Notre Dame’s Opponents: Clemson tempts fate, preserves allure of the ‘implicit’

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Brian Kelly misses the same things this season as most Notre Dame fans do. The Irish head coach just spends less time thinking about what was supposed to be.

“There is a little bit of a loss when you don’t see USC or Stanford on your schedule or Michigan or a Big 10 school,” Kelly said Monday. “You don’t think too much about it. It lasts probably one coffee or one slice of pizza, then you’re back to work.”

Of course, this season that work is ACC-focused, and without having to worry about facing Arkansas for the first time ever or Western Michigan for the first time in a decade or Wisconsin for the first time since Ara Parseghian’s first game, Notre Dame has faced all but one of its remaining opponents within the last four years, the exception being this Saturday (3:30 ET; ABC) at Georgia Tech, whom the Irish have not faced since 2015.

“This is a lot easier in terms of our research in that respect,” Kelly said.

That research will undoubtedly include some review of the 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson beginning Sunday. Only beginning Sunday because, despite Kelly’s charge for Notre Dame to begin thinking in terms of long-term goals rather than simply finding ways to win each week, he and his team still know the Yellow Jackets come first.

Kelly never literally said “Clemson” to his team last week, only left the obvious to be assumed.

“It is implicit that our guys know who is on the schedule and what we have to do to win a championship,” he said. “Here’s what I said exactly:

“The acronym W.I.N. is ‘What’s Important Now,’ but it also means ‘What’s Important Next.’ Certainly, we’re going to prepare the right way for Georgia Tech and that’s what’s important now, but the way you play and how you play sets you up for what’s next. What’s next is you know what you need to do win a championship and who you have to play down the road.”

Speaking of down the road …

Georgia Tech (2-4, 2-3): The Yellow Jackets gave up 6.0 yards per rush to Boston College in a 48-27 loss, a troublesome enough stat without realizing the Eagles averaged 2.2 yards per carry entering the weekend. Suffice it to say, the Irish may return to their Forrest Gump ways this weekend (3:30 ET; ABC).

The subsequent running clock would explain an over/under of only 57, a projected gap of 20.5 points arguing for a 39-18 Notre Dame victory as one last statement before what many consider the only game of the year.

Clemson (6-0, 5-0): For just a moment, the Tigers gave Syracuse hope. After a 17-0 lead turned into a 24-7 lead, suddenly it was 27-21 late in the third quarter and the Orange had the ball. That aforementioned game of the year was on the verge of losing some of its luster. Enter prototypical Clemson defensive havoc, in the form of a 21-yard sack-fumble return for a touchdown and enough momentum to steamroll to 47-21.

It seems reasonable to think that momentary scare refocused Clemson and Boston College will now bear the brunt of that as 31-point underdogs (12 ET; ABC). If the Tigers win 46-15, that should restore some of the worried prestige to the first weekend of November.

Boston College (4-2, 3-2): Given Clemson allows 2.59 yards per rush, the Eagles week of running rampant should come to an abrupt halt. The difference between the Yellow Jackets and the Tigers can actually be quantified, after all, to the tune of 66 points.

North Carolina (4-1, 4-1): Don’t look now, the Tar Heels offense is finding its groove. Running back Javonte Williams rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns on only 19 carries, complemented by Michael Carter’s 106 yards and a score on 17 rushes. For a passing-centric offense, North Carolina ran right through its State counterpart, 48-21.

Next up is Virginia (8 ET; ACC Network), and if this Tar Heels momentum holds up, then a projected touchdown-advantage will be underselling what awaits the Cavaliers. A 34-27 final may meet the needs of a 61.5-point over/under, but Sam Howell & Co. are gaining steam and may render that rather off-target, firmly reinserting North Carolina into contention for a spot in the ACC title game.

Syracuse (1-5, 1-4): The Orange nearly redeemed a season off the tracks at Clemson, but falling short there may be the year’s last gasp. Syracuse was already holding on by a thread, able to get up for facing the best team in the country but thus also exposing itself to the deflation of a loss.

Rectifying that against Wake Forest’s efficient offense would be a surprise, hence an 11-point edge in the Demon Deacons’ favor (12 ET; ACC Network).

Wake Forest (3-2, 2-2): That efficient offense was out-gained by 87 yards against Virginia Tech, yet still averaged 5.2 yards per play in a 23-16 victory. As seems to always be the case under head coach Dave Clawson, the Demon Deacons are intent on exceeding expectations this season.

Duke (1-5, 1-5 ACC): If the Blue Devils hope to snag a second win this season, it will need to come against Charlotte this weekend (7 ET). As 9-point favorites, the combined point total over/under of 56 suggests they should win 33-24, but some would see a reason to be skeptical.

South Florida (1-5): The 42-13 loss to Tulsa was bad enough, but by the end of the game, the scoreboard was hardly the Bulls’ greatest concern, not as safety Nick Roberts took off his pads and left the sidelines late in the game after getting into a clear disagreement with teammates and coaches. Roberts has since announced an intention to transfer.

That discord will have a week to sort itself out.

Florida State (2-4, 1-4): The Seminoles gave up 48 points to Louisville in a 32-point loss. Florida State largely kept up when rushing the ball, but a 137-yard deficit in passing yards made up the crux of the total offense differential, and given the turnover battle was even, that failure to throw marked the biggest gap between Notre Dame’s most recent victims.

The Seminoles have fared a bit better this season than may have been expected, but they will need this idle week to once again regroup.

Louisville (2-4, 1-4): A week after the Irish held Cardinals running back Javian Hawkins to 51 yards on 15 carries, he gashed Florida State for 174 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 rushes. Similar comparisons can be made for most of Louisville’s skilled players, underscoring how well the Notre Dame defense shut down an explosive offense.

That offense will face a test somewhere between the Seminoles and the Irish against Virginia Tech (4 ET; ACC Network). The Cardinals stand a decent chance by all measurements as only 3.5-point underdogs with an over/under of 67.5 setting up a 36-32 result. Instinct says Virginia Tech should have more of an edge than that, but the Hokies have yo-yo’ed so severely this season, it would be nothing but a guess if this weekend will feature their Jekyll or their Hyde.

Pittsburgh (3-4, 2-4): The Panthers have an additional week to ruminate on the misery served up by Notre Dame, a week that may also serve to get veteran quarterback Kenny Pickett (ankle) healthy.

CURRENT ACC STANDINGS:
Clemson: 6-0, 5-0 ACC
Notre Dame: 5-0, 4-0
Miami: 5-1, 4-1
North Carolina: 4-1, 4-1
North Carolina State: 4-2, 4-2
Boston College: 4-2, 3-2
Virginia Tech: 3-2, 3-2
Wake Forest: 3-2, 2-2
Georgia Tech: 2-4; 2-3
Pittsburgh: 3-4; 2-4
Florida State, Louisville: 2-4; 1-4
Virginia: 1-4; 1-4
Syracuse: 1-5; 1-4
Duke: 1-5; 1-5

12 ET — Boston College at Clemson, ABC; Wake Forest at Syracuse, ACC Network.
3:30 ET — Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, ABC.
4 ET — Virginia Tech at Louisville, ACC Network.
7 ET — Charlotte at Duke.
8 ET — North Carolina at Virginia; ACC Network.

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