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Clemson Football: How Tigers That Missed the First Notre Dame Game Will Impact the ACC Championship Rematch

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Clemson Football: How Tigers That Missed the First Notre Dame Game Will Impact the ACC Championship Rematch

Clemson Football: How Tigers That Missed the First Notre Dame Game Will Impact the ACC Championship Rematch

The first Clemson-Notre Dame showdown was a classic. The Tigers came back in the second half only to see the Irish respond to claim victory in the game's second overtime. It was a case of two evenly matched teams battling it out to the end.

But the Clemson team that took the field on Nov. 7 isn't exactly the same unit that will face Notre Dame on Saturday in the ACC championship game. Several key players who were out with various ailments or due to COVID-19 have now returned.

Here is a look at five Tigers that missed all or most of the first Notre Dame clash and what influence each could have in the outcome on Saturday.

Trevor Lawrence, QB

The initial reaction is, D.J. Uiagalelei threw for 439 yards, how much better can Lawrence be? It is a valid point because the true freshman was sensational in the close loss. However, from an efficiency standpoint, Uiagalelei's 164.7 passer rating in that game is 10 points below Lawrence's season average. Plus, while the California-bred signal-caller made a nice zone-read decision that he took in for a touchdown, Lawrence has proven to be a more dangerous runner. Finally, it's always better to have the best player in the country back in the lineup.

James Skalski, LB

Even now, we don't know what type of Skalski we will see on Saturday. The senior linebacker had a great game against Pittsburgh, but he didn't make it through the first quarter of Clemson's most recent game against Virginia Tech, having been removed due to soreness from his sports hernia surgery. Skalski is expected to start, and if he is close to 100 percent, he will be a big help in slowing down Kyren Williams and a Notre Dame running game that piled up 208 yards that night in South Bend.

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Tyler Davis, DT

The tables could be turned in the center of the line. Not only is Davis back on the field, he's back to being a dominating presence. And he won't have to line up against Jarrett Patterson, the Notre Dame center who was so effective in the first game, and perhaps not even backup Zeke Correll. Patterson is out for the year with a foot injury while Correll missed the Syracuse game with an ankle problem. A now-healthy Davis going against a dinged up Correll or utility lineman Josh Lugg is an advantage Clemson didn't have the first time around.

Mike Jones, LB

Jones' return to action is sneaky important, especially in this particular game. The sophomore is perhaps the most athletic of the Clemson linebackers, and those talents could be put to good use against Notre Dame. In the Irish victory, tight end Michael Mayer had five catches for 67 yards, and quarterback Ian Book ran for 67 as well. Depending on what the versatile Jones is asked to do — either provide extra coverage on the tight end or spy Book — his quickness will make him a better option than what Clemson fielded in the first game.

Andrew Booth, CB

The sophomore has had nagging injuries all season and missed the Virginia Tech game with a thigh bruise. But his exit from the Notre Dame game was key, especially late in the game. Down seven with just over a minute to go, Book hit Avery Davis on a 50-yard pass play to set up Davis' ensuing touchdown reception. Whether or not that play occurs with Booth on the field, no one will ever know. We do know that if he is a full-go for the ACC Championship Game, it will make the Notre Dame passing game's job more difficult.

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— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.