied for 4th in the country in field goals made. He’s hit all 31 extra point attempts of the year and is 11/13 on kicks from 30+ yards out.

Okay, now that we have a really good idea of what Clemson does well and who their names to know are, What’s Important Now for the Irish as they head into this massive match-up with a top-5 opponent?

There’s a lot of text on this slide that I won’t spell out for you here, but just to quickly run through the above:

1. Will Shipley is the key cog in that offense. If the Irish can bottle him up and limit his damage done, ND will be in an excellent spot.

2. Notre Dame has GOTTA keep getting to the QB. Clemson’s quarterback will either be an upperclassman who has struggled at various times with consistency, or a true freshman who’s barely seen any action at this level. Either way, Foskey and the crew getting in their faces, flushing them from the pocket, hitting them often, etc. will be very important to disrupting their offense and getting them off the field in order to give the Irish offense as many tries at scoring on this Clemson defense as possible.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

3. It’s going to be tough to replicate, but this ND team needs to win the turnover and special teams battles again. That means the defense needs to be opportunistic when they get their chances, and another huge play or two from Brian Mason’s guys would go a really long way — the blocked punts are always nice, but maybe even this week Chris Tyree or Brandon Joseph could finally break one on a kick/punt??? A guy can dream...

4. Clemson specializes in shutting down the run. ND specializes (exclusively) in running the football. Something’s gotta give, and I think the general public assumes it will be ND’s running game. Screw ‘em. It’s time for this offensive line to assert themselves and just bully an elite defensive front up and down the field for four quarters. Brian Kelly’s teams NEVER did that against the best competition. Can Freeman and his staff set a different tone for this line?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 CFP Semifinal at the Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

5. The offense is going to have to do some different stuff. Rees needs to unveil some plays he hasn’t run yet or has been working on setting up, and needs to stay creative and take calculated risks while also ensure his group plays mistake-free football as much as possible against such a top defense. They won’t be able to win this one with just Estime/Diggs and some solid defense.

6. This game more than any other requires a quick start from the Irish. The ND faithful are DESPERATE for a home game that gives them something to get loud and hyped for, and a slow start and early deficit could completely deflate a fan base that isn’t exactly always raucous. Time for the Irish home field to feel like an advantage again, and to amp that up Freeman’s squad needs to come out and smack some guys in the mouth and set the tone.

Remember: it. doesn’t. have. to. be. close.

Okay folks, that’s all I’ve got for today.

Any questions can be directed in a reply (or if you wanna have some fun, a reply-all) to this email, and otherwise we will connect live again next week!

Thanks for reading through all this, and please see this link for the downloadable deck for your reference/review.

Hope you all have an excellent week!

*clicks “Send button*

Okay awesome, now time to go lie on my couch and order way too much Indian food for dinner and just bask in the next 7 hours of doing whatever I want!!!