The Clemson game is finally upon us.
Going into the season, I feel like most folks’ eyes were trained heavily on the Ohio State and Clemson matchups. We got a solid, opening weekend showing from the Irish football squad against the Buckeyes.
Then things happened.
We found ourselves spiraling from week to week, just hoping for the best and losing sight of any long term expectations that may have existed. But now here we are coming off a solid win against Syracuse (who sort of took the Clemson Tigers to the wire in Week 8) and heading into a Week 10 showdown with the Tigers.
The trip to upstate New York provided us with some nice treats going into the Halloween holiday. We’ve had a nice haul of quality candy (no Werther’s, candy corn or almond Joy allowed) to get us through the week. And now comes the stage when we’re a week out, plunging our hands into the dark depths of that plastic pumpkin and hoping we can come out with a clutch straggler (preferably a Twix).
It could all be chalked up to my overly optimistic tendencies as and ND fan or a sugar hangover, but the data provides us some indications that the Irish may be able to deliver a win against Clemson. It’s not a clear path by any means but in a season that’s proved to be way out of the ordinary, it can’t hurt that much to hope for the best.
So let’s dig into the data.
Scoring Advantage Goes to Clemson
Clemson is coming into Week 10 undefeated (8-0) and averaging around 35 points per game. The Tigers have won their games by an average of around 17 points (including the Wake Forest overtimes points). Even with these impressive stats, though Clemson has shown on several occasions that they’re beatable. Their biggest victories came in the first 3 weeks of the season (against Georgia Tech, Furman and Louisiana Tech) and in Week 6 against Boston College. Outside of these game’s though, they’ve only beat teams by an average of 7 points.
Scoring continues to be the wild card for Notre Dame this season and it’ll likely be one of the biggest factors in Saturday’s game. Clemson has been consistently trending downward in total points scored since the Wake Forest game, and that plays in the Irish defense’s advantage. However, we’ll just have to see of ND’s offense will fall into the camp of teams that have been able to keep up with Clemson for another close game.
Comparatively in terms of total yards, Clemson hasn’t completely blown Notre Dame out of the water. One area of concern for the Irish is that the Tigers have demonstrated the ability to play through dogfights. The Wake Forest and Clemson games are the two that have probably put them to the biggest tests and these games are also in their top 3 for total yards (Louisiana Tech sits at #2).
Lackluster Passing Trends for Both Teams
Clemson is averaging around 236 passing yards per game and his been trending downwards since it hit a season high of 371 yards through the air against Wake Forest. In their Week 8 matchup against Syracuse, they put up a season low of 157 passing yards. By comparison, ND put up 116 passing yards against Syracuse in the following week.
Neither of the team’s QBs are having stellar seasons throwing the ball. In terms of completion percentage, the quarterbacks are about what and what. Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei is 64% on 234 attempts while Drew Pyne is 62% on 165 attempts.
Strong Clemson Rushing Game
Clemson’s rushing game has been the more consistent part of their offensive unit. They’re averaging 185 yards per game on the ground. In their Week 8 matchup against Syracuse, they tallied up a season high of 293 rushing yards. By comparison, ND put up 246 rushing yards against Syracuse in the following week.
Clemson has been averaging approximately 41 rush attempts per game and hit a season high of 60 attempts against Syracuse. By comparison, The Irish had a total of 56 rushing attempts against Syracuse.
The Tigers vary a lot in the yards they manage to get from rushing carries. The team hit a season high of 7.2 yards per carry against Louisiana Tech and a low of 3 yards per attempt in Week 1 against Georgia Tech. Between the Wake Forest and Syracuse games they sat around 4 yard per carry but ticked up their efficiency in Week 8 to 4.9 yards per attempt on the ground.
Notre Dame’s defensive front has proven stingy overall, even if not consistently, when it comes to keeping teams’ running games in check through the last few games. This will likely be their most physical test so far and all things indicate that Clemson is going to rely primarily on their rushing stable to move the ball.
Clemson’s sophomore running back, Will Shipley is the team’s driving force on the ground. Through Week 8, he was averaging 6 yards per carry on 123 total attempts. Shipley’s also accounted for 49% (739) of the team’s total rushing yards.
While he hasn’t had the best season throwing the ball, DJ Uiagalelei plays a big role in the Tiger’s rushing attack. He’s got a total of 89 carries so far and has tallied up 23% (250) of Clemson’s ground yards.
A Diversified Clemson Receiving Unit
The Tigers’ receiving corps is relatively diverse. Freshman wide receiver Antonio leads the group with 29 receptions and an average of 12.6 yards per reception. He’s accounted for 22% (364) of the team’s total receiving yards but the other receivers aren’t very far off him in terms of overall production.
Clemson’s Turnover Trends
Prior to the Syracuse game, Clemson had been pretty stingy when it came to losing the ball. As the Irish defense seems to be getting better at forcing turnovers, though, the trends may be on ND’s side.
A Stingy Tiger Defense
Clemson’s defense is averaging 332 totally yards allowed per game and with the exception of the Florida Stat game they’ve been getting stingier in this category. The Irish and Tiger defenses aren’t that far away from each other in this regard but given Notre Dame’ issues on the offensive side of the ball who knows how Clemson’s defensive play will factor into Saturday’s game.
The Tiger’s defense has proven to be a bit more porous when it comes to putting the brakes on opponents’ passing games, allowing an average of 244 yards per game. This is compared with 87 yards allowed on the ground. It seems like the Irish rushing unit is starting to find its collective stride but they’re going to be facing an uphill battle this weekend.
The data paints a picture of a Clemson team that can be beaten by Notre Dame.
Pulling out a victory will be an uphill task for the Irish, but they have enough strengths to make it a closer game than any of us would’ve envisioned three weeks ago.
The unfortunate part is that the condition of Notre Dame’s biggest liability, the passing game, hasn’t gotten much better and that’ll likely be the reason that ND comes up short when it’s all said and done. We’ve seen a lot of good, unexpected things from the Irish when they show up excited and energized to play, though. Let us hope that’ll be the case this Saturday.
Cheers and Go Irish!!