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Notre Dame Football

Kelly channels Belichick, Twain but stats key in Clemson-ND

November 6, 2020

Brian Kelly almost went full Mark Twain.

Or maybe Kelly was going full Bill Belichick.

Either way, encountering a question this week about statistical categories and Notre Dame's team prevalence but individual absences, Kelly did not opt for Twain's “Lies, damned lies and statistics” nor Belichick's “Stats are for losers; the final score is for winners” line.

Kelly said, simply, “You know what they say about stats.”

Ah, but stats this week as No. 1 Clemson (7-0, 6-0 ACC) visits No. 4 Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC) show some pretty remarkable play – teams-wise, individuals and units between college football's current king and one of the sport's historical titans.

Clemson's high-octane offense ranks tops in the ACC and second nationally only to Alabama among Power-5 teams at 46.1 points-per-game. Clark Lea's Irish defense? It allows only 10.3 points per game – a number a bit misleading since Notre Dame's own offense is responsible for seven of the 62 points allowed this season. That leads all major college football for teams with multiple games played this season.

Not that Brent Venables' defense is very far behind, the Tigers allowing just 15.6 ppg in seven contests.

Notre Dame's 231 team rushing yards per game on offense ranks third in Power-5; though Clemson sits well back at 166.6 yards per game, star tailback Travis Etienne amasses more than 160 all-purpose yards per game and is the only player in college football with more than 600 rushing and 400 receiving yards.

Even those numbers don't tell Etienne's full story; per Pro Football Focus, he's among the nation's leaders with 37 forced miss tackles.

Flowing freely to the football, as it has done all season, is key this week for the Irish.

“I think Coach (Clark) Lea has done a great job with putting together a scheme that doesn't allow for young players or inexperienced players to be thinking constantly on the field,” said linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, “rather than opening their minds and be free to play."

Both Clemson and Notre Dame boast offenses ranked in the top nationally in third-down conversion percentages and defenses ranked similarly in stopping third downs. Notre Dame's allowed only 19 in 78 chances; Clemson 28 in 102.

The Irish strength rests in its offensive line, and no other unit in college football boasts those numbers. Notre Dame's got two players from that group, tackles Liam Eichenberg (90.8) and Robert Hainsey (90.00, ranked in the top nine nationally at sixth and ninth, respectively.

Aaron Banks has allowed only three pressures in 195 snaps, a 90.3 grade in pass protection, per PFF.

As a group, Notre Dame's offensive line has been charged with allowing only three sacks this season.

The quarterback position has perhaps been the largest disparity between the two teams thus far, though Clemson is notably without All-American Trevor Lawrence due to COVID-19 protocols. Lawrence is the third-most accurate quarterback with at least 50 attempts on the season at 72%, and PFF deemed an additional 11.5% of Lawrence's inaccurate throws actually were catchable balls.

But Irish quarterback Ian Book is among the nation's top quarterbacks at forcing missed tackles, according to PFF.


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