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Notre Dame Football

Film Don't Lie | 3rd Down vs Clemson's Defense

December 9, 2020

What Notre Dame did against Clemson to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball was the main storyline after the Irish defeated the Tigers. There were other factors that played a significant role in the win as well, though. At the top of the list was what Notre Dame’s offense was able to do on 3rd down.

They converted 10 of 19 3rd down chances vs Clemson (52.6%). No other team had converted greater than 38% all season against Brent Venables defense, which isn’t at all surprising. Clemson is annually ranked in the top-15 in 3rd down defense and hasn’t been lower than 12th in that category since 2013. They are 11th this season.

Notre Dame has been one of the best at converting on 3rd down in 2020. They convert over 50% of the time and are 9th in the country. Clemson hasn’t played a 3rd down offense anywhere close to that. The highest ranked one they faced was Miami at 51st.

Venables is unpredictable and he was against Notre Dame as well with the different pressures and coverages he showed. Tommy Rees was unpredictable as well. Many Notre Dame fans may have gotten used to Ian Book throwing shallow crossers to convert on 3rd downs, but they were much more diverse than that with what they ran.

The first big 3rd and long of the game and Clemson is playing cover 1. They do what they often do with Venables. They test the protection by showing six potential rushers, but only rush five. Tommy Kraemer (78) ends up not blocking anyone because the potential rusher is faking and then spying. That means it’s one on one matchups across the board with Kyren Williams (23) having to pick up the blitzer. That’s why you keep in six against Clemson, though.


Then it’s a one on one matchup on the outside with Notre Dame running 4 verts. Javon McKinley wins the 50/50 ball on the back shoulder throw by Ian Book.

Later on 3rd and 4 Clemson is rushing six, but Notre Dame does a tremendous job in protection again. This is from a more constricted formation and it’s 13 personnel. Clemson is playing zone and Book had options with Tommy Tremble (24), who leaked out into the flat, or Michael Mayer (87), who was open on the other side.


If Book recognized the corner blitzing pre-snap, he could have hit Mayer. He was being covered by the safety who was lined up way off of him. He got the ball out quickly to Tremble instead, who was open because the safety was occupied by the threat of Joe Wilkins (18) hooking up in the middle of the field.

The motion by Wilkins set it all up because the corner backed off and there wasn’t there to take away the flat.

On another 3rd and 4, Venables is showing six potential rushers again, but only brings four. The protection is good again and Notre Dame has a bunch formation to the boundary and the route combinations allow for not only Ben Skowronek (11) to get open on a pivot route, but Avery Davis (3) as well. He is running a corner and the safety gets caught focusing on Mayer.


Even on this play where Book’s first read is the crosser to McKinley, there are options. Clemson is rushing four. The crosser is being robbed over the middle by the safety so it was a good decision not to throw it.


Book went to his next read, which was to Davis who the safety beat for a potential touchdown if this throw was accurate. That wasn’t a high percentage throw, but the other side with Mayer hooking up was.

This wasn’t a case of the crosser being taken away and having nothing there.

Then on the last 3rd down of the game, Venables brought the house pressuring with seven. Skowronek won on the comeback, but there was a complete bust by Clemson with no one covering Tremble. It’s six if Book had seen it pre-snap. 


It all starts with protection for Notre Dame and that was very good against Clemson. Everyone knows what Williams did picking up the blitz, but the line was outstanding as well.

If he’s healthy, I believe it will be Zeke Correll in at center with Kraemer back at right guard in the next matchup. I thought Correll handled himself well in protection against North Carolina so we’ll see how that goes.

But if Notre Dame can protect like they have all season, we’ve seen that Rees does a great job of giving Book options to convert. Book did a great job taking advantage of those. Notre Dame will need a similar performance from both to beat Clemson a second time.

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