Saturday, December 19, 2020, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina, 4 p.m. ET
Fighting Irish at Tigers Betting Preview: Fighting Irish (+10.5), Tigers (-10.5)
The possibility exists that both No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson could both make the College Football Playoff regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game, but neither wants to take that chance.
“We’ve got our hands full focusing on this ACC Championship,” Fighting Irish coach Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “The playoffs take care of themselves. We can’t control that.
“Do our players understand that if they win they’re going to be in the Playoffs? Sure, they get that. But we’re wired to think we’re going to win the football game.”
The Fighting Irish (10-0, 9-0 ACC) found considerable success with the run against Clemson the first time around, amassing 208 yards, including 140 yards and three touchdowns from Kyren Williams.
For the season, the Irish have averaged 235 yards a game rushing with Williams accounting for 101.1 of that total.
Quarterback Ian Book is next on the list with 46.5 a game rushing to go with his 238.2 passing. Book is an adept scrambler — the Irish have given up only 17 sacks –and has completed 63.3 percent of his passes with 15 going for touchdowns against only two interceptions.
“This kid is a great player,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s got a bit of magic to him, can do it all. He’s the heart and soul — he makes them go. He’s a problem. We didn’t do a very good job against him. For us to win the game, we’ve got to affect him and not let him get comfortable. He’s tough. He’s as good a runner as you’re going to see.”
Book’s top two targets are Javon McKinley (37 catches, 660 yards) and Michael Mayer (30-337). Williams is a factor in the passing game as well. His 24 receptions are third on the team.
Clemson is bidding for not only its sixth consecutive ACC title, but its sixth consecutive trip to the playoff as well. The Tigers (9-1, 8-1 ACC) have claimed two national titles in that span.
Their hopes in the rematch with the Irish are buoyed by the return of several key players, including quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence missed the first Notre Dame game while continuing his recovery protocol from COVID-19.
Freshman D.J. Uiagalelei performed admirably in Lawrence’s stead, but Lawrence’s absence was noticeable at times.
“There are a lot of great players out there, but none like this guy,” Swinney said of Lawrence. “He’s the total package. The guy’s a winner.”
In Lawrence and Notre Dame’s Book, fans will be treated to the winningest quarterbacks in the histories of their storied programs. Lawrence is 33-1 in his career as a starter at Clemson. Book is 30-3 at Notre Dame.
Still, the ability to run the ball effectively looms large and may hold the key for both teams in the rematch.
Notre Dame throttled Clemson on Nov. 7, holding the Tigers to a season-low 34 yards rushing and standout running Travis Etienne to a career-low 28 yards.
“Bottom line, we’ve got to play better up front,” Swinney said.
Etienne, the ACC’s all-time career rushing leader, presents multiple challenges. He already has caught 41 passes for 512 yards this season.
“You have to know where he is,” Notre Dame’s Kelly said. “It’s a team defensive effort and we’re going to have to have a similar one. He’s an explosive player that we have such great respect for. When you put your game plan together, the first thing you think of is how you’re going to slow him down.”
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is hopeful that top linebacker James Skalski, who missed the first game against the Fighting Irish, will be back in the lineup as well as top defensive tackle Tyler Davis.
Skalski has been dealing with a groin injury that has limited him to seven games. His primary backup, Jake Venables (son of the defensive coordinator) is out with a broken arm. Davis has been limited to just five games after injuring his knee in the opener and later injuring his ankle.
Fighting Irish at Tigers Betting Pick for December 19, 2020
The Irish won the regular-season meeting 47-40 in two overtimes, but the Tigers were without Lawrence. Still, Lawrence’s backup, Uiagaleilei, passed for 439 yards and two touchdowns in that game, but the Tigers gave up 310 passing yards to Book and 140 on the ground to Williams as the Irish outgained the Tigers 518-473 in total offense.
Fighting Irish at Tigers Betting Pick:
Tigrers 38, Fighting Irish 28
Fighting Irish at Tigers Best Bet for December 19, 2020
The two teams ended up with 87 combined points in double-overtime in the first meeting after playing to a 33-33 tie at the end of regulation. The Irish have scored at least 45 points in three of their last four games and four of their last six while the Tigers have had at least 40 points in eight games.
Fighting Irish at Tigers Best Bet: OVER 60.5