Open date before ACC title game gives Clemson coordinators extra time to focus on fixes
For the first time in six straight trips to the ACC championship, Clemson coaches told the players to take a few days off in the week before the big game.
The third-ranked Tigers (9-1) had an open date leading to Saturday’s 4 p.m. meeting against second-ranked Notre Dame (10-0) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The same was true for the Irish, whose game against Wake Forest was canceled so that both would have nine league games.
That allowed for some rest and healing, also minimizing the risk of COVID interference in the schedule. For Clemson, it was a chance for offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables to evaluate further how best to do things a little better to make up the difference in a 47-40 double-overtime loss Nov. 7 at South Bend, Indiana.
“Mentally, I think it was good as much as anything,” Venables said. “We gave them some time off after Thursday and tried to let them have a little bit of a life. It’s been a really challenging year as we’ve all experienced this together. A little wind in the sail, probably, for all of us. … It gave us time to self-scout and see where we are from a tendency standpoint, then work on ourselves.”
“It’s kind of a balancing act this late in the season with an open date before the championship,” Elliott said. “... You have to be careful not to do too much. We’re getting our guys to the point where they’re healthy, they feel good, they have spring in their legs and also make sure we understand some of our shortcomings in the previous game.”
“... Everybody had a good look in their eye and understood what’s at stake. But also, more importantly, what we needed to do this week to be prepared to play our best on Saturday.”
The shortcomings on offense were apparent. Clemson had plenty of points and 473 yards, but only 34 yards rushing on 33 attempts. The Tigers were also just 4-for-15 on converting third downs.
“No one has effectively run the football versus Notre Dame (99.7 yards per game allowed,” Elliott said, overlooking the 229 yards by Syracuse on Dec. 5. “You understand the structure that you’re going against. It’s a very disciplined, veteran team, especially in the front seven. They’re built to stop the run. Their guys inside, man, they eat up double-teams.”
Elliott’s job, however, is to figure out a way, and that very well could be quarterback Trevor Lawrence using his legs more in the run-pass option plays. Lawrence missed the previous game against Notre Dame after testing positive for the coronavirus and backup D.J. Uiagalelei was not asked to run much because of lingering injury.
“We have to establish the run,” Elliott said. “We have to be efficient running the football. We have to do some things to help our guys and really play better in the interior of the offensive line. We challenged them during the open week.
“... It’s not the big things. It’s hand placement, eyes, communication. It’s really honing in on all those things. If we run the ball effectively, then that’s going to give us an opportunity in some other aspects of our offense.”
Notre Dame, meanwhile, had 518 yards and was successful on 10 of 19 third-down conversions. The Irish, trailing by seven at their 9-yard line with 1:48 remaining in the fourth quarter, put together an eight-play drive and scored with 16 seconds left.
“There’s a lot to teach from, certainly, for this game from that game,” Venables said. “But we’ve used it since that game was over to try to improve and get better and get our guys to correct mistakes and that sort of thing.
“... Fortunately for us, we have some DNA (on Notre Dame). They have it on us and we have it on them. It still comes down to execution.”
Who: No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (9-1)
Kickoff: Saturday at 4 p.m. EST
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)
Line: Clemson by 10.5