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Notre Dame Football

Clemson gets revenge, tops Notre Dame for ACC crown

December 19, 2020

It was shades of 2018.

That wasn't remotely a good thing for No. 2 Notre Dame Saturday in its first-ever foray into a conference championship.

The Fighting Irish failed to convert multiple first-half scoring opportunities, compounded their mistakes with penalties as well as breakdowns on both sides of the ball and were annihilated, 34-10, Saturday by No. 3 Clemson in the ACC Championship.

Now, Notre Dame (10-1) awaits its College Football Playoffs fate as the only team with a win this season against a No. 1 team – its Nov. 7 double-overtime win against the Tigers (10-1) – and fighting the recency bias of this blowout-loss.

“Obviously I'm disappointed for our players,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly, whose postgame Zoom press conference was dotted by what appeared to be Clemson's loud celebrations in the background off camera. “You don't come this far and not want to play your very best. Hats off to Clemson as the ACC Champs. They earned it today.

“They were the better team. That's really the story, consistency in performance. We did not have that consistency in performance that we have had all year.

“Got a really good football team. There's no doubt this football team is one of the four-best teams in the country. And we'll leave the rest up to the (CFP) Committee.”

After taking a 3-0 lead on the game's opening possession, it was an unraveling of sorts for much of the rest of the game. Jonathan Doerer hit a 51-yard field goal for an early 3-0 Irish lead, but he missed from just 24 yards after a Kyle Hamilton interception of Trevor Lawrence.

“We're back,” Lawrence told ABC. “We're back again. We're ready.”

Clemson seized command and throttled down on the Irish from that point onward. Lawrence connected with senior wideout Amari Rodgers on a 67-yard touchdown in which Rodgers got behind Shaun Crawford and coasted untouched into the end zone.

That touchdown ignited a 34-0 scoring run by the Tigers that saw them strike for a damning blow inside the final 30 seconds of the first half. Travis Etienne, bottled up by Notre Dame in the initial meeting, uncorked a 44-yard run where he easily outpaced the Irish defense for a score that vaulted Clemson to a 24-3 halftime lead.

Notre Dame's defense mustered some early stops after the intermission, but Ian Book was consistently under duress. The Irish's all-time winningest quarterback finished just 20-for-28 passing for just 219 yards, closed with minus-35 rushing yards and never got untracked rushing in suffering his second career loss to the Tigers, after also falling in the 2018 CFP semifinals.

Lawrence, who missed the first meeting due to COVID-19 protocols, nearly obliterated Clemson great and current Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson's record for total yardage. Lawrence amassed 412 yards' offense against the Irish, as he threw for 322 yards and added 90 on the ground. Lawrence was responsible for three of Clemson's four touchdowns.

Clemson more than doubled-up Notre Dame in total offense; it commanded a 541-263 edge in yardage and converted 9-for-15 on third- and fourth-down attempts.

The Irish yielded six sacks of Book, saw Clemson's defense record 10 tackles-for-losses and finished just 3-for-13 on third- and fourth downs.

Notre Dame won’t have to wait too long to learn if it did enough across 11 games to secure being included in the CFP. The CFP Committee, live on ESPN, will reveal its four playoff selections Sunday at 12:15 p.m.

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