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 (4 p.m. EST on ABC) between No. 2 Notre Dame (10-0) and No. 3 Clemson (9-1) at the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C.


With Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, the Tigers figure to put up plenty of points. So to match Clemson’s firepower, the Irish will need their leading wide receiver to shine in a big way. McKinley emerged as Notre Dame’s top vertical threat this season. He has more 100-yard receiving games (four) in 2020 than Miles Boykin in 2018 (three) and Chase Claypool in 2019 (three) had as top receivers for the Irish. McKinley has caught 28 passes for 489 yards and three touchdowns in his last five games, including five receptions for 102 yards against Clemson. Look for McKinley to have another impressive outing.


Though the Irish come in at No. 21 in pass-efficiency defense nationally, they have struggled at field cornerback this season. Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (29-of-44 passing for 439 yards and two touchdowns) and receivers Cornell Powell (six catches for 161 yards and a score) and Amari Rodgers (eight receptions for 134 yards) gashed the wide side of the field against Notre Dame on Nov. 7. Lewis has since leaped ahead of junior Tariq Bracy as the starting field cornerback. The true freshman will be critical to slowing down Lawrence and his talented weapons.


In his 38-game career, Lawrence has never thrown for as many yards as Uiagalelei (439) did against Notre Dame. So Clemson was not exactly struggling without Lawrence while he sat out after testing positive for COVID-19. Still, Lawrence can guide this Tiger offense to a more efficient performance against the Irish in Round 2. During regulation in Round 1, Clemson settled for three field goals across five trips to the red zone. The Irish also scored 10 points off two Tiger turnovers. Lawrence tends to take care of the football and capitalize in the red zone.


The Tigers were without maybe their best defensive lineman in Davis the first time they played the Irish. Davis missed an extended period of time after suffering an MCL sprain in his knee earlier this season. Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams took advantage, rushing for 140 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. This time, Clemson figures to hold the advantage on the interior. Irish center Jarrett Patterson (foot) is out for the season. Senior Josh Lugg or sophomore Zeke Correll will start at center on Saturday. Davis should present a challenge. He was named second-team All-ACC as a freshman in 2019 after recording 51 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks.

ABOVE: Notre Dame wide receiver Javon McKinley (left) caught three touchdown passes against Syracuse on Dec. 5, including this diving catch past cornerback Garrett Williams.
RIGHT: Clemson defensive linemen Tyler Davis (13), Nyles Pinckney (44) and Justin Foster (35) after a tackle against Louisville this season.

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 1/2