No. 2 Clemson (13-0) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m. PST, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas. TV: ESPN. Radio: 710.
Clemson’s defensive line vs. Notre Dame’s offensive line. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney placed a call to defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence last week with a bit of news which stunned both men: Lawrence, along with two of his teammates, had tested positive for ostarine, a substance designed to build lean muscle. Lawrence, a 340-pound anchor of the Tigers defense, could not explain the failed test. “I really, honestly, don’t know how it got into my system,” Lawrence told reporters on Thursday in Arlington, Texas. “But it’s in there, somehow.” His suspension was upheld later that day, leaving the Tigers without one of their three potential first-round picks on the defensive line against the Fighting Irish. So the havoc will need to be wreaked by the other two stars: defensive end Clelin Ferrell and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
Clemson (529.8 ypg/45.4 ppg): Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence starred after taking over for Kelly Bryant in the fifth game of the year. Bryant later transferred, while Lawrence dominated. He threw 24 touchdown passes with only four interceptions. With Lawrence spreading defenses, running back Travis Etienne became a finalist for the Doak Walker Award by amassing 1,474 yards on the ground.
Notre Dame (456.1 ypg/33.8 ppg): Like Trevor Lawrence, Ian Book took over as Notre Dame’s quarterback midway through the season. Book replaced senior Brandon Wimbush in the fourth game. The offense scored 37.2 points per game with Book at the helm. After serving a suspension for the first four games of the season, running back Dexter Williams led the Irish with 941 rushing yards.
Clemson (276.7 ypg/13.7 ppg): The duo of Ferrell and Wilkins will be joined by senior lineman Albert Higgins, who will start in Dexter Lawrence’s place. Even without Lawrence, the Tigers defense is formidable. Only Mississippi State was stingier when it came to giving up points in 2018. Clemson held their opponents to 10 points or fewer in eight of their victories. “We don’t think we have any weaknesses they can exploit,” linebacker Tre Lamar said this week.
Notre Dame (331.5 ypg/17.3 ppg): The Irish ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense this season, led in the middle by defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, who finished with a team-high seven sacks. Tillery insisted he did not mind hearing the hype about Clemson’s defensive line. “I think they have a talented defensive line — but so do we,” he said. “They have a lot of playmakers up there — but we’ve made a lot of plays, too.”
Notre Dame gave up an average of 23.41 yards on kickoff returns this season, which ranked 111th in the nation.
The Tigers have reached the playoff in each of the last four seasons — and their previous three included games against Alabama, which looms as a potential opponent in the final.