Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Here’s a look at a few players to watch in Saturday’s game (7:30 p.m. EST on NBC) between No. 4 Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC) and No. 1 Clemson (7-0, 6-0).

QB IAN BOOK, Notre Dame

With Notre Dame’s elite running game and defense, quarterback Ian Book may not have to play like a superhero against Clemson. The graduate senior still has something to prove, though. The vertical passing game has either been nonexistent or inconsistent all season. Against the top three defenses Book has faced in his first 29 career starts, Notre Dame lost. Book recorded the worst two passer-efficiency ratings of his career in losses to Clemson (30-3 in 2018) and Michigan (45-14 in 2019). He played relatively better in the 23-17 loss at Georgia last season but still finished with his seventh-worst passer-efficiency rating to date. Clemson also figures to present a challenge, ranking No. 7 in total defense, No. 7 in third-down percentage defense, No. 9 in pass-efficiency defense, No. 11 in scoring defense and No. 15 against the run nationally.

LB JEREMIAH OWUSU-KORAMOAH, Notre Dame

Junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton have played major roles in Notre Dame’s formidable defense. The Irish defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in total yards allowed per game, scoring, pass efficiency and against the run. Owusu-Koramoah will look to challenge true freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and contain running back Travis Etienne. Owusu-Koramoah brings the ability to rush the passer and be disruptive as a blitzer. He enters the game with a team-high six tackles for a loss. Owusu-Koramoah could be pivotal to limiting Etienne, who has tallied 606 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 103 carries along with catching 29 passes for 434 yards and two scores.

QB D.J. UIAGALELEI, Clemson

Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei impressed in his first career start against Boston College last week, completing 30-of-41 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns, and turning six rushes into 25 yards and a score. The former five-star recruit in the 2020 class rallied Clemson from a 28-10 deficit to win 34-28 while starter Trevor Lawrence was sidelined with COVID-19. Lawrence has been ruled out against Notre Dame. Uiagalelei will be tested by an Irish defense that has yielded just two passing touchdowns since Dec. 1, 2019 and only 16 points in their last 185 plays across 34 possessions.

LB JAKE VENABLES, Clemson

The Tigers will be without three defensive starters on Saturday: defensive tackle Tyler Davis (ankle) and linebackers Mike Jones Jr. (hamstring) and James Skalski (groin). Defensive end Xavier Thomas also will miss the first half after being penalized for targeting in the second half against Boston College. Jake Venables replaced Skalski as Clemson’s starting middle linebacker and recorded 14 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss in the past two games combined. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Venables will look to slow an Irish running game that ranks No. 11 nationally in yards per game (231).

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has not fared well statistically against top-rated defenses like he’ll face Saturday against Clemson.
Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) looks to pass against Boston College on Oct. 31.
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is tackled by Georgia Tech defensive back Kaleb Oliver on Oct. 31.

No. 4 NOTRE DAME (6-0) vs. No. 1 CLEMSON (7-0)

Kickoff: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST

Where: Notre Dame Stadium

TV: NBC

Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

Line: Clemson by 5 1/2