December 29th is fast approaching as Notre Dame prepares to take on the Clemson Tigers. This is the first playoff game in Notre Dame history and puts them one game away from a Nation Championship. Both teams are extremely talented and this will likely be a close game. With a month to prepare, this will come down to Kelly and the game plan of Notre Dame.
It Starts Up Front
Clemson has an unbelievably talented front seven that will likely give the Fighting Irish offense issue all game. The Clemson offensive line however has been less then stellar when facing top talent. In both the Texas A&M and BC game, Clemson struggled on offense and couldn’t get much going. Notre Dame will be the best front seven that Clemson will face to this point. Jerry Tillery has been a top end talent all year and I expect that to continue.
With Tillery in the middle and the highly talented stable of rotating defensive ends, Clemson will need to pull out all the stops to put up points on the Irish.
On the other side of the ball will be a bit of a problem. Clemson has one of the best defensive front seven’s in all of football. The Notre Dame offensive line lost Alex Bars early and after losing two top 10 draft picks in the draft, a slide in production is expected.
Looking at USC, Northwestern and Pitt shows what happens when the run game is shut down. Ian Book has been solid all year but he struggles without a running when he has to drop back and throw all game. Clemson will also be bringing one of the best pass rushes in the country to hound Book all game. Notre Dame will need to assert their dominance on offense because the defensive line can handle their own.
It Comes Down to Kelly
Kelly has just won Coach of the Year again and has to prove he earned it. This game is between two very similar teams and will likely come down to coaching. The last time Notre Dame was in a National Championship, not only was Alabama better, but Brian Kelly was out-coached.
Dabo Swinney can coach with the best of them and has already proven he belongs. The defense can hold this Clemson offense in check so it will come down to the offense. Kelly needs to find a way to get the run game going. Jafar Armstrong should be worked back into the mix to help open up screens or quick passes to slow down the pass rush. But this is going to be what Kelly can do to open up the offense.
This will be the biggest spot for Ian Book in his career. Getting him comfortable will be a must. Clemson is weaker on the back-end of the defense as South Carolina displayed. Throwing the ball on Clemson is doable, but if Book has pressure in his face, it will be a long day.
Kelly has shown quite a bit of change this season but he faces his biggest test yet. Coaching at the highest level and winning will help cement his name in Notre Dame history. Notre Dame, Clemson means as much to Kelly’s legacy as it does to the 2018 season.
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Started Saturday Tailgate in 2018. Covering all things college football and talking Notre Dame on Twitter.