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On Thursday, we were part of a Zoom call with ACC Network football analysts Eric Mac Lain, EJ Manuel, Mark Richt, and Jordan Cornette.
They broke down various components of the upcoming second meeting between Clemson and Notre Dame — this time for the ACC Championship. Here are some of the storylines that we took away:
Clemson’s ACC Dynasty
On Saturday, the Tigers will be working towards their sixth consecutive conference championship. They have consistently breezed through their ACC schedule and been the conference’s lone representative.
While Notre Dame was able to take them down in the first meeting, Clemson’s dominance is still clear. Some are bored by this consistency but Richt thought it was the best case scenario.
“It does not bother me that the same teams are making it because they deserve it,” he says. “People want to see exciting football.”
The Magnitude of this Game
This match-up is the only one in the country this year that has consisted of two teams in the top four. Cornette pointed out that the ACC has not seen a game with this much excitement in a long time.
Mac Lain said none were ever bigger.
“There is no doubt in my mind this is the biggest game in ACC history,” the former Clemson center said.
As far as the playoff goes, the crew was rather optimistic. Richt said he was “pretty certain that both will get in when all is set and done.”
Manuel added that Florida moved down only one spot after a loss to unranked LSU. Therefore, Clemson should not be punished too much by losing to a top team.
Richt also stated that he thinks the committee will do everything in its power to make sure that Clemson and Notre Dame do not meet for a third time in the semifinals.
The Impact of these Quarterbacks
The consensus among college football fans is that Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has progressed drastically this year. Richt certainly agrees.
“I think Ian Book has progressed from a good quarterback to a great one,” the former Georgia and Miami head coach said. He points out Book’s defining moment — the game-tying drive against Clemson in regulation.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence did not play in their first meeting and he will be even more impactful. As Mac Lain points out, Lawrence’s presence will allow the Tigers to open up the playbook.
Clemson only ran the zone read a few times with D.J. Uiagalelei. It is a vital part of Lawrence’s repertoire and forces the defense to stay disciplined, opening up lanes for running back Travis Etienne.
The Impact of these Defenses
The analysts agree that the fact that these two teams already played serves as an advantage to Clemson.
“The amazing thing about [Brent] Venables is his way to scheme blitzes,” the former Florida State and NFL quarterback Manuel stated. The Clemson defensive coordinator will certainly benefit from watching film from their first match-up.
Mac Lain cited the experience that Notre Dame has to counter the high-powered Tigers offense.
“I think Kyle Hamilton is the best safety in the country,” he said.
Hamilton has a unique ability to affect the entire field on every play.
We’ll see what he can do on Saturday afternoon as the teams meet in Charlotte. The contest begins at 4 p.m. ET and airs on ABC.