Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

• With the No. 4 scoring offense in the country, Clemson has totaled more than 40 points eight times this season.

• Clemson’s vaunted defensive line has helped the Tigers average 3.54 sacks per game. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell leads with 10.5 sacks.

• Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence has thrown for 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone.


Notre Dame’s defensive line needs to be stout if the Irish are going to limit Clemson’s offense in any way. That starts with Tillery causing disruptions in the run game. That makes Notre Dame’s linebackers better. When Tillery puts pressure on the quarterback, that makes defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem harder to avoid when coming off the edge. Tillery has recorded eight sacks this season, but they’ve come in only four games. The Irish need Tillery to play at his peak against Clemson.


The wrinkle Notre Dame’s offense needs against Clemson might be Armstrong — and not just in the running game. Notre Dame’s best bet in the passing game should be in the middle of the field, which will create opportunities for running backs, slot receivers and tight ends. Armstrong can be utilized in those first two roles. Offensive coordinator Chip Long is happy to have all his weapons at his disposal and some creativity with Armstrong would make a lot of sense.


The three-time All-American will attempt to give Notre Dame’s offensive line fits. Wilkins leads all Clemson defensive linemen with 52 tackles and has added 13.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks. Even if the Tigers are missing fellow defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence because of a failed drug test, Wilkins can still cause enough disruption on his own. The Irish will have to account for the quickness of Wilkins and prevent him from penetrating.


The explosive sophomore has averaged 8.31 yards per carry on his way to 1,463 yards and 21 touchdowns. Those numbers are all good for top five in the country in each category. Etienne has given Clemson’s offense balance with seven 100-yard rushing games and taken the pressure off Lawrence. The Irish likely will need to keep Etienne in check if they have any chance of slowing down the Tigers. But running back Lyn-J Dixon, averaging 9.57 yards on just 56 carries, can hurt Notre Dame too.

Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery recorded four sacks against Stanford. He also tore the labrum in his right shoulder during that game, but he refused to have surgery during the season.
Clemson’s Travis Etienne rushes out of the backfield during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Duke on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)