CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer share similar names, the leadership of two high-performing offenses — and the pressure to succeed when the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish (4-0) and 12th-ranked Tigers (3-0) play Saturday night.
Both Watson and Kizer have played well, although neither has faced the quality defense — or the enormous hoopla — they will at Death Valley this week.
“There’s always some sort of hype. We’re Notre Dame,” Kizer said. “Every game is going to be a big game in its own sense, and obviously this is the first time that I’ll really be playing in front of 90,000-plus screaming fans from down South.”
Watson is accustomed to those crowds, bringing a 5-0 record at Memorial Stadium into the contest. The preseason pick for Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year considered a Heisman Trophy contender when the season began, Watson has completed nearly 75 percent of his passes this year for 641 yards and seven touchdowns.
This game won’t impact Clemson’s chances to win the ACC, win or lose. Still, Watson understands the bigger picture out there with Notre Dame.
“It’s kind of just another stepping stone to what we’re capable of, being one of those teams in the playoff,” Watson said. “Just embrace the moment and know your priorities and what you really have to focus on.”
Kizer got thrown into the lineup with the injury to Fighting Irish starter Malik Zaire, out for the year with a fractured ankle.
Kizer rallied Notre Dame to victory at Virginia on a TD pass to Will Fuller with 12 seconds left. Kizer has continued his strong play since, completing 67.7 percent of his throws for 541 yards and five touchdowns this year.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is duly impressed by Kizer’s play, calling him “an ice-water in his veins kind of guy.”
Things to watch when No. 6 Notre Dame plays No. 12 Clemson:
SOGGY FIELD: The fast, clean track these two high-powered offenses expected at Memorial Stadium will likely be a slick field with several inches of rain forecast to fall on Clemson on Friday and Saturday. Hurricane Joaquin is lurking off the South Carolina coast and the storm’s uncertain track could mean an even wetter outlook. Clemson officials are consulting with the National Weather Service to monitor the storm.
BACKUP TO STAR: Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise has gone from defense to wide receiver to the fastest-starting tailback in school history. Prosise has run for 600 yards this season, the most ever for an Irish player through the first four games of the season. By contrast, Clemson has run for just 564 yards this fall.
CLEMSON STEADY DEFENSE: The Tigers lost eight starters on defense including first-round NFL picks in defensive end Vic Beasley and linebacker Stephone Anthony, yet have picked up where they left off a year ago when they led the country in yards allowed. Clemson has given up the same, 260-yards a game it did in 2014, which ranks ninth nationally this week. Defense end Shaq Lawson leads the charge with 2.5 sacks and six tackles for loss.
NOTRE DAME’S QUICK STRIKES: The Irish have scored seven touchdowns of 50 yards or more so far this season, the most in a season under coach Brian Kelly. Notre Dame has rushed for 1,139 yards. The last time the Irish had more through four games was in 1992, when it had 1,264 yards.
MONTANA TO CLARK: Before they teamed up on “The Catch” in the 1982 NFC title game, San Francisco teammates Joe Montana and Dwight Clark were on opposites sidelines the only other time Notre Dame played at Clemson. Montana rallied the Irish from a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit with two touchdown runs. He passed for 192 yards against the Tigers. Clark has 17 catches that season but none that game. Both were selected by the 49ers in the 1979 NFL draft.