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The observer | wednesday, december 5, 2018 |

Irish individual success powers team culture By ELIZABETH GREASON Assistant Managing Editor

Notre Dame has done it. The famed, historic program will be making its first trip to the College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014, as No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) officially punched its ticket to Dallas on Sunday for the 2019 Cotton Bowl against No. 2 Clemson. The last time the Irish achieved a similar accomplishment was in 2012, when they went undefeated again and landed in the national championship game against Alabama. This is the time of year when everything comes together in NCAA football, and while that may provide plenty of distractions — see Manti Te’o’s 2012 Heisman Trophy campaign — if things line up properly, it can also provide a whole new level of motivation for a team. This season, individual accolades are abounding for the Irish, as graduate student linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill was awarded the Wuerffel Trophy, for “exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement” and graduate student tight end Nic Weishar was named Notre Dame’s firstever captain of the Allstate AFCA Good Works team for his work with his charity, the Andrew Weishar Foundation. Junior cornerback Julian Love is up for the Jim Thorpe Award, awarded annually to the top cornerback in the league, and senior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and senior linebacker Te’von Coney are each AllAmerican nominees. “It kind of was uncomfortable for me at first to really openly campaign for votes, for the fan vote aspect,” Love said of the award nomination.

“It was definitely weird, and it was my mom calling me, and my girlfriend telling me like, ‘Why not go all out? You’re in it for a reason. Why not do all that you can, text everybody that you can to see if everybody can spread the word?’ So day two I kind of switched my mindset around from being like it’s cool and like that to let’s get after it. … To see that nearly 100,000 people voted, it’s amazing. It’s crazy the reach that that got, and it’s pretty cool.” Notre Dame’s individual success this season is representative of something larger at work — it’s the result of all the team’s hard work coming to a head. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said this year’s team is completely different and better-prepared than that fated 2012 squad that got blown out by Alabama in the national championship game. “I think the best thing about it is the 2012 Alabama team is not in this Playoff bracket because people forget how physical of a football team that was, offensively and defensively. So that’s probably the best news,” Kelly said. “The second part of that is that this is a better-prepared football team — coaching, the head coach, everybody associated with it, our staff, support staff. Everybody’s been through it.” One of the biggest differences between the two teams, Kelly said, is that this year’s team sees steady production on both sides of the ball. “Our football team is much more balanced. We were going into that game [in 2012] on the backs of our defense,” he said. “We can hold our own on offense in this run as well, so I just think betterprepared all around, and you know, it doesn’t change the

ANN CURTIS | The Observer

Irish senior linebacker Te’von Coney helps records a team-tackle during Notre Dame’s 24-17 win over Michigan on Sept. 1.

EMMA FARNAN | The Observer

Irish graduate student linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill makes a tackle during Notre Dame’s 19-14 win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 13 at Notre Dame Stadium. Tranquill won the Wuerffel Trophy on Tuesday.

competition level. There’s still great football teams, but let’s not forget that 2012 Alabama team was pretty special.” Kelly is aware that, despite feeling confident in his team’s skill level and his players’ individual successes, there is still plenty of work to be done. But, at the same time, the playoff nod is a reward in and of itself, and it validates many players’ decisions to come to Notre Dame. “Their ‘why’ is different. Why did they come to Notre Dame? They didn’t come to Notre Dame to not be a national champion. They came here to be a national champion because that’s the standard,” Kelly said of his players. “Listen, they go 120, they don’t even get on the ‘Play Like a Champion’ sign. … So for them to sit around and pat themselves on the back for being 12-0, that doesn’t get them anything. So they get that. That’s why they come here. They want to win a national championship.” This is especially true for the players who stayed on for a fifth year — they wanted to use their final year of eligibility to be able to finally make an impact and take the team to where they felt it belongs and bring home a national championship. So far this season, graduate student center

and captain Sam Mustipher said, they’ve taken the first 12 1/2 steps toward that goal. “I mean, when you talk to all the fifth-year guys, I’m sure they’d all agree we came back because we realized the type of family and the type of unit we had on this football team,” he said. “For this to happen for us is pretty awesome. We’ve had our ups and downs throughout our time here, but you couldn’t write a better script than this.” While people may doubt whether or not the Irish — the only non-conference champions in the playoffs — really belong in the top-four, the team is tuning out the outside noise and is confident in its ability to take down the Tigers (13-0, 8-0 ACC). “I mean, nobody likes Notre Dame. That’s just the reality of it. If you’re not Notre Dame, you don’t like Notre Dame,” Tranquill said. “All the experts have to pull from in their recent experience is what’s happened over the last 10 years and how we got blown out by Alabama in ’12 and lost to Ohio State in ’15 in the Fiesta Bowl. Every time we go against a school with seemingly superior athletes on paper, we haven’t fared well. “This team is different. This team is not the ’12 team.

This team isn’t ’15. Look at our athletes on paper. I think we’ve got a pretty good spread as well, and I’d take us.” Tranquill also dismissed the idea that going into the game as 11.5-point underdogs will discourage the Irish. “Who cares what the spread has to say? I guess we’ll find out on Dec. 29,” he said. Kelly emphasized the work that still needs to be done, stating that all a 12-0 record gets Notre Dame is a trip to Texas, which is not what the Notre Dame wants. The team wants to achieve its ultimate goal, which is a national championship, and that cannot be accomplished without a win over Clemson. “[A 12-0 record] was just enough to get us in. Now we’ve got to go accomplish something,” he said. “So this is what they wanted. You know, I can put it in front of them, but this is what these guys wanted. They want to win a national championship. So all they did was punch their ticket into the opportunity in the playoffs to win a national championship, so now it’s gotime. Now we got in, let’s go achieve something. So that’s how they see it, and that’s a great mindset.” Contact Elizabeth Greason at

insider | wednesday, december 5, 2018 | The Observer


ND completes second 12-0 season under Kelly By CHARLOTTE EDMONDS Associate Sports Editor

It wasn’t always pretty. For every blowout win over Virginia Tech on the road there was a dropped pass on 4th down by Vanderbilt that nearly set the Irish on the path toward another sub-par season. Yet, just over four months later, the Irish have earned themselves a ticket to the College Football Playoff, having run the table through the regular season and setting themselves up to face off against Clemson for the Cotton Bowl Classic on Dec. 29. For head coach Brian Kelly, this patience and trust in the team’s mission is a sign of their maturity. “They took a process that requires delayed gratification,” Kelly said. “In a world where everybody wants it right now, they put aside a lot of those things that require immediate gratification and put it aside and said: I’ll wait for that, right. I’ll put that aside. … That’s a sense of accomplishment and a sense of completion for me that we have a group that’s special that can do that.” Kelly also recognized this season’s success as a team unit, with everyone committed to excellence. “Our staff has done an incredible job,” Kelly said. “Our players certainly deserve all the credit. Each and every week they had to perform at a high level to get this point in winning all their games. As I told them, it really doesn’t matter about what people think or say. It hasn’t been that case all the year.” Kelly and his staff set expectations high early, when thenNo. 12 Notre Dame opened its season under the bright lights against then-No. 14 Michigan to a stadium decked out in green with College GameDay just outside the gates. Missing senior running back Dexter Williams for the first four games of the season, senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush relied heavily on the run game, turning to sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong, who scored two touchdowns in his collegiate debut to help propel the Irish to an early 21-3 lead. Although a kickoff returned for a touchdown in the final minutes of the first half sparked some momentum for Michigan (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten), they were unable to translate this to the score board until the final minutes of the game when they cut the Notre Dame lead to one touchdown. The Irish (12-0) managed to hold on for a 24-17 win. The next two weeks demonstrated more of the same flashy offense that seemed to crumble in the second half. Hosting Ball State and Vanderbilt, Wimbush and the defensive unit managed to score on the opening drive of both games but struggled to maintain distance, squeaking

out eight and five-point wins, respectively. Despite a 3-0 start, many questions remained about the efficiency of the offense, with the defense having needed to step up in the fourth quarter of all three games. In the first road game of the season, junior quarterback Ian Book replaced Wimbush and stepped into at the starting position, leading the Irish to a dominant 56-27 win. This was the second-career start for Book, as he filled in for Wimbush last season against North Carolina. His 325 passing yards against the Demon Deacons (6-6, 3-5 ACC) indicated a switch in the offensive scheme, more in line with offensive coordinator Chip Long’s vision. Book added another 43 yards on the ground, surprising many with his dual-threat ability from the pocket. Although the season looked promising with two quality options leading the offense, the first real test for Book came on Sept. 29, when the Irish returned home to take on Stanford in the first top-10 matchup in Notre Dame Stadium since the infamous “Bush Push” game against USC in 2005. The return of Williams came in stellar fashion, as the senior took his first carry of the season 45 yards into the end zone to put the Irish on the board. Notre Dame continued to move the ball, but the Cardinal (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) managed to match their offensive efforts, keeping the score close midway through the fourth quarter. An eightyard touchdown catch by senior wide receiver Miles Boykin to put the Irish up 31-17 was immediately followed by an interception by senior linebacker Te’von Coney, bringing out the Notre Dame offense and setting them up to put the last nail in the Stanford coffin. On the first snap of the ensuing drive, Book rolled out and then looked back to a wideopen Alizé Mack. The senior tight end scored on a 35-yard pass to put the Irish up 21 and solidify their 38-17 win. However surprised fans found themselves by Book’s composure, his teammates knew the junior was ready for the spotlight. “He’s calm all the time, level headed guy no matter what’s happening out there on the football field,” graduate student offensive lineman Sam Mustipher said. “That’s a testament to the preparation he put in well beyond the time his name was called to go in the game this year.” That calm composure proved crucial when the Irish traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia, in Week 6 of the season. In a hostile environment, Book led the team over a lockdown Hokies defense 45-23. Just before the bye week,

Notre Dame hosted Pittsburgh, notorious for upsetting college football elites. The Panthers (7-6, 6-2 ACC) nearly lived up to their reputation, giving the Irish their first deficit at home and only the second all season. A Book-to-Boykin touchdown midway through the fourth quarter finally gave Notre Dame the lead as they held on to secure a 19-14 win. With two weeks of rest under their belt, the Irish returned to play the last week of October, set to start one of the toughest travel schedules in college football. First, they handled Navy, beating the Midshipmen (3-9, 2-6 AAC) 44-22 in San Diego. Next, they returned close to home to take on a rising Northwestern team, beating the Wildcats (8-5, 8-1 Big Ten) 21-31 behind a career high 56 rushing yards by Book. Kelly and his team then returned home to take on Florida State, honoring the seniors in their final home game. With Book being announced out against the Seminoles due to a rib and back injury, Wimbush stepped in, making his first appearance for the Irish in over a month, to a booming stadium. Jumping out to a 32-6 lead at halftime, the Irish settled in, closing out their home season with a 42-13 win, highlighted by the 365 rushing yards Notre Dame posted. This second half of the season stretch came to embody the attitude of this team — taking on hostile environments and persevering with different units and individuals stepping up each week. Perhaps no one exhibited this toughness better than graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill. The two-time Notre Dame captain played with a broken hand suffered against Stanford before experiencing another setback against Navy, leaving the game with a high ankle sprain. Despite the physical hits he’s taken this season, he’s continued to put everything

on the line for his school and teammates. “Drue is as tough as they get. … We were preparing for Northwestern, and Drue kind of was getting reps, but we were still trying to figure out if he was 100 percent,” junior cornerback Julian Love said. “And I don’t know what it was, like second, maybe third quarter, I’m lining up, getting a call and I look over at who’s relaying the call to me, and it’s Drue. The whole game it was Drue, and no one informed me. … I’m with it. We’re going to go to battle. … And that’s just kind of the mindset that Drue has and how he’s kind of shaped the mindset of this team, that we’re in it together. He’s not out there for himself, but for the betterment of this team.” With the College Football Playoff in sight, the Irish took off on their final leg of travel. First, they took off for the Shamrock Series, set to face Syracuse, a team that had built itself a surprisingly strong season and which entered Yankee Stadium ranked 12th. With Book back in the driver’s seat, the Irish jumped out to a 10-0 lead before Orange starting quarterback Eric Dungey left the game with an upper-body injury. The Irish continued to impose their will, nearly forcing a shutout, before the Orange (9-3, 6-2 ACC) got on the board in the final seconds with a field goal. The 36-3 win was highlighted by the secondary, which made three interceptions, including two by junior safety Alohi Gilman, the first of his career with the Irish. Finally, Notre Dame made its biennial trip to the Coliseum in Los Angeles to take on USC and close out the regular season. What was expected to be one of their more favored matchups, proved to be a battle. The Trojan freshman duo of quarterback JT Daniels and receiver AmonRa St. Brown marched its way past the Notre Dame secondary with ease, earning them a 10-0 lead, before senior receiver

Chris Finke caught a touchdown pass to cut the lead to three at the end of the half. The experience of the Irish showed in the second half as they found their stride, taking a 14-point lead. Despite a late USC touchdown, Notre Dame held on to escape with the 24-17 win and essentially punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff. After initially struggling to find his rhythm, Book settled in and ultimately threw for a career-high 352 yards. Kelly is confident that this experience will make Book better going forward, as he prepares for the biggest game of his career. “Every game presents itself in a different fashion. That was his first rivalry game against, you know, the Trojan helmet and the mystique of the Coliseum, and it may not be big for you because you’ve been to the Coliseum, many times and when you walk in there that’s nothing to you,” Kelly said. “That’s the first time he’s been in that stadium. That’s the first time he’s played in that game. That’s different for a 20-year-old.” Even after running the table, the Irish still faced questions of legitimacy, centered around strength of schedule, too many too-close-for-comfort wins and a lack of conference championship affirmation. But this team is determined to block those voices out and focus on one date — Dec. 29. “I mean, I don’t really care about anybody’s opinion outside of this building, and I don’t think the rest of this team does either,” Mustipher said. “That’s how we’ve done it all year. We’ve prepared the exact same way, and we’ve kept our nose focused on what we needed to be focused on. We did what we’ve had to do when there are opponents in front of us, and I’ve voiced that to the rest of the team as well.” Contact Charlotte Edmonds at


Irish junior quarterback Ian Book scrambles to avoid rushing Wake Forest defenders during Notre Dame’s 56-27 win on Sept. 22 at BB&T Field. The win over the Demon Deacons was Book’s first start of the season.



The observer | WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2018 |

HEAD T 4:00 p.m. ET | AT&T STADIUM


TIGERS PASSING Clemson experienced a quarterback controversy early in the season not totally unlike the one Notre Dame experienced this year. Of course, as Brian Kelly pointed out in Sunday’s press conference, the storylines of the two controversies are different, as Kelly Bryant left Clemson after freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence took over, while senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush stayed with the Irish and helped them earn a win over Florida State after junior quarterback Ian Book got injured against Northwestern. But beyond the storyline, the controversy hasn’t hurt Clemson at all on the passing front, as Lawrence has proved himself to be one of the most dynamic passers in college football as a freshman. Plus, sophomore wide receiver Tee Higgins is tied for 17th in the nation in touchdowns receptions, with 10 through 13 games. The Clemson passing unit ranks 29th in the nation in passing offense, two spots above the Irish. Defensively, the Irish have one of the best front sevens in the nation and should be able to put considerable pressure on Lawrence in the pocket, while the secondary has a number of ballhawks, led by junior cornerback Julian Love, a Thorpe Award finalist. While Notre Dame has faced a number of talented quarterbacks, the combination of Lawrence and the Clemson receivers poses an entirely new beast. EDGE: CLEMSON TIGERS RUSHING While freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence will certainly demand Notre Dame’s attention, his counterpart in the backfield is just as dangerous. Clemson sophomore running back Travis Etienne has had an absolutely dominant year to spark the Tigers’ top-10 rushing offense, rushing for over 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns during the season. The ACC Most Valuable Player scored at least a touchdown in 12 of Clemson’s 13 games, and is a potent threat — against Pitt in the ACC Championship game, he rushed for 156 yards on a mere 12 carries, earning MVP of the game in the process. While Notre Dame’s front seven has performed admirably against the run this year — only giving up over 200 yards on the ground twice this season, one of which came against Navy’s triple-option — the Irish have yet to face a back as explosive as Etienne, as Bryce Love was hobbled in the matchup with Stanford. With all of the offensive weapons at Clemson’s



disposal, Notre Dame won’t have the ability to focus exclusively on Etienne, opening up the speedy sophomore’s big-play potential. EDGE: CLEMSON TIGERS OFFENSIVE COACHING Both the Clemson offense and the Notre Dame defense have bright young coaching talent set to face off in Dallas, as Clemson cooffensive coordinator Tony Elliot’s talented unit faces Clark Lea and a Notre Dame defense that statistically is one of Notre Dame’s best-ever units. Elliot won the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach, after the 2017 season, as Clemson became the first school to ever have the Broyles Award given to different assistants in successive seasons. But Lea is no pushover, having taken the reins of the Irish defense this season and continued the transformation initiated by Mike Elko, resulting in an elite unit that ranks among the very best in the country. EDGE: EVEN TIGERS SPECIAL TEAMS This area of the field hasn’t been a strength for the Irish this season, and it has been one for the Tigers. Notre Dame has allowed two touchdowns on kickoff returns this season and rank 112th in the country in kick return defense, while Clemson ranks 28th in kickoff returns, averaging 23.21 yards per return. In addition, Clemson slot receiver and veteran Hunter Renfrow is a reliable and dangerous weapon, and wide receiver Amari Rodgers returned a punt for a touchdown against Boston College. In the kicking department, Clemson senior kicker Greg Huegel is 9 of 13 in field goal attempts this season. Overall, Clemson is consistently dangerous in this part of the field. EDGE: CLEMSON

WR Hunter Renfrow WR Mitch Hyatt LT John Simpson RB LG Justin Falcinelli QB C Gage Cervenka RG Tremayne Anchrum RT Milan Richard TE (So.) Tee Higgins 5 (Fr.) Justyn Ross

(Gr.) Trevion Thompson




(Jr.) Tavien Feaster 28

(Fr.) Trevor Lawrence 16 7

(Fr.) Chase Brice



(Fr.) Jackson Carman 79


(Fr.) Matt Bockhorst 65 (Jr.) Gage Cervenka 59



(Jr.) Sean Pollard 76



(So.) Chandler Reeves




(Fr.) Braden Galloway 88

(So.) Amari




(Fr.) Derion Kendrick 10

(So.) A.J. Terrell 8 (Sr.) Mark Fields 2



(Jr.) Tanner Muse 19 (Jr.) Denzel Johnson 14

(So.) Isaiah Simmons 11 (Gr.) Jalen Williams 30


(Jr.) Clelin Ferrell 99 (So.) Justin Foster 35

(Gr.) Christian Wilkins (Jr.) Tre Lamar


(Gr.) Judah Davis 36


(Sr.) Albert Huggins 67


(Jr.) Dexter Lawrence 90 (So.) Nyles Pinckney 44

(Sr.) Austin Bryant 11 (Gr.) Kendall Joseph 34 (Gr.) J.D. Davis 33

(Jr.) K’Von Wallace 12 (So.) Nolan Turner 24



(Fr.) Xavier Thomas 3

(Jr.) Trayvon Mullen 1

(Fr.) Kyler McMichael 21

(Sr.) Greg Huegel 92 (Fr.) B.T. Potter 29

(So.) Will Spiers 48 (Sr.) Carson King 97

(So.) Amari


(Gr.) Hunter Renfrow

3 13


Tobias Hoonhout

Elizabeth Greason

Joe Everett

Managing Editor

Assistant Managing Editor

Sports Editor

If this game is anything like 2015, we’re in for another classic. Both the Tigers and the Irish have a wealth of offensive options at their disposal — this matchup seems set to be decided on the defensive end, particularly in the trenches. While Clemson’s defensive front poses a serious threat to any offensive line, Notre Dame already has experience in handling talented front sevens this season — just ask Michigan. On the flip side, Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t faced an offense like Clemson’s — Trevor Lawrence may be a freshman, but he plays well beyond his years, and Travis Etienne is an explosive back. Plus, Swinney’s program has the invaluable experience of being in the Playoff the last three seasons — we’ll have to wait and see how Ian Book handles the pressure. Brian Kelly has proved time and time again this year that he’s flipped the script. Revenge against the Tigers is next. FINAL: Notre Dame 38, Clemson 30




TIGERS SCHEDULE (13-0) Sept. 1 Furman (W 48-7) Sept. 8 Texas A&M (W 28-26) Sept. 15 Georgia Southern (W 38-7) Sept. 22 Georgia Tech (W 49-21) Sept. 29 Syracuse (W 27-23) Oct. 6 Wake Forest (W 63-3) Oct. 20 North Carolina State (W 41-7) Oct. 27 Florida State (W 59-10) Nov. 3 Louisville (W 77-16) Nov. 10 Boston College (W 27-7) Nov. 17 Duke (W 35-6) Nov. 24 South Carolina (W 56-35) Dec. 01 Pittsburgh (W 42-10)



(So.) Travis


ND’s strengths match up very well with Clemson’s — a scary thought consider how strong Clemson’s strengths are. But at the same time, Notre Dame is hungry for redemption. Redemption for the hurricane loss in 2015. Redemption for the 4-8 2016 season. Redemption for the loss in the national championship to Alabama in 2012. Both squads have high-powered offenses that will lead to a high-scoring game, but also feature one of the nation’s best defenses. This game will be about avoiding turnovers and extending drives. The real question for me is which Ian Book is going to show up? Will the Irish be able to effectively run the ball against Clemson’s scary front seven? I’m confident in the Irish defense’s ability to get the critical stops. My doubt creeps in when it comes to offense. But each time I’ve doubted this team throughout the year I’ve been proven wrong. FINAL: Notre Dame 35, Clemson 28



(So.) Will Swinney 22 (So.) Will Spiers

(Fr.) Derion

Kendrick (Gr.) Adam Choice

(Jr.) Patrick



10 26


(Sr.) Austin Spence 52


Here we go. No. 2 Clemson against No. 3 Notre Dame. Clemson is the more talented team. The Tigers have weapons all over the field on offense, and feature three defensive linemen that will may go in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft. Oh, and those 300-pound defensive linemen often appear on offense, especially in goal-line situations. Scary. However, I think the Irish will be well-rested and prepared. This’ll be a close game, and it’ll come down to quarterback play. Clemson’s secondary is the weakness of its defense. Can Ian Book effectively throw the deep ball and exploit that advantage? How will true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence handle the best defense he’s faced? Whichever team executes better, and whichever quarterback makes more plays will be the one that advances to Levi Stadium. I think Notre Dame ultimately comes up just short. FINAL: Clemson 34, Notre Dame 31

Insider | WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2018 | The Observer



Notre Dame





8 Donte Vaughn (Jr.)


23 2

Drue Tranquill (Gr.) Jordan Genmark Heath (So.)




Khalid Kareem (Jr.) 91


Adetokunbo Ogundeji (Jr.)

Jonathan Bonner (Gr.)


41 Kurt Hinish (So.)

Jerry Tillery (Sr.)





Alohi Gilman (Jr.)

14 Devin Studstill (Jr.)

Te’von Coney (Sr.)

52 Bo Bauer (Fr.)

57 Jayson Ademilola (Fr.)

Julian Okwara (Jr.)



9 Daelin Hayes (Jr.)

Rover CB

While Clemson’s defensive line is perhaps the most talented in the country, the secondary is a potential weak link for the Tigers. While Clemson is ranked 18th in the nation in passing yards allowed, allowing opposing quarterbacks to average 183.8 passing yards per game, the stat is misleading. The Tigers have played two triple-option offenses this year in Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech. In conference play they faced only three top-50 passing offenses in North Carolina State, Syracuse and Florida State, all of which racked up at least 190 yards. Additionally, Clemson particularly struggled against the passing attacks of Texas A&M and South Carolina, which racked up 430 and 510 yards against the Tigers, respectively. Notre Dame’s passing offense has turned into a serious threat with the emergence of junior quarterback Ian Book and his connections with the receiving corps, especially senior Miles Boykin, who leads the team with over 800 yards and eight touchdowns. Book, who has thrown over 2,400 yards at a 70.4 percent completion rate for 19 touchdowns and six interceptions, might be the most dangerous quarterback the Tigers have faced all season. EDGE: NOTRE DAME

Julian Love (Jr.)





Jalen Elliott (Jr.)

24 Nick Coleman (Sr.)

Asmar Bilal (Sr.)

33 Shayne Simon (Fr.)

Troy Pride Jr. (Jr.)

35 TaRiq Bracy (Fr.)


Chase Claypool (Jr.)

87 Michael Young (So.)


Chris Finke (Sr.)

18 Joe Wilkins (Fr.)

Robert Hainsey (So.)


75 Josh Lugg (So.)

Tommy Kraemer (Jr.)


57 Trevor Ruhland (Sr.)


Sam Mustipher (Gr.)

61 Colin Grunhard (So.)




Dexter Williams (Sr.)

6 Tony Jones Jr. (Jr.)


Ian Book (Jr.)

7 Brandon Wimbush (Sr.)

Aaron Banks (So.)


76 Dillon Gibbons (So.)

Liam Eichenberg (Jr.)


55 Jarrett Patterson (Fr.)


Alize Mack (Sr.)

82 Nic Weishar (Gr.)


Miles Boykin (Sr.)

4 Kevin Austin Jr. (Fr.)

Nolan Henry (Sr.)


12 Ian Book (Jr.)


Michael Young (So.)

3 Avery Davis (So.)


John Shannon (Jr.)

65 Michael Vinson (Fr.)



Justin Yoon (Sr.)

39 Jonathan Doerer (So.)


Tyler Newsome (Gr.)

42 Jeff Riney (Sr.)


Chris Finke (Sr.)

11 Alohi Gilman (Jr.)

Notre Dame vs. Temple

Dexter Williams has been one of the feel-good stories for Notre Dame this season, even scoring on his first run of the year against Stanford. Through eight games, Williams has 941 yards and 12 touchdowns on 142 carries, including five total touchdowns in the last three games. The senior’s explosiveness — in six of his eight games, he has had a run of at least 30 yards — adds another dimension to Notre Dame’s offense, along with the dynamic duo of junior Tony Jones Jr. and sophomore Jafar Armstrong. On the opposite end, however, Clemson boasts an elite rushing defense, currently ranked third in the nation with only 93 rushing yards allowed per game. The Tigers’ defensive line of tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, along with defensive end Clelin Ferrell — all potential first-round picks in the NFL Draft — combine to form an imposing front. While Pitt managed to run for 192 yards against Clemson in the ACC championship game — the most given up by the Tigers since the first week of the season — Clemson’s track record poses a big threat to Notre Dame. EDGE: CLEMSON

Charlotte Edmonds

Connor Mulvena

Associate Sports Editor

Associate Sports Editor

This is what Notre Dame wanted, right? Avoid Bama, and take on ACC-rival Clemson. The problem being, Clemson is ACC in name but SEC in brand. That said, this team isn’t invincible. Their closest matchup came in a three-point win against Syracuse, the same Syracuse team that the Irish nearly shutout. With the exception of two close games to Texas A&M and the Orange early in the season, the overwhelming trend of winning everything by 20 or more points indicates this Clemson team knows how to be successful. I do think Notre Dame is underrated. There’s no doubt they deserve a spot over defenseless Oklahoma or inconsistent Ohio State. Georgia can make an argument as perhaps a better team, but don’t discredit Notre Dame’s right to play for the title. However, the experience of the four-straight College Football Playoffs means the Tigers will be too much for the Irish. FINAL: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 24

Notre Dame has a lot riding on this, and I don’t just mean a shot at a national title. The Irish need to prove that they really belonged in the top four. That’s a heavy weight to carry for this team, and especially for Brian Kelly. But this team has proved me wrong many times this season, and there’s no reason why they can’t be up to the task once again. All of that aside, Clemson is really a different animal for the Irish. ND has beaten some impressive programs this season, but Clemson set itself apart, with Alabama, as a clear contender for a national championship early on in the season, and the Tigers kept rolling. Notre Dame’s defense is among the best in the nation, but I really worry about Notre Dame’s offense here. Ultimately, I think the Clemson defense will be too much for the Irish to handle, and Travis Etienne will find the holes in the Irish defense to give Clemson red zone opportunities. FINAL: Clemson 24, Notre Dame 13

IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING Chip Long versus Brent Venables. A candidate for the Broyles Award this season against the second-highest-paid coordinator in college football. Long has been successful at making adjustments to whatever the opposing coordinator has thrown at him this season, most recently in the second half against USC. However, Venables is known as an elite defensive coordinator and has elite talent to work with. Statistically, Clemson ranks fourth in the country in total defense, giving up just 276.8 yards per game. Conversely, Notre Dame ranks 28th in total offense, averaging 456.1 yards per game. However, that hardly tells the story of which coordinator will have the advantage. Venables will likely dictate how the game goes in the first half, and Long will likely make the necessary adjustments in the second half. Venables’ defense gave up 35 points to South Carolina, so it’s somewhat vulnerable. EDGE: EVEN IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS Although the Irish haven’t shined in this category, it’s also hard to make a strong conclusion about them considering the relatively little experience they have. Between management of the clock and a formidable secondary that often capitalizes with turnovers, the return unit has only seen 32 looks all season, averaging 21.23 and 10.26 yards per kickoff and punt, respectively. On the other end, the Tigers have held their opponents to nearly the same numbers, with slightly lower average punt returns. Notre Dame does have the advantage in field goals, with senior Justin Yoon connecting on 17 of 21 field goal attempts this season. Chris Finke has had several promising punt returns, but is yet to find the end zone. Don’t expect that to change. EDGE: EVEN

IRISH SCHEDULE (12-0) Sept. 1 Michigan (W 24-17) Sept. 8 Ball State (W 24-16) Sept. 15 Vanderbilt (W 22-17) Sept. 22 @ Wake Forest (W 56-27) Sept. 29 Stanford (W 38-17) Oct. 6 @ Virginia Tech (W 45-23) Oct. 13 Pitt (W 19-14) Oct. 27 @ Navy (W 44-22) Nov. 3 @ Northwestern (W 31-21) Nov. 10 Florida State (W 42-13) Nov. 17 Syracuse (W 36-3) Nov. 24 @ USC (24-17)

Follow Observer Sports on Twitter for live updates and analysis during the game Dec. 29 and all year long. @ObserverSports



The observer | wednesday, december 5, 2018 |

Clemson talent offers unique challenge By CONNOR MULVENA Associate Sports Editor

After the first game of the season against Michigan, it would be reasonable to argue that the Irish outmatched their opponent, at least on paper, each week. And that schedule included some fantastic programs — Virginia Tech, Stanford, USC and Syracuse. No matter who Notre Dame (12-0) was set to square up against, you could find a number of areas where the Irish held a clear advantage. Whether that be at the quarterback position, considering junior Ian Book has proven to be one of the most accurate passers in the nation, the wide receiving corps, as the Irish unit outsizes just about any squad in the country or the defensive front seven, there was at least one area where the Irish were simply bigger, more skilled and better coached than their opponents. However, this matchup in the Cotton Bowl doesn’t look as pretty for the Irish on

paper. It’s no mistake that Clemson is the No. 2 team in the country. The Tigers (130, 8-0 ACC) don’t have many vulnerabilities. “Well, you know, certainly their offensive firepower is outstanding. [Sophomore Travis] Etienne at the running back position, great depth. We all know about [freshman] Trevor Lawrence and what he can do at the quarterback position, [talented] wide receivers,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said of Clemson on Sunday. “Defensively, one of the defendant defensive lines in the country, and a team that wins and knows how to win.” Kelly was brief in describing the strengths of the Tigers because there simply isn’t much that needs to be said. Clemson has a multitude of weapons, and those playmakers have made themselves known throughout the year. It’s no secret what this squad can do, and a 13-0 record along with an ACC conference title proves that.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers recorded an 81.5 offensive efficiency rating, placing them fourth in the nation. Sophomore running back Travis Etienne has proven to be one of the best running backs in the nation, rushing for 1,463 yards and 21 touchdowns in 13 games, placing him fifth in the nation in total rushing yards. Sophomore wide receiver Tee Higgins ranks 17th in the nation in receiving touchdowns, with 10 in 13 games. Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who took over for Kelly Bryant — who left Clemson and has announced his intention to transfer to Missouri — in the middle of the season, has proven himself to be one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the nation. Plus, the Clemson offense ranks 11th in the nation in red zone offense, the highest ranking in that metric of any team in the College Football Playoff. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers are just as deadly. Clemson has recorded

a defensive efficiency rating of 92.3 this season, placing them first overall in the nation in that metric. With a defensive front seven just as menacing as that of Notre Dame’s, the Tigers rank third overall in total sacks with 45 sacks in only 13 games. Plus, the Tigers rank third overall in rushing defense. Irish graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill said the following about Clemson’s squad after Notre Dame’s Cotton Bowl bid was announced. “Yeah, they’ve got a talented quarterback, obviously, who can get the ball out, and talented skill. I think their running back went 80 yards to the house the first play of the game,” he said. “So obviously, explosive, dynamic, a lot of RPO game. We’re going to have to be disciplined. We’re going to have to be on our assignments. Great challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.” Irish graduate student center Sam Mustipher expressed a similar excitement

about the opportunity to play Clemson and emphasized the threat which Clemson’s front seven poses. “Big, fast, physical. They’re athletic. Great D-ends. Great interior D-linemen, great linebackers,” he said. “And [associate head coach Brent] Venables has those guys with their ears pinned back at all times. Looking forward to it.” All of this suggests that Clemson is not devoid of the pieces necessary for a national championship team, and the Tigers have put those pieces together nicely this season. Clemson has put up astronomical numbers on some opponents this season — scoring 59 points against Florida State, 56 against South Carolina, 42 against Pittsburgh, 63 against Wake Forest and 77 against Louisville. The Irish will have their hands full and it will be up to them to rise up to their greatest challenge of the season. Contact Connor Mulvena at


Irish aim to finalize class of 2019, look to ’20 By JOE EVERETT Sports Editor

After completing its first undefeated regular season since 2012 and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time, Notre Dame is once again back on the top tier of the college football world. The Irish (12-0) are nationally relevant again. Not only momentous in the here and now, Notre Dame’s special season could reap quite a few benefits in the recruiting trail down the road, said Blue and Gold Illustrated recruiting analyst David McKinney — especially in the Class of 2020. “Any time you’re one of the four teams in the Playoff it’s going to help. They’re 12-0 and playing really well — I think in terms of recruiting impact you look at the Class of 2020, the next class. I think [the undefeated season] will really grab attention for those guys,” McKinney said. “ … They’re out on the road recruiting now, and they’re going into kids’ schools and houses and presenting a 120, undefeated program that’s in the playoffs and battling for a spot in the National Championship. It definitely helps the image and reputation and all that.” With only a couple of spots left in the 2019 class, and with the early signing period just two weeks away, the Irish have their eyes set on

some familiar names. “The last two guys are Isaiah Foskey, a four-star defensive end from California, and Asa Turner, a four-star linebacker — also from California — who is currently committed to Washington,” McKinney said. “Those are really the last two guys they’re looking at. I feel better about them getting Foskey right now … but they haven’t given up on Asa Turner and we’ll see where that goes.” After Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over USC to seal its undefeated season, the Irish players took some time off to relax and recover. The Irish coaching staff experienced less of a break, as head coach Brian Kelly and his team spent much of it traveling the country recruiting, both checking in with current 2019 commits while also taking a look at class of 2020 targets. Since Notre Dame expects every one of the players in the class of 2019 to sign in December, the visits by Kelly and the staff were more of a celebration of that imminent achievement more than anything else, McKinney said. “For guys that have been committed for as long as most of these guys have, it’s just kind of an enjoyable thing that they get to do,” he said. “It reaffirms their commitment to Notre Dame and Notre Dame’s commitment to them, [but] it’s not really a serious thing, especially with guys that have

been committed so long. [Nevertheless], it’s good to get on the road and build relationships with the kids and the parents and their families, so it’s always good to have that.” Overall, and as it currently stands, Notre Dame’s class of 2019 is comprised of 21 members and ranks 10th overall, according to 247Sports, and features a good deal of talent on both sides of the ball. “I think the first thing you look at is the offensive line,” McKinney said. “Right now I think Zeke Correll just got into the Top-100 on Rivals. com. Quinn Carroll is the No. 54 player in the country. Andrew Kristofic could turn out to be a diamondin-the rough prospect — he’s a four-star [lineman]. John Olmstead’s a four-star [lineman]. With those four guys, they’re doing really well [on the offensive line]. They have two Top-100 safeties in Kyle Hamilton and Litchfield Ajavon — another really good safety class for Notre Dame. … It’s those positions that really jump out at you.” After focusing on recruiting over the past couple of weeks, Kelly and Notre Dame are now spending most of their time concentrating on their CFP semi-final opponent: Clemson. However, the matchup with the Tigers (13-0) is not without recruiting implications. Clemson is a perennial powerhouse and currently holds the No. 5

recruiting class in the country, per 247Sports. W hile McKinney says Notre Dame has already proven its merit by the way it played this season and the teams it beat, toppling a program like Clemson wouldn’t hurt in solidif ying and legitimizing Notre Dame’s reputation as a marquee destination for recruits to come play for a national championship. “I don’t necessarily know if they need [a signature win]. They beat Michigan to start the year and that’s one of the

top programs in the country,” McKinney said. “But yeah, going to play for a national championship and winning a playoff game — being 13-0 — of course that would help. I don’t know if it’s a necessity, but obviously Notre Dame wants to win that game and they’re prepping like they’re going to play for a national championship, so playing for the [title] would be a boost for sure.” Contact Joe Everett at

ZACHARY YIM | The Observer

Irish junior cornerback Julian Love wraps up a Northwestern receiver during Notre Dame’s 31-21 victory on Nov. 3 in Evanston, Illinois.

insider | wednesday, december 5, 2018 | The Observer



ND’s matchup with Clemson is about ‘guts’ Tobias Hoonhout Managing Editor

“Tonight, hey, it was BYOG — Bring Your Ow n Guts. And they brought some guts, and some heart, and they never quit ’til the last play.” Dabo Sw inney’s words after Notre Dame’s loss to Clemson in 2015 were must-watch telev ision. Surrounded by adoring fans and standing in torrential rain, the passionate coach expressed pure adulation for his program, which pulled off a historic w in. The Tigers would go all the way to the national championship that season, only to lose to A labama. But the program would get its revenge the follow ing season, and has been among the “Final Four” ever y year since then. In many ways, the w in against the Irish (12-0) marked a coming-of-age part y for the Tigers (13-0, 8-0 ACC). Except, the w in was less about what Clemson did right — and more about what Notre Dame did w rong. Play ing in a maelstrom, Brian Kelly’s program shot itself in the foot, over and over and over. First, it was Artav is Scott bouncing off

failed tack les from Elijah Shumate and Cole Luke to put the Tigers up 14-0. Then, it was two fumbles on two plays to start the third quarter, gifting Clemson a touchdow n. And then, w ith 2:13 left in the game and Notre Dame dow n by eight, Chris Brow n caught a ball from DeShone Kizer and scampered all the way dow n to the Tigers’ 3-yard line, only to cough up another Irish fumble. Yet, even w ith all of the shortcomings, the Irish scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie the game w ith a two-point conversion attempt w ith seven seconds left. Just when the Tigers seemed set to break, they only bent, as Clemson’s linebackers stuffed Kizer’s keeper to w in the game. It was a play that would later prove decisive in keeping Notre Dame out of the playoffs. And while the game has gone dow n as a classic, the Clemson monsoon continued to rain on the Irish over the next two seasons. First, it was the debacle of 2016, in which an early storm w ith “the Fulton Five” stood as a harbinger of more bad weather to come — in the shape of a 4-8 season and a lot of failed

EMMA FARNAN | The Observer

Irish graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill dives for a tackle as junior safety Alohi Gilman and junior cornerback Julian Love attempt to join in during Notre Dame’s 24-16 win over Ball State on Sept. 8.

expectations. 2017 was better, until the Irish ran into the Hurricanes in South Beach. As Clemson made the playoffs again and again, Not re Da me cou ldn’t get over t he ha ngover of its ex pectat ions. But t his yea r, Kelly a nd t he Irish have f ina lly done it. Through t he ups a nd

ANNA MASON | The Observer

Irish senior wide receiver Miles Boykin tries to shake off a Pitt defender during Notre Dame’s 19-14 win over the Panthers on Oct. 13. Boykin leads the team with 803 yards and eight touchdowns this year.

dow ns, t he blowouts a nd t he close ca l ls, t he injuries a nd t he dept h cha r t adjust ments, Not re Da me has emerged f rom t he reg ula r season unscat hed, a nd f inds itself in t he CFP for t he f irst t ime. Aga inst t he ver y tea m t hat has set t he ba r for t he Irish. W hile Vegas has the Tigers at 12-point favorites, and ESPN FPI gives the Tigers a whopping 71.4 percent chance to w in, on paper, this matchup looks incredibly even. From top to bottom, both programs mirror each other in a number of categories. Offensively, Clemson and Notre Dame both put up a lot of points per game. They both have explosive running backs in sophomore Trav is Etienne and senior Dexter Williams. Both teams’ leading receiver — sophomore Tee Higgins and senior Myles Boykin — have eight touchdow n grabs. And both teams made changes at quarterback midway through the season: freshman Trevor Law rence and junior Ian Book are separated by 20 passing yards. Defensively, both teams have forced 20 turnovers. Clemson and Notre Dame have also shared four opponents this season: Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Florida State and Sy racuse. Notre Dame struggled to beat Pitt at home but trounced Sy racuse in Yankee Stadium; Clemson barely beat Sy racuse at home but dominated Pitt in the ACC championship. If the Irish finally want to prove they belong, there’s

perhaps no better team for Brian Kelly’s program to open its playoff account against than the Tigers. Ever since the w in over Notre Dame, Dabo Sw inney has proved time and time again his team has the “guts” to compete for national titles, capped off w ith 2017’s redemption against A labama. And while it’s taken the Irish a long and w indy road to finally get in the same position, 2018 has been a year to remember. Notre Dame has now finished 12-0 t w ice under Brian Kelly, joining a list of only three other teams (including Clemson) to accomplish the same feat during that timespan. But for all the adjustments this season that finally paid off for Notre Dame — the benching of senior Brandon Wimbush in favor of Book, defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s revolution of the Irish defense and the program’s abilit y to w in challenging games on the road — the real work starts against the Tigers. Kelly was brought to Notre Dame not only to compete for national championships, but to w in them too. After several seasons of figuring out the right process, and correcting costly mistakes, the Irish finally showed the “guts” necessar y to make the CFP. It seems fitting that Dec. 29 w ill decide whether they actually have what it takes. Contact Tobias Hoonhout at The opinions in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Print Edition of the Irish Insider for Wednesday, December 5, 2018  

Print Edition of the Irish Insider of The Observer of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and Holy Cross for Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Print Edition of the Irish Insider for Wednesday, December 5, 2018  

Print Edition of the Irish Insider of The Observer of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and Holy Cross for Wednesday, December 5, 2018