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Notre Dame Football

Which team benefits from Clemson-Notre Dame Round II?

December 13, 2020

Certainly, the rematch adds an element of intrigue.

Yes, Clemson faces a must-win situation.

It isn't quite the same for Notre Dame, though it can ill afford to take anything for granted this weekend.

The ACC Championship Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., is quite unlike anything the league's experienced since its inception in 2005.

Except this game's a rematch of perhaps college football's greatest game this season; Notre Dame's 47-40, double-overtime take-down of the Tigers on Nov. 7 in South Bend, Indiana.

So, does that mean advantage Clemson? Or do the Irish own less pressure and confidence from the earlier win?

“I think it depends on what happens the first time around,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, architect now of three undefeated regular seasons in 11 years atop the Golden Dome program, said. “This was a double-overtime game, both teams believe that they could have won the football game.

“Certainly, we did and I'm sure Clemson believes they could have won the game. From that perspective, I think both teams leave with a feeling of confidence.”

Kelly then made clear that Clemson is not a program bereft of belief. The Tigers also welcome back projected 2021 No. 1 NFL Draft pick Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and linebacker James Skalski on defense – both of whom missed the regular-season meeting.

“Look, Clemson is not a team that needs confidence,” Kelly said. “They've been the king of the ACC for a number of years. I think in the game that we played, I think both teams got a better sense of who they are and I don't know that there's an advantage one way or the other.

“This is still going to come down to the fundamentals and players making plays. There's really good players on both sides of the ball. I just think it's gonna be a really closely contested football game. I think it's gonna match up the way people think it is."

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney was a bit more succinct in assessing what his team must improve upon in Round 2.

"The trenches,” Swinney said on the ACC Zoom Sunday. “Up front. We got our butts kicked, it's that simple."

Irish quarterback Ian Book ran for twice as many yards as Clemson star Travis Etienne in the opening matchup, and Notre Dame redshirt-freshman back Kyren Williams stamped his arrival on the national scene with a dazzling, 140-yard, three-touchdown performance.

"We rushed for 1 yard to their 5.1 (average); we need to be more efficient than that,” Swinney said. “As far as balanced, you do what you do best and what defenses dictate and all that stuff.”

Though not always circling the same recruiting waters, and Notre Dame's overall football tradition stretches as deep as any program in the nation, Kelly does see similarities in the two current iterations as they prepare for Notre Dame's first-ever conference title game and Clemson seeks its seventh championship-game victory, including a sixth in a row.

"Well, both of them are steeped in a process and building a strong bond within their program as it relates to relationships with their players and amongst the players,” Kelly said. “I think that that is very important in having success, so there's some similarities there certainly.

“The recruiting to a profile, both programs are looking for somebody that fits into that culture, if you will, and I think that both programs are looking for that kind of student athlete that fits that profile. I think when you're talking about championship-level programs, there is still the ability to look at the nuances of each program, and Dabo has some things that he does that are a little bit different than we do at Notre Dame. But by and large, it's about establishing a winning culture with players that are committed to that and are held accountable to it, quite frankly. I think that that's probably where the similarities are the most between the two programs."

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