Clemson, a team that has been dominating for the past decade, is currently struggling with a 4-4 record this season. Nevertheless, head coach Dabo Swinney believes that they deserve a better record, comparing them to a 7-1 or 8-0 team. As No. 15 Notre Dame prepares to face Clemson, let’s hear from Matt Connolly, a seasoned beat writer, for an honest assessment of the Tigers.
DF: Before we dive into Clemson’s disappointing season, let’s talk about the bigger picture. With Notre Dame having defeated Clemson in two important games in recent years, does this series have the potential to become a fierce rivalry like the ones with South Carolina or Florida State?
MC: I do believe this series is developing into a rivalry for Clemson. Beating Notre Dame holds a significant value for Swinney and the Clemson fanbase. Though it may not match the intensity of other rivalries, the history and the classic games between the two teams make it an important matchup.
Speaking of this season, Clemson is currently on a two-game losing streak, both close road games. The offense seems to be the main issue, with negative expected points added per play in both games. How do you see this issue from a broader perspective, considering the offensive struggles over the past few years?
The biggest problem for Clemson’s offense in recent years has been turnovers. The offensive line has struggled, while the receiver talent hasn’t reached its potential. Quarterback play has been inconsistent, and turnovers have been detrimental to the team. This season, Clemson ranks poorly in turnover-related stats, including turnovers lost and turnover margin.
It’s worth noting that Clemson has surrendered a higher number of points off turnovers this year compared to last year. The offense lacks a clear strength and is more effective passing than running, which could pose a challenge against Notre Dame’s strong pass defense.
Clemson’s offense has been inconsistent throughout the season. Quarterback Cade Klubnik has faced constant pressure and has been prone to making mistakes. The running game has struggled, allowing defenses to focus on the passing game. Overall, Notre Dame shouldn’t fear Clemson’s passing game, although Klubnik did well against Florida State. However, Notre Dame’s defense is better than Florida State’s.
If running back Will Shipley is out due to concussion protocols, it will be a slight setback for Clemson. Phil Mafah is a capable replacement, but there is a lack of experience behind him. Both Shipley and Mafah have had a disappointing season, with Mafah often getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
Defensively, Clemson remains strong, although not at its peak like in previous years. Notre Dame should challenge the Tigers’ defense with a cautious game plan, focusing on ball control and exploiting weaknesses in the passing game. Clemson has struggled in the fourth quarter, allowing the most points in that period this season.
Considering Clemson’s recent struggles and the loss of any ACC title hopes, it’s uncertain how the locker room will respond. However, the team’s culture and unity have kept them together thus far, even in tough situations like being down 24-7 in the fourth quarter of a road game.
Alex Martin is your guide to the global phenomenon of football. With a focus on international leagues and tournaments, he provides match commentary, player interviews, and behind-the-scenes stories from the world of football.