Chat Transcript: Talking Notre Dame-Clemson matchups, Jurkovec (again), Kelly's game face

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Clemson Week Edition. This will be a politics-free chat, so let's have some fun.

Ryan from Atlanta: Eric, I always appreciate your excellent work, and especially so under the difficult working conditions that this year has brought. My question: The Irish have done a good job of limiting big play backs like ISU’s Breece Hall and Louisville’s Javian Harris. They didn’t do a bad job on Travis Etienne in 2018. But this year, I have to believe that he will be more involved in the game plan, given a freshman quarterback starting. Do you believe the Irish can limit him, and if so, how? Thanks, and go Irish!

Eric Hansen: Ryan, thank you. I think Travis Etienne is more dangerous than those backs you mentioned, even though his current numbers don't reflect that. I think he's very dangerous in the passing game, but Clemson this season has yet to face someone like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and his ability to so profoundly affect the run defense and the ability to cover someone like Etienne and it not be a mismatch. Here are the reasons for ND to feel good about this matchup. Clemson is 55th nationally in rush offense. ND has already faced and tamed three rushing offenses ranked higher than that — Florida State (27), Louisville (33) and Georgia Tech (52). Rush defense has been the slowest evolutionary piece in Brian Kelly's time at ND. The Irish ranked no higher than 70th between 2013-2016. Other than 2012, they've been no higher than 36th. They were 60th last season. They're eighth right now.

Now it's not a linear math problem. If Clemson is strong in the passing game and balanced Saturday night, it's going to make defending the run harder. But ND has the defensive makeup to be competitive in that matchup.

Dwight from Arkansas: I think these next two games will pretty well define the ND season. They will finish with a winning record, but with Clemson and BC back to back, the potential for two defeats is there. After last Saturday's performance by backup D.J. Uiagalelei I don't think anyone can feel sorry for the Tigers. With such a talented replacement and Travis Etienne (and as Kelly points out, they have so much more talent), I still feel Clemson is a solid favorite at ND on Saturday. An Irish loss would not be a shock but could set up for another loss at BC. The Eagles have impressed me and dominated Clemson for a half. If they put two solid halves together when ND comes calling, they could very well win. With a team possibly "down" if Clemson wins and a BC team with a QB looking to prove to his old teammates that he can play, do you see a real problem the next two weeks? (That's not even considering that an explosive NC team looms ahead).

Eric Hansen: Dwight, I'm glad you didn't forget North Carolina. They're spastic on defense, but they're really, really good offensively. I wrote in my column after the Georgia Tech game, the month of November is the proving ground, not just this weekend.

Brian Kelly is very aware of this dynamic. It's why he took the approach he did at Monday's press conference: “Look, this game it’s not the end-all for us. For us, we could win this game. But if you lose to BC, this game doesn’t mean anything.

“I mean, we’re still in pursuit of a conference championship, so it’s about steady play. It’s about raising your level of compete on Saturdays, which we’re in the process of doing. It’s about consistency in performance, which we’re certainly well on our way to checking that box.

“You’re going to get opportunities like this, and you want to win these games. But we can’t be overly emotional about this football game and lose sight of the fact we’ve got five more games to play.

“We can’t empty the tank and say, ‘Hey we beat Clemson; we’ve arrived.’ No we haven’t.”

I think we're all in agreement, that ND, win or lose, is going to have to deal with a Clemson hangover, and Kelly is already laying the groundwork for that.

John from Birmingham: Hello, Eric. Interesting to see that you indicated that Ian Book (against teams that are a combined 12-28) has moved ahead of Phil Jurkovec (against teams that are a combined 23-25) in the category of NCAA passing efficiency. Which direction will the three-year starter at QB for ND move against Clemson? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: John, I get this thread in some form every week. As I mentioned to someone in my Twitter mentions this past Saturday, this has become the soundtrack of my life ... at least professionally. Some people are mad PJ transferred and feel the Book should have been the one to leave. Some think both should have stayed. Some just want to know what the heck happened. Let me preface my answer to your specific question with some generalities that might help us move on or at least advance the conversation.

In 2018, just before national signing day, I did a (premium) story on the sweet 16 top recruits of the Brian Kelly Era. My criteria was not all about star ratings. Geographical significance, impact on program perception, need, timing, how the player developed, and team success were all part of that big picture. The order will have changed by now, but the 2018 snapshot is still significant.

Stephon Tuitt was No. 1. Phil Jurkovec was No. 2. Unlike a lot of people on our beat, I never fell out of (platonic) love of who Phil could become. But I did wonder if he needed a fresh start elsewhere. I felt his struggles were more about things above the eyebrows than supposedly unfixable flawed mechanics. Phil has publicly stated why he thought that it got to that point with him, so we'll let those comments stand.

Here's what I want to throw out there for consideration. In today's college football, it's quite possible that both the quarterback that stays (Tua Tagovailoa for example) and the one who leaves (Jalen Hurts) can both be good players and both be successful simultaneously. It doesn't have to be one or the other. I'm open to the possibility that Phil could ultimately be the better player between Book and PJ. I felt that way when he walked in the door that he had a higher ceiling. But he's not on the team anymore, so let's kind of live with that and be happy for him.

To your question, the reason I used those stats, without additional and exacting context, was to point out that PJ hadn't turned into Joe Montana and Book hadn't turned into Pat Dillingham. But contextually, they have played three common opponents this season (Georgia Tech, Pitt and Duke) and Phil's cumulative numbers against those three teams are better.

Steve from Toledo, Ohio: Eric, what has happened to Notre Dame? Did our multimillion-dollar head coach just tell us that he doesn't believe that the biggest home game to happen since FSU in 1993 and USC later should be a measure of where his program stands? He prefers to gauge his success with late-game heroics vs. Ball St, Vandy, Louisville and a 29-3 record against a composite schedule of teams whose winning percentages are below .500. His record against ranked teams is 1-3. After being demolished by a mediocre Michigan team last year, he famously stated that if they won in November, all would be fine. A coach and players come to ND to play in games like this, not downplay them. Should AD Jack Swarbrick speak up in defense of this university's heritage and not support lowering expectations to preserve a coach's performance or lack thereof? We know "winning is hard," but what about "what though the odds?" That's part of who we are and it is embedded in this program. I think the players and students understand. Does he?

Eric Hansen: He does, and this goes to the core of Dwight from Arkansas' question. I wrote an entire column about why I felt this was the right approach in Monday's press conference. But of course, he knows it's a big game.

Analysis: Defiant Brian Kelly preps for Notre Dame's very necessary perceptual battles

Kevin from Rhode Island: Eric, do you think ND will continue to try and push the ball downfield vs. Clemson, even though it has proven to be highly ineffective for them? I see these as being wasted plays on Saturday with their hopes of "loosening up" Clemson's defense. Clemson will not alter their defensive game plan simply because ND took a few shots downfield. In my opinion the offense this week should be run through the running game, Michael Mayer and Tommy Tremble. I also think it will be important to throw the ball to the running backs out of the backfield. Thoughts?

Eric Hansen: I do think Notre Dame needs to take some shots — and complete them. Otherwise, Clemson is going to play their safeties up and gum up the running game and those tight end routes. I do think the running game and the tight end/running back throws will be critical Saturday, but Clemson is too good for the Irish to let them play with nine guys near the line of scrimmage down after down.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Miss tempo, adjusting to multiple sets formations, etc., but can’t rely on defense to win this game. Need points!! Correct me if I'm wrong but Bowden in heyday only ran six or seven different plays but ran them to perfection! Please tell me the most important thing ND has to do to win other than avoiding turnovers? Hope you’re in the press box, and thanks for being the best! Please stay safe. We need you! Go Irish!!

Eric Hansen: Bill, thanks. I will be in the press box Saturday. We've been rotating, since we're only allowed one person per outlet, and I wanted everyone to get a chance on our staff to experience this unusual/historic season from that vantage point. And thanks for the kind words. To your central question, Ian Book needs to be a better-than-average version of himself. That will allow the rest of the offense to operate, particularly the running game.

KJ from Kent, Ohio: With Kofi Wardlow and Ja'Mion Franklin transferring and also the likely chance that the Texas D-lineman who is currently committed won’t actually be on the roster, does this add three more “takes” for this class? Or because of the “free year” of eligibility this year for all, will ND simply put those spots in their “back pockets?”

Eric Hansen: KJ, good question, and if you want a deeper dive into this, I'll post a link to a story I did recently on the weird scholarship math at the end of this answer.

Here's the short version. Yes, it opens up spots. Notre Dame's scholarship math this cycle will be calculated as it always is when it comes to new players coming in. Where teams can go over the normal limit of 85 scholarships in 2021 is ONLY by the number of players with otherwise expiring eligibility. So you can't just go out and grab 11 players from the transfer portal or inflate your recruiting class size, for instance. The 85 math still has to work for everyone else on the roster. Now here's why you can't put them in your back pocket. In 2022, teams must get back down to 85. That's going to be a huge challenge for everybody.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly can't ignore festering numbers crunch

Mike from Rochester, N.Y.: Hi, Eric. Did Jordan Johnson get into the game against Georgia Tech? If not, any thoughts why, since Brian Kelly talked about getting him involved? I was surprised to not see him on the two-deeps for Clemson, but Jafar Armstrong was. Is Johnson still learning the “little things," like where to line up, correct route running, run blocking, etc.? I’m not being sarcastic, I know there’s more to wide receiver than winning footraces downfield. Just wondering what’s holding Jordan back.

Eric Hansen: Mike, he did travel to Atlanta (unlike Pittsburgh), but he did not get any snaps. My sense is had the score become lopsided early, he would have been worked in. I do think the little things matter in the trust factor with the coaching staff. I'm not saying it's right. I'm also not saying JJ will just fade back into a scout-team role. The Armstrong thing is interesting. It would not have happened with a healthy Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin. I loved him as a freshman in training camp at wide receiver, but I'm not sure he's a better option than Johnson, short- or long-term. Jafar is a great kid, so it's easy to hope it works out for him.

Lou from Miami, Fla.: Eric, any idea whether Jordan Johnson sees the field this week? We'll need him if we expect to reach the 20s against Clemson.

Eric Hansen: I wouldn't rule it out. I would not expect it in large doses, however.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Last year against Georgia, I read somewhere that there would be 20+ plays per game where the Georgia QB could just turn around and hand the ball off and basically take a mental break, because their O-line and running backs could be trusted to get the yards. But on every play Ian Book would need to be mentally involved making the right pre-snap read and then the right post-snap read in the read-option or RPO game. Do you think this year Book has the luxury of those mental breaks on simple running plays, and will that benefit him in a game like Clemson?

Eric Hansen: Not in a game like Clemson. Like Syracuse? Yes. Like Florida State? Yes. Notre Dame was kind of a flailing defense coming into the Georgia in game last season, but it started to come of age that night and then turned it on in November. Clemson's defense is much better than Notre Dame's was at any point last season. Actually Notre Dame's defense is better than ND's was at any point last season.

Tom from Downers Grove, Ill.: Hi Eric. What can the coaching staff do to help prevent the QB slide of Tyler Buchner when he gets on campus? Can they also hire outside help, maybe from NFL coaches, to help coach him in the offseason?

Eric Hansen: First, Tyler has worked with Rick Mirer (as a little kid) and other outside QB coaches since then. But if Notre Dame can't develop a kid of that caliber, then they made the wrong choice at QB coach and offensive coordinator.

David H. from Washington, D.C.: Thanks for doing the chat, Eric. Has there been any discussion by anyone on the Irish about using Chris Tyree in the pass game? Given the struggles Notre Dame has had creating big plays downfield, he seems like a matchup they could exploit against opponents' linebackers or safeties.

Eric Hansen: Absolutely, there has been talk about it, and this might be the game where you will see it happen. He does have two catches for 15 yards. If Kyren Williams weren't so good in the passing game, I think we would have seen more of Tyree at this point. But I like the way you think.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, We missed you at the Georgia Tech game. Great that we finally made it to Clemson week. I know the prevailing opinion is that for ND to win this game, it needs to be relatively low scoring and not a shootout. That being said, do you think there is any chance we see a series or two of uptempo play just to mix it up, and possibly throw Clemson off a bit. Thanks for hosting the chat.

Eric Hansen: Marie, we will have a raincheck brew the next time. I do like the notion of changing speeds with the offense. It does make sense, by and large, that ND bleed the clock, limit possessions and shorten the game, but I think tempo in small stretches makes sense. Brian Kelly is missing some good coaching tips this week if he's not tuned into the chat.

Michael from Chicago: Any insight into what seems to be a higher number of in-season transfers than usual for the Irish? Can the players that have decided to leave the team but remain in school be on the sidelines for home games? Or do they sit in the stands since they are students?

Eric Hansen: The number of transfers itself isn't high, but in-season it indeed is. As Ja'Mion Franklin and Jahmir Smith both strongly suggested, some of this is pandemic-related and is a mental health issue. I'm not saying it's that way universally, but it is factoring in — and not just at Notre Dame. All of them to my knowledge are remaining in school, with some of them getting their degrees in December. If they're not practicing, which they are not, it would be awkward to have them on the sideline, even though they are on good tgerms with their former teammates.

RC from Albany: Hi Eric. I am excited for the opportunity to take on Clemson but also concerned about our ability to keep pace with Clemson offensively. What is your prediction for Saturday night? Thanks for keeping the chats going. I need the distraction.

Eric Hansen: We had to pick a score on our podcast. Otherwise, I would have not thrown one out there. But since Tyler James made me, I picked the Irish 27-26. I am not overly confident in that pick. Thanks to you, RC, and the other chatters. It's nice to have some normal fun when the world seems to be so intense this days.

Ken from Westland: Eric, if we pull off the upset this week, which wide receiver really has to step up?

Eric Hansen: I think Avery Davis is a wild card in this game.

Kevin from Round Rock, Texas: Longtime reader, first-time poster. I love the chats and the podcasts. ... Thanks so much for giving us the skinny on the Irish. I have a request: When you and Tyler do your "prop" bets on the podcast, could you review your previous week's results? I really enjoy hearing your prognostications, but it would be lots more fun if I knew how well they turned out.

Eric Hansen: I will suggest that to him. Tyler does keep track. And if he's ahead, he usually lets me and everyone else know about it. That's why I kind of sense I'm winning so far this season. But certainly, we can do a short review. That might be fun. Thanks, Kevin, your first question was a really good one.

Joe from Valparaiso, Ind.: Hello Eric, you are the best! Was Chip Long's abrasive personality a significant factor in Phil Jurkovec's decision to transfer or were there other overriding factors? Something was mentioned during the BC-Clemson telecast that inferred it was "people" issue.

Eric Hansen: It absolutely was, and Phil has said as much. But Chip was gone in early December and Phil still chose to leave. He did not absolve Brian Kelly, perhaps in part he might have felt Brian waited too long to get rid of Long. Thanks for the kind words, by the way.

Mike from Quakertown, Pa.: Hi Eric! I hope you are well and healthy. I just read your article on Nick McCloud, and I very much enjoyed it. I appreciate pieces that help me get to know the players. Do you think Notre Dame now has the depth in the secondary to hold elite passing offenses in check? Does Notre Dame have to win both Saturday and then beat Clemson again in the ACC title game to make the playoff? Or can they split the games and still get in? Thanks for taking our questions!

Eric Hansen: Mike, thanks and thanks and I am. Notre Dame, if it can stay healthy, has a growing, improving secondary that has a chance to be elite next season. I wonder if McCloud will come back and be part of it. I like the depth at corner better than I like the current depth at safety. And who would have guessed that at the beginning of the season? On Monday, I laid out some possible playoff scenarios, and yes I think it's possible for both teams to make the playoff with a split, but we need to know more info about the other teams in the mix.

Manny from San Pedro, Calif.: Eric!!!!!!!!!! This is what makes college football so good. If we win this week but lose the rematch in ACC title game, will experts not give us credit due to Trevor Lawrence being out?!?!?

Eric Hansen: Manny !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think a lot of that depends on whether there's a rematch (and there should be if ND wins) and what that score is like with Trevor Lawrence playing. I think the fact that D.J. Uiagalelei played well in his other start helps ND in the perception game if the Irish win.

Barney from Long Island: Eric, what's the deal with "the transfer portal?" We hear it mentioned more and more these days. It seems like it is being expanded to allow any scholar-athlete to switch whenever he or she feels like it and begin playing immediately.

Eric Hansen: The difference between the portal and what existed before is that players are able to cut out the possibility that the school from which they're transferring can block certain schools as a potential new destinations or even from contacting a player. The player can also go back to his old school, provided the old school still wants him. Eventually, it's likely all football players will have a one-time transfer exemption with no waiting. That should happen formally next year.

Ed from Palm Beach: Listening to coach on Monday, he obviously got a bit testy about his lack of success in BIG GAMES, channeling questions to his record the past few years. Do you think the pressure to produce a signature win finally hit home with him? Thanks for your excellent reporting.

Eric Hansen: Ed, thanks. No I think his testiness was kind of a positive thing. I enjoyed it personally. He's locked in for Saturday.

Don from Cabo San Lucas: I know everyone wants to dissect the upcoming game nine ways to Sunday. But give your brain a short break. COVID aside, what surprises you most about this season? What teams jump out as pleasant or sad sacks? Stay well.

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Don. The surprises on ND's team for me are the running backs and cornerbacks. Nationally? BYU, Indiana, Coastal Carolina. Disappointments nationally? Michigan, Penn State, LSU and pretty much the whole Big 12.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Hi Eric; Well "the bright lights and big stage" are all here for Saturday's game! Can you peel back the onion on coach Kelly's statement that he and Dabo Swinney have a different business plan for developing players. Thank you again for your hard work in keeping us informed.

Eric Hansen: Denny, I don't think there was anything sinister there, and he might have been overstating it a bit in the heat of the moment. Both recruit nationally, though Clemson has some regionality to its roster as well. Notre Dame relies on "fit" a lot more than Clemson does, but the Tigers have done a very good job of that, nevertheless. Clemson wins with a lot of five-star players, but Dabo was winning with more mortal levels of talent during the early part of his regime.

Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric. Thanks for providing all of us some sanity the day after the election. How do you think the ND's wide receivers will do vs. the Clemson DVs? Will they get open enough to prevent Ian Book from having to thread the needle on every throw? That seems to be what's lacking in the passing attack. Is it the receivers, scheme, coaching or something else? At least it wasn't a 17-part question! Thanks again for keeping us informed.

Eric Hansen: The wide receiver issue/challenge has layers to it. I'll try to lay this out in a coherent way. At times there have been separation issues, but some of that is related to chemistry/timing and not trusting that the receiver is going to break right and get open. Sometimes Book is going to have to throw it and let his receiver make a play, as Ben Skowronek did against Pitt. I do think ND's offense functions better when there's a pure speed receiver at the "X" position. They're on the roster, but two of them are hurt at the moment and one (Jordan Johnson) is trying to prove he belongs in the rotation. Thank you all for being here and providing me sanity.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Eric, hope all is well on this Wednesday. If you were calling plays on Saturday, what would be your game plan? What do you see as ND’s best plan of attack against their defense? Also, what would you identify as Clemson’s weak area on defense? If they have one. Thanks, and God bless.

Eric Hansen: Alex, thanks. If I were calling plays this Saturday, I would need a raise and Brian Kelly would need his head examined. Having said that, I would use the tight ends and the running backs as much as I could get away with. I would try to limit possessions as long as I could play with the lead, but as Marie suggested, I like tempo in short, intermittent stretches. Defensively, I'd make sure Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah got matched up with Travis Etienne in the passing game. I'd mix some blitzes in to try to throw D.J. Uiagalelei's timing off. I'd also play Isaiah Foskey a lot. That's the short version anyway. I guess I overstepped my imaginary purview with the defensive tactics.

Mike McFadden, Williamsport, Pa.: Hi Eric, Hey, I have a little bit of an offbeat question today just to ease the tension of the Clemson game, Ok? During your many years of holding these chats, can you think of what celebrity/actor OR the most influential person OR biggest athlete (football or otherwise) may have sent in a question? My guess is Joe Theismann. Am I correct? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Mike, that is a fun question, but I don't have a fun answer, because it wouldn't have ever registered. I would have no way to verify that's who it actually was, and even then I'm kind of stupid when it comes to celebrities and don't know all the ones I should. But let me tell you, I have great fun and appreciate the folks who do submit questions, whoever they are. I am blessed to have such an astute group and one that puts up with my lame humor.

Jeff from York, Pa.: ESPN has a long list of four- and five-star recruits in their top 300 players. Many of them are still undecided. Is ND recruiting any of them?

Eric Hansen: Yes. I don't follow the ESPN 300, because I think it's the least reliable of the recruiting services. There aren't a lot of spots left in the class, but Ceyair Wright, Donovan Edwards, Titus Mokiao-Atimalala are all four-star prospects ND is still recruiting, plus a handful of four-stars they're trying to flip out of other classes.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Eric, my best to you and hats off for your superb coverage of the Irish. If Book should engineer a win this Saturday, will that be enough to elevate him into a status as one of ND's best-ever QBs? Also, for all the knocks that have been leveled at him, shouldn't we give him real credit for the way he is able to distribute the ball around and involve multiple receivers. Not all QBs are capable of that feat, which reflects his ability to go through multiple progressions. I mean, he got the ball to eight different pass catchers last week. In my book, that's pretty darn impressive. Thanks much.

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Jim. I do not think one game will elevate Book to that status if ND either doesn't make the playoff or they lose in the playoff because of subpar quarterback play -- fairly or unfairly. There are lots of positive attributes of Ian's that probably don't get recognized as they should.

Steve from St Louis: Curious on your confidence level, 1-10, in (ND offensive coordinator) Tommy Rees vs (Clemson defensive coordinator Brent) Venables and also the ability for the offense to execute against the Clemson D. Thanks for the chats.

Eric Hansen: I talked to someone off the record about facing Venables,, who actually had, and how they thought Tommy would do. Look, Venables is one of the reasons Clemson became Clemson. However, I am more confident in Tommy's ability to call a game against someone like that than I am in ND's offense to execute it. That's where I need to be convinced/surprised, and I'm open to that. Thanks, Steve.

Stan from Rockford, Ill.: Thanks for these chats. It’s a great midweek fix until game time. Another five-part question. Answer whichever questions. 1) Can ND win without pressuring Clemson’s young QB? 2) Can ND win without holding Travis Etienne under 200 all-purpose yards? 3) Can we realistically expect a win if ND doesn’t score at least 30? ND did score 45 on a good Pitt D, but we were fortunate to cash in on three turnovers and a blocked punt score for 28 of those. 4) Ease our doubting anxious minds and specify the keys to winning vs. Clemson. Finally, 5) how’d you vote for the top 5 this week?

Eric Hansen: Stan, here we go: 1. No. 2. Not unless Clemson is a turnover machine. 3. Yes. 4. Win turnover battle, win rushing battle, play with the lead throughout the first half, get a very good day from Book, pressure D.J. Uiagalelei, control clock in the fourth quarter. 5. Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, ND, Georgia.

Kevin from Tampa (formerly Kevin from Jacksonville): Eric!!!! Nice articles this week as always. Just 15 questions here and no manifestos to meet your strict rules (except for my bare feet). This is the type of game from the Lou (Hotlz) Era that we always looked forward to, and I am glad we have it this year. The team looks solid and can make some noise if the D continues to bend not break and the O continues to run the ball well while avoiding turnovers. A dynamic special teams returner upgrade would round out an overall almost elite team. This could be the first of two games that decides who goes on to the playoff (assuming ND and Clemson win out after Saturday). Two close games and a split might be enough for both to get there. Clemson's D didn't look great against BC, and the offense more mortal without Sunshine (Trevor Lawrence). With some players out for Clrmson, are there enough cracks for ND to pull this one out? Are there any critical ND weaknesses that you think Clemson will expose? This game will tell us if ND is close to playoff material regardless of no Sunshine. Take care be safe.

Eric Hansen: Kevin, thanks and congrats on the move, I think? To your question, I think this game will speak to who Ian Book is as a college QB. I also think it will confirm or expose what we believe about the prowess of ND's offensive and defensive lines.

Polish Prince Henry from Buffalo, N.Y. Eric, having seen the effects COVID-19 can have on a football team, here is a hypothetical question for you. This past week Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID, and his backup, D.J. Uiagalelei, a true freshman, stepped in and had a very good day. If Notre Dame found itself in a similar situation, would you have preferred Phil Jurkovec was the starter and Ian Book was his backup or Ian Book is the starter and Brendon Clark or Drew Pyne would have to step in to save the day. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Henry. I'd much rather have PJ and Book to choose from than Book and somebody that has barely played mop-up duty.

Jim from Lebanon, Pa.: Hello Eric. Thank you for taking my comment and question. I viewed Brian Kelly’s Monday press conference late that evening. Noticed from the onset, he appeared somewhat out of sorts, a bit uneasy as if he had something else he was dealing with (other than Clemson). It seemed to carry throughout the entire press conference. Like he lost his dog or something. Was he given some bad news before coming to the podium? Did you or anyone else pick up on that? Really seemed to be uncharacteristic for him. Also, just wish he would drop the, “I’ve been a head coach for 30 years!" I think we get it!! I respect him and support him, as a Subway Alumni since the late '50s. Just some observations. Go Irish! Huge expectations for Saturday night.

Eric Hansen: Jim, he had a different demeanor, and it wasn't off-putting for me. I think a feisty Brian Kelly is much better than a tentative one for this matchup.

Bill G from Buffalo, N.Y.: Hi Eric. Miss not seeing the Irish in person, but what you provide for us fans is terrific. Looking at the major powerhouses in college football, most have a couple of larger interior lineman (290 pounds and above) that really do great jobs in plugging the middle of the line to help stop the run. I think our guys have been solid, but why do you think it's been difficult for Notre Dame to grab bigger guys in order to help command double teams? The last big guy I can remember was Louis Nix? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: I think the Louis Nix types are a better fit in the 3-4 than the 4-3 that ND plays. The key, if you do get those kind of guys, is to make sure they can move. Rylie Mills, who is 6-5 but nowhere close to 300 at this time, intrigues me as an interior D-lineman similarly to the way Jerry Tillery did.

Skip from Houston: Please discuss the quickly expanding transfer portal and its effects on Notre Dame, including the number of players transferring from ND and our resulting opportunities. Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Skip, Notre Dame is always going to have outgoing transfers, especially grad transfers. It's an effective part of roster management while at the same time meeting the university mission of the young man obtaining a Notre Dame degree. The portal is more for the underclassmen. Notre Dame, I think, is going to be more open to grad transfers moving forward, less so to underclassman transfers because it's hard to get credits to transfer sometimes. With a grad transfer, you don't have that issue.

Gerry Swider from Sherman Oaks, Calif. How many points would Clemson need to score in a loss to ND in order for the loss not to be blamed on the absence of Trevor Lawrence?

Eric Hansen: I don't think there's a sound mathematical formula for that. Let's say ND won 38-35. That would shed a negative light on a Notre Dame defense that's been in the top 10 nationally in the most significant defensive categories.

Tom from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eric, appreciate all you do for the ND nation of fans. Would you rate Clemson’s O-line as the best ND will have seen so far this year? If so, can this front four, which has struggled at times to get consistent pressure, do so without having to bring extra players?

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Tom. Clemson's O-Line is definitely the best the Irish have seen this season and probably will see, although I haven't evaluated North Carolina's yet. The reason BK was so jazzed about Daelin Hayes' game against a Georgia Tech team that came in leading the ACC in fewest sacks allowed is the prospect of Hayes doing that consistently. Even if that happens, Isaiah Foskey needs to be on the field in a regular rotation. He is ND's best pass rusher.

Jordan from Nashville: Hi Eric, thanks for the chat. One of the storylines this weekend is the talent gap between Notre Dame and Clemson. One thing I have noticed on Sundays is a seemingly higher number of former ND players on activate NFL rosters and many are starting. Do you feel that this is reflective of an improvement in developing talent or recruiting? The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Eric Hansen: You're right, Jordan, it is both. For instance, of the nine first-rounders in the Brian Kelly Era, only Quenton Nelson and Michael Floyd were projected that way coming out of high school. Harrison Smith, Tyler Eifert, Mike McGlinchey. Ronnie Stanley, Will Fuller, Jerry Tiller and Zack Martin were not.

John from Newhall, Calif.: Hi Eric, what an exciting opportunity during this unusual time. Most pundits are stating that Clemson will most likely stack the box and run blitz a lot to stone the Irish run game and play man to force the Irish to beat them by throwing it all over the yard. That hasn't been Notre Dame's strong suit. How do you think Tommy Rees will game plan and make in-game adjustments to counter what Clemson brings on Saturday?

Eric Hansen: John, there are different ways to attack a stacked box, and sometime you do have to run into it. But it's multiple approaches I think that would prove the most effective. Take some shots downfield with the wide receivers. Try to get the tight ends and Kyren Williams/Chris Tyree in some favorable one-on-one passing matchups.

Fred K from Richmond: Eric, I always look forward to reading your chats, and respect all your opinions. The problem that keeps coming up is Book's inability to throw the deep ball or throw his receivers open. He is, in my opinion, scared to make a mistake. I believe that this is the one thing that holds back this team. It is imperative that quarterbacks are confident in their ability to put the ball in their receivers' hands, and I don't see that. I like coach Kelly, and he has brought this team to respectability. However, he has yet to have a quarterback who is the real deal. When do you see that happening, because Book is a nice quarterback, but not good enough for us to beat the Clemsons or Alabamas of the world. Thanks and, as always, GO IRISH!!

Eric Hansen: I'm not going to say you're wrong about Book, because it hasn't happened to this point. His game against Pitt was encouraging, but I don't feel he was as good against Georgia Tech. There have been a number of offensive coordinators and QB coaches during the Kelly regime, so the reasons/trends, etc. in the QB room won't necessarily apply to what Tommy Rees is doing. ND does need better QB play, whether it's from Book or someone in the future, to pair with a great defense to make a run at the national title.

Dale from Placerville, Calif.: Eric, I hope that all is well with you and yours. I know that you are a busy person this week. We live 15 minutes up the road from Ian Book's hometown, so looking for the local hero to have his best game in an ND uniform. Also, I think Shaun Crawford comes up with a huge play for the Irish, like he did against Michigan State a few years ago. Do you think that the Irish passing game can make another big step forward this week? Can the receivers make a bigger difference? Can the line give Book enough time to be comfortable to make confident throws? Defense wins championships. I think ours gets us closer to that goal this week. Stay safe. And thanks for the chats.

Eric Hansen: Thanks Dale, if you told me that a healthy and capable Braden Lenzy was part of Saturday's game plan, I would feel better about the offense this weekend. I do like ND's defense a lot. I think its importance is understated. We'll soon find out if I'm way off.

Tim in Atlanta: I believe the key to beating Clemson in this game is to go right at them and play "smash-mouth" football. No green jerseys. No trick plays. No long pass to open the game. My question is: Has the game changed too much for that to happen?

Eric Hansen: Defense and offensive line play still matter a lot. What the elite teams are doing is still valuing and recruiting for that, but also adding pyrotechnics into its offense. Look at Mac Jones, Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence. Then look at ND, Georgia and Cincinnati. 4-5-6 in the AP rankings don't have that consistently dynamic playmaker at QB. Alabama won national titles with the old formula. That's harder to do now. Book doesn't need to be Joe Montana on Saturday but he does need to be at least a good version of DeShone Kizer.

Jim from Western Maryland: Hi Eric. Please suggest to Mr. Kelly to wear his hat during games. He looks more like a coach.

Eric Hansen: Jim, do you really think he'd listen to me for fashion advice?

Ed from Golden, Colo.: Eric, just a comment. I find your reaction to Brian Kelly's Monday session refreshing. I listened to a podcast from another site on the ND Football beat, and one of the guys became a bit unglued, like he took it personally. Thanks for all you do.

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Ed.

Sean from Portland, Ore.: If Dos Equis was hiring a new "World's Most Interesting Man," who from ND Football would be the leading candidate to land the job and why?

Eric Hansen: Kyle Hamilton comes to mind, because of his genius IQ, his Korean and African-American backgrounds, etc. Kurt Hinish, because of he's so raw and genuine, and his family has been through so much, and he's so strong for it. But I have a feeling, if you could get Liam Eichenberg unfiltered, this would be your Dos Equis guy.

Henry from Stockton, Calif.: Hello Eric. Good to be chatting about Notre Dame football. Thank you for providing a platform. It is a weekly diversion I greatly appreciate. Watching the BC-Clemson game, I saw BC was able to be reasonably effective in their ground game against Clemson throughout the entire game. I understand Clemson had three starters out and I do not know if they are back, but this offers some hope to the Irish. If the Irish can run the ball, shorten the game and keep the Clemson offense off the field, it would be a big plus. Do you see the running game as a key part of the game plan?

Eric Hansen: I was surprised at how well BC has run the ball recently after being one of the worst running teams in the country early in the season. Absolutely the running game is important on Saturday night. And ND is 11th nationally in rushing offense.

Mike from Oklahoma: Hi Eric. Looks like ND is in a no-win situation this coming Saturday. If they win, they were supposed to because Lawrence is missing. If they lose, even if they play well, they will be perceived as not deserving of a playoff spot. Thoughts?

Eric Hansen: I don't agree. D.J. Uiagalelei was the nation's No. 3 prospect in the 2020 class. ND has some pieces missing too. I think beating Clemson without Trevor Lawrence is still an amazing accomplishment if it happens.

Eric Hansen: OK, I ran out of time. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll be back to do it all over again next Wednesday at noon EDT.

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