Back With Some History, Clemson-Notre Dame a Showcase

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With Some History, Clemson-Notre Dame a Showcase

By Carlos Pineda
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The Irish and Tigers have only met four times, with Clemson holding a 3-1 edge in the series.

Five years ago, Clemson hosted Notre Dame amidst a torrential downpour in Death Valley. The Tigers, ranked 12th, had taken a commanding 21-3 lead in the game before staving off a furious fourth-quarter rally to win 24-22.

The win against No. 6 Notre Dame not only gave them their fourth win of the season, but also catapulted Clemson (7-0, 6-0 ACC) into the College Football Playoff conversation. At season's end, the Tigers finished 14-0 before facing Alabama in the championship game.

Following the dramatic win, a drenched and exhausted Dabo Swinney expressed how proud he was of his squad.

He then dropped this gem to a national television audience.

"I told them, 'We give you scholarships, we give you stipends and meals and a place to live. We give you nice uniforms. I can't give you guts, and I can't give you heart.' And tonight, it was BYOG: Bring your own guts!" Swinney said.

The 2015 season, but this game in particular shaped the way Swinney and Co. have been viewed nationally. It changed the perception from a team that could not win big games to one that is in the heart of the conversation every single year. Since 2015, Swinney has posted a 76-5 record, with Clemson playing in four of the last five national title games, and winning twice.

Five years later, the consensus No. 1 Tigers face the Fighting Irish in a colossal battle of top five teams. The major storyline heading into Saturday's prime time contest in South Bend is that star quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be absent for the second straight game after testing positive for COVID-19.

Clemson was able to overcome a slow start against Boston College this past Saturday without Lawrence. Despite falling behind by 18 points at halftime, the team was able to settle down and shut out the Eagles in the second half to win 34-28.

"What you saw today is uncommon," Swinney told reporters after the game. "To be honest, what I saw was inspiring. To see perseverance, guys fight to overcome, not quit, stay together and keep playing. To not flinch, it was just an unbelievable game."

Even without Lawrence, who has put a record of 31-1 as the starting QB, the Tigers are a power stacked with talent across the board.

On offense, they still have Travis Etienne, who forewent going to the pros, in the backfield to help freshman QB D.J. Uiagalelei in his unexpected debut. On Saturday, Etienne became the ACC career leading rusher. And his fourth quarter touchdown run gave Clemson its first lead of the game. For his part, Uiagalelei passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for a score that jumped started the Clemson attack. 

The defense, made in the image of defensive coordinator Brent Venables, went from allowing four touchdowns in the first half to zero in the final 30 minutes. BC, which amassed 275 yard of total offense in the game, was held to only 66 yards in the second half.

With Notre Dame playing in the ACC for this season, Saturday's game gives the winner inside track to the league's championship game in Charlotte. With both teams undefeated, the loser of the game is still in great position to play for the ACC title, especially since there are no divisions this season, and still has a shot for the College Football Playoff.

The Irish are coming off a resounding win at Georgia Tech. Coach Brian Kelly is looking to pick up his first win against Clemson in three ties, as Notre Dame lost the 2015 contest (24-22) and the 2018 Cotton Bowl semifinal game (30-3).

With their first foray into conference play, the fourth-ranked Irish sit alongside Clemson as the only undefeated teams in the ACC.

Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC) has been led by quarterback Ian Book, who is 26-3 as a starting quarterback. A staple under Kelly's tenure has been the defense, which ranks fourth in scoring defense and third down conversions, and sixth in total defense.

The Irish and Tigers have only met four times, with Clemson holding a 3-1 edge in the series.

Notre Dame's lone win came in the first meeting in 1977.

The Irish, which trailed by 10 points in the final period, mounted a comeback led by quarterback Joe Montana.

Montana engineered an 84-yard drive to cut the deficit to 17-14 on a one-yard keeper. He then scored on a second one-yard run with seven minutes left in the game to pick up the 21-17 victory. They would go on to beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl to claim a national championship.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.