Notre Dame gears up for heavyweight fight against No. 4 Clemson

Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 9:59 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The No. 4 Clemson Tigers (8-0), who are currently one of six undefeated teams in the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings, are coming to South Bend this weekend to take on the unranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-3).

Despite being unranked, Notre Dame Head Coach Marcus Freeman said earlier this week that this is not a David versus Goliath matchup.

“This is a heavyweight fight, and we got a dang good football team,” Freeman said. “And I’ve always said it. When we do exactly what we’re supposed to do, we’re a good enough football team to win every game we play.”

Meanwhile, Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said je can’t wait to play at Notre Dame Stadium.

“We know everywhere we go we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Swinney said. “We’re going to get everybody’s best fan support, you name it. It kind of comes with being at Clemson, and I think as a competitor you love that, and as a college person – whether you’re a coach or a player – it’s special. And then you have places like Notre Dame, like that’s iconic.”

The last trip Clemson made to The House That Rockne Built was in 2020. It resulted in a double overtime win for the Irish over the top-ranked Tigers.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there were just over 11,000 on hand at Notre Dame Stadium. This time around, it’s expected to be a packed house.

At that time, both teams were undefeated, and due to a positive COVID test from Clemson starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Irish got their first look at present-day Tiger quarterback DJ Uiagalelei.

There are a couple of guys on Notre Dame’s sideline that were involved in that 2020 upset. Earlier this week, they talked about the opportunity this season to host the Tigers.

“It’s really exciting to be facing a top five team, especially Clemson,” said Isaiah Foskey, defensive lineman. “This is my third time playing them, so it’s just a great atmosphere to play in. Especially at Notre Dame Stadium. It’s just going to be great.”

“I think this is why you come to Notre Dame, for opportunities like these,” said Jarrett Patterson, offensive lineman. “The last night home game of the season. We’re expecting a great crowd, great atmosphere, turn out. It’s just a really great, awesome opportunity for us to go show what Notre Dame football’s all about.”

“It was a great feeling to win away, but we know that this week is a new week,” said Marist Liufau, linebacker. “We emphasized that early on, and we know that we have to earn a win on Saturday by our hard work in practice this week.”

One of the biggest questions heading into this highly anticipated matchup is what version of Notre Dame we’ll see, as the Fighting Irish football team has had its fair share of ups and downs this season.

We’ve seen a Notre Dame team that went to Ohio State and held Heisman favorite CJ Stroud, and the Buckeye offense to just 21 points. We’ve also seen an Irish team that can let teams like Marshall and Stanford come to South Bend and beat them on their home field.

Why that is? We don’t really know. But the good news is there’s no fear of the Irish playing down for an undefeated team that’s currently slated to make it into the CFP at the end of the season as long as they remain in the Top 4.

That being said, can the Irish rise to the occasion, and give Freeman his first statement win as a head coach while also giving the CFP committee something to consider as the rankings are updated next Tuesday night?

Freeman talked about the team’s inconsistencies during a press conference on Thursday.

“I think you can look at it a couple different ways,” Freeman said. “Is it a home game or an away game thing? Is it an opponent thing? What we got to do is focus on things it takes to play well. No matter who the opponent is, we have to truly focus on what it takes to deserve a victory and what it takes to execute throughout the entirety of a game. We can’t let the opponent dictate our ability to focus and execute.”

The Irish offense is going to have its hands full after coming off a pretty good game in a hostile road environment against Syracuse because Clemson is bringing one of the best defensive line units in the country to South Bend on Saturday.

To have a chance to beat the Tigers this weekend, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and the big guys on the offensive line are going to have to put the three-headed running back monster and starting quarterback Drew Pyne in positions to succeed.

“Look, we have a lot of respect for Clemson,” Rees said. “They’re a tremendous group on defense. They’re extremely talented up front. They’ve got good players at all three levels. Yeah, we want to play a physical brand of football. We’ve played Clemson before. We know that they play a physical brand of football, so it’d be a great opportunity for us in a big game.”

“We know when you play against a really good opponent, especially on their defensive line, they’re going to expose any little weakness you have because they’re so talented,” said Jarrett Patterson, offensive lineman. “And so, it’s really emphasizing during the week working on that weakness you have in practice so come Saturday it’s corrected, and you can play at your best when your best is needed.”

Kickoff at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night is set for 7:30 p.m. You can watch the game right here on WNDU or on NBC’s Peacock streaming service.