CLEMSON — Julian Love, the standout cornerback for Notre Dame, admitted Thursday when he arrived in Atlanta for the College Football Awards show that he still had some important tasks to check off of his to-do list.
Things have been a tad busy for the junior cornerback — a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to the top defensive back in college football each year — who is Notre Dame’s all-time leader for career pass breakups.
And so, as of last week, Love had not had time to dive into his intricate film study of Clemson’s wide receivers and what kind of matchup problems Tee Higgins and Co. might cause.
But, he was quick to add, he does have some familiarity with one Clemson player — the one through whom everything runs.
“I know about their quarterback, Trevor Lawrence,” Love said. “Some of his tendencies, kind of their schemes.
“He’s ready. And we’re going to try to apply pressure.”
The Fighting Irish have about three weeks to perfect that initiative.
As calendars turn from awards programs last week to getting down to the nitty gritty of bowl prep this week, Notre Dame’s attention turns largely to Clemson’s freshman QB, whom Love and Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly have already paid their respective kudos to since the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame was announced.
Lawrence, who is the cog to Clemson’s well-oiled offensive machine, is one of the best quarterbacks the Fighting Irish will have seen all year on the best team Notre Dame will have faced. Settled in and running the show smoothly, Lawrence is averaging about 200 yards per game through the air, which is right on pace with the 198 yards per game Notre Dame’s passing defense, ranked 36th nationally, is allowing.
In his evaluation, Love said there are times when he looks at the tape and believes Lawrence’s youth is evident, but then adds that he is also “extremely talented” and has “handled the spotlight so well from being the top recruit.”
There are also things about Lawrence that remind Love of his own Notre Dame quarterback, Ian Book, considering both have been through similar situations this season. Both quarterbacks were named the starters over their predecessors in September and in both cases, it culminated with perfect regular-season records.
For Notre Dame, former starting QB Brandon Wimbush stayed with the program and is ready to play if needed. Kelly Bryant, The Tigers’ quarterback who lost his starting job to Lawrence after four games, quit the team.
“I think it’s two great coaches making hard decisions when they need to. That’s what it’s about,” Love said. “I think with Trevor, he was the guy moving forward, (Clemson) knew that. Ian for us. He was the guy going forward.
“We were both winning, but it’s more than that. It’s letting your offense click in the right way. It’s funny because it’s very similar what happened to both teams.”
Lawrence has only seen one pass defense ranked better than Notre Dame — Duke is No. 34 — and had no problems. He passed for 251 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Blue Devils. He also practices against Clemson’s 18th-ranked passing defense.
As for Notre Dame’s Kelly, the coach knows that beating Clemson starts with figuring out a way to shut down Lawrence. He knew that from the second the matchup was announced.
“We all know about Trevor Lawrence,” Kelly said, “and what he can do at the quarterback position.”
Now, the Fighting Irish will spend the next three weeks scheming to stop him.
Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor