- Not that it matters, but I still stand fully behind what I said previously about Notre Dame's defense. When healthy, I think the Irish have elite players in their starting eleven. Early in the game I don't think Notre Dame was overwhelmed physically - they were holding up in man coverage and getting pressure on Trevor Lawrence. Once Julian Love and Julian Okwara (two of their three best players) got injured, the dam broke. The point here is not to make excuses for Notre Dame - I had picked Clemson to win assuming perfect health for both teams. Clemson was clearly the better team, and they had no trouble overcoming the loss of starter Dexter Lawrence. Notre Dame should have played softer coverage when they knew they were down their top corner and pass rusher. My point is, this game didn't tell me that the Irish are total frauds. It told me that they have the high-end talent you expect from a playoff team, but they still lack playoff-caliber depth. I get that it's easier and more fun to throw nuance out the window, but if that's what you're looking for then feel free to read another blog.
Sunday, December 30, 2018
On Notre Dame vs. Clemson
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
On Clemson vs. Notre Dame
- The prevailing consensus for this game seems to be that Notre Dame will be lucky if the game is still winnable at halftime. I understand the skepticism of Notre Dame. I am not as high on them as I was at the midseason - since that time, they have had to eke out close wins against Pitt and USC, and their big wins over Stanford, Virginia Tech, and Michigan look significantly less impressive. Their schedule looked daunting in the preseason, but it ended up being a really bad schedule when Stanford, VaTech, Florida State, and USC all collapsed in the same season. It is fair to say they they haven't been tested against a great or even very good opponent since week 1. And I think to some extent, Alabama's beatdown of Notre Dame in the 2013 Orange Bowl still colors the way many perceive the program. But I caution viewers against underrating this iteration of the Irish. First of all, Notre Dame mostly dominated their schedule - since Ian Book became the starter, they haven't had a single game with a post-game win expectancy below 95%. Second, this team has recruited at a higher overall level than they had in 2012, and they have high draft picks at all levels of the defense (by contrast, I don't think anyone from the 2012 team's secondary was drafted higher than round 6). Since that Alabama game, Notre Dame has beaten LSU twice, and gone blow for blow with three playoff teams (2014 Florida State, 2015 Clemson, and 2017 Georgia). Third, this is a very balanced team that can beat you in many different ways. Their offense isn't elite in any one area, which is why they don't always look like world beaters against mediocre teams. However, with Book under center, it's extremely difficult to stop them completely, and I think their offense will scale better than the spread-to-run offense they were running with Brandon Wimbush.
- The main reason why I am simply not convinced that game will be a blowout is that I think people are overrating just how good this Clemson team really is. Don't get me wrong, Clemson is elite. They have the best freshman quarterback since Peyton Manning, along with usual stars at wide receiver and defensive line. Travis Etienne may well be the best running back in the country. Their rushing defense is historically good. However, I have major concerns about their passing defense. Their statistics look pretty good because the ACC was pitiful this year - in most games, Clemson's defensive line was able to overwhelm the past protection so badly that the opposing quarterback didn't stand a chance. I also think their games against two triple option teams (Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech) because those teams are disproportionately dependent on being efficient in the run game to be competent in the passing game, and Clemson is hard-wired to shut down power running games. However, their two toughest opponents, Texas A&M and South Carolina, were able to keep their quarterbacks upright and pick apart Clemson's shaky secondary. Had Clemson played a tougher schedule I question whether this game would be viewed as a warm-up for the national championship.