No. 1 Clemson short-handed for clash with No. 4 Notre Dame

With star quarterback Trevor Lawrence sidelined due to COVID-19 and multiple defensive standouts questionable with injuries, there's little doubt that top-ranked Clemson will be short-handed Saturday against No. 4 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

But try selling that to Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly.

"I'll take their fourth Sam linebacker, I'll take their fifth defensive tackle," Kelly said. "I'll take their fourth defensive end. They're in pretty good shape. ... They're going to put out a pretty good product."

It's difficult to refute Kelly's contention, for the most part. It took all of one game for Lawrence's backup -- true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei -- to earn his spot in Clemson lore. In the first start of his career, he passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a third last week to lead the Tigers to the greatest come-from-behind victory in the history of Clemson's Death Valley -- a 34-28 decision against Boston College.

Given that, Kelly said that the main goal for the Notre Dame defense is to keep the heat on Lawrence's 6-foot-5, 250-pound replacement.

"The most important thing is to make sure that he's not comfortable back there," Kelly said. "You've got to get a great pass rush, you got to get him to move his feet, you've got to make sure that they don't get in a rhythm."

Clemson enters Saturday's nationally televised showdown at Notre Dame Stadium having won a school-record 27 consecutive games against Atlantic Coast Conference competition dating back to a three-point defeat at Syracuse in 2017. This season, however, the ACC has a different feel with the addition of Notre Dame and the dissolution of divisions.

At regular season's end, the top two teams in the 15-team league will convene in Charlotte, N.C., to decide the ACC champion, meaning this week's game could merely be a prelude to a mid-December rematch.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose team is pursuing a sixth straight ACC title as well as a sixth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff, wouldn't bet against it.

"We're both Top 5 teams," Swinney said. "I would say it could be very likely. Whoever wins it, you don't get to punch your ticket. If you win, you still have more games to play. If you get beat, it doesn't mean you're out. Both teams will fight, scratch and claw, but we'll still have to get ready for the next opponent. Every single week is playoff football when it comes to trying to get to Charlotte."

Both teams are riding high. Clemson is 7-0 overall and 6-0 in the ACC while Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0) has won 12 straight games, the longest active streak in the FBS.

"Notre Dame is ranked No. 4 for a reason," Swinney said. "Their offensive line is huge. They have experience. They are built to run the football. They are a complete team. Defensively, they are as good as you will see."

While Lawrence's absence doesn't bode well for the Tigers, they may be hurting more on defense. Clemson will definitely be without top linebacker James Skalski, who underwent surgery last week, and top defensive lineman Tyler Davis is questionable as are linebacker Mike Jones Jr. and defensive end Justin Foster.

"We've had a bunch of players out, but you know what? Nobody cares," Swinney said. "So let's put our best foot forward with whoever we've got."

--Field Level Media