Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Clemson Outclasses Irish In Cotton Bowl

December 29, 2018

Championship teams often prove they’re championship teams by winning when they’re not at full strength.

Notre Dame was faced with that challenge in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson in Arlington, Texas on Saturday and it was a test the Irish couldn’t pass.

With All-American cornerback Julian Love forced to the sidelines for almost the entire first half with what head coach Brian Kelly described as “a head injury,” Clemson took advantage.

Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence connected on three second-quarter touchdown passes, including two in the final two minutes, to give the Tigers a commanding halftime lead en route to a 30-3 win in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.

The Irish finish the season 12-1 while Clemson improves to 14-0 and is headed to its third National Championship Game in four years.

Lawrence hit Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins for a pair of long scores against Donte Vaughn, Love’s replacement, and another to Ross down the seam past Alohi Gilman.

Love returned to begin the second half, but the damage had already been done with Clemson leading 23-3 at intermission. Of course, Clemson was without one of its own stars in defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who was suspended for a positive drug test.

And based on the performance of Notre Dame’s offense, Love’s presence probably wouldn’t have mattered much anyway.

Ian Book completed just 17 of his 34 pass attempts for 160 yards and an interception. Book added 32 yards on 16 rushes. Dexter Williams had flashes, but finished with just 54 rushing yards on 16 carries. Miles Boykin led the receivers with five catches for 69 yards.

Meanwhile, Lawrence finished 27-for-39 for 327 yards and the three touchdown passes. Ross had a career game with six catches for 148 yards and the two scores. Running back Travis Etienne was bottled up by the Irish defense much of the game, but still finished with 109 yards on 14 carries thanks to an explosive touchdown run for Clemson’s only second-half score.

Neither team got much going offensively in the first quarter, although a fumble by Ian Book led to a 40-yard field goal by Greg Huegel that gave the Tigers an early 3-0 lead.

Notre Dame responded with the first impressive drive of the game. It was jump-started by a 16-yard completion to Williams on third down. A pass interference penalty moved the Irish into Clemson territory. Book added two more first downs, one with his arm and another with his legs. The Irish couldn’t cash in with a touchdown in the red zone, but Justin Yoon did convert his 28-yard field goal attempt to tie the game 10 minutes in.

Clemson dodged disaster on the ensuing kickoff when Derion Kendrick was stripped by Cole Kmet, but the call on the field was reversed when instant replay ruled the ball touched the sideline before it was recovered by Chase Claypool. The Irish defense held strong after Clemson picked up one first down and got the ball back after a Tiger punt.

The Irish once again moved into Clemson territory, but Book’s fourth-down pass to Boykin was knocked away, giving Clemson the ball back on its own 35 barely a minute into the second quarter. The Tigers struck on the third play of the drive as Lawrence made the deep throw to Ross for a 52-yard touchdown. Jerry Tillery blocked the extra point to keep the score 9-3 two minutes into the quarter.

After a Notre Dame three-and-out, Clemson applied pressure as the Irish defense continued to face adversity. Gilman and pass rusher Julian Okwara both left during the drive, but a sack by Ade Ogundeji on third down forced a 49-yard field goal attempt, which Huegel missed badly.

On the following drive, Notre Dame moved into Clemson territory on a 23-pass to Boykin, but a drop by Alize Mack and a negative rush by Williams forced the Irish into another punt. 

The Tigers got moving again and Lawrence hit Ross again for a 42-yard scoring strike as the receiver ran past Gilman. The extra point made it 16-3 with 1:44 remaining in the half. After Notre Dame wasn’t able to get anything going on its final possession of the half, Clemson went to work less than a minute to go.

Lawrence hit Renfrow deep over the middle for 33 yards and a roughing the passer penalty by Tillery on the play moved the ball all of the way to Notre Dame’s 19-yard-line with nine seconds to play. Lawrence again attacked Vaughn, hitting Higgins for a touchdown pass two seconds before the end of the quarter to give the Tigers a 23-3 lead at intermission.

The Irish moved the ball on each of their first two second-half possessions, but both times fell behind the chains and came away with nothing, first they had to punt and then Book was picked off on third-and-long.

The game was broken wide open on Clemson’s third possession of the half when Etienne blew threw a hole for a 62-yard scoring run. The extra point gave the Tigers a 30-3 lead two minutes before the end of the third to complete the scoring.

Irish Sports Daily
Final Box Score


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