SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It is no secret what Notre Dame wants to do on offense.
The Irish want to lineup and run the football right at the defense. There are no gimmicks or anything like that, it is strictly 9-on-7. They believe their guy is better than yours and you will have to win the one-on-one matchups up front to prove them wrong.
But when No. 4 Clemson (8-0) plays Notre Dame Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium, it will also have to worry about tight end Michael Mayer. The junior, who is considered the top tight end prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft, leads the Irish with 47 catches for 580 yards and six touchdowns.
Notre Dame (5-3) uses Mayer to help protect the run game. They will move him around, line him up on the outside, put him in the slot. They will run inside fades and double moves with him. They will create one-on-one opportunities for him in the red zone. They will use him in the screen game.
“They will use him like a receiver,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They have handed it to him in the backfield, but most of it comes through all of their run action. The swaps, boots, where is Waldo? He is all over the place.
“He is one. He is two. He is three. But you have to stop the run, or they are going to kill you.”
The next closest pass catcher to Mayer on the Notre Dame roster is wideout Lorenzo Style, who has half of the production in terms of caches (24) and yards (292). The Irish has thrown 13 touchdown passes this year and Mayer has caught six of them. No one else has caught more than two.
“They are just creative with where they put him, how they involve him in the normal pass game, but then all the play action stuff,” Swinney said. “So, everybody knows he is going to get the ball. But you still have to respect him as a blocker, and you have to stop the run to have a chance on these guys.
“If you don’t, you are not going to win.”
To put perspective on how productive Mayer is, Clemson’s top receiver, Antonio Williams, has just 29 catches for 375 yards. However, Beaux Collins does have five touchdown receptions.