Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Clemson Downs Notre Dame, 30-3 to advance to National Championship

Photo By: Photo by Ian Halperin/CBAA

The Clemson Tigers emerged victorious in a battle of two undefeated teams at the 83rd Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The Tigers’ explosive offensive performance afforded them a 30-3 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at AT&T Stadium in front of a crowd of 72,183 fans on Saturday night.  

Clemson is no stranger to the College Football Playoff as they’ve clinched a spot in four of the last five Playoff Semifinals, played in three of the last four CFP National Championships and won the 2017 CFP National Championship game against Alabama. Conversely, this was the first CFP Semifinal appearance for Notre Dame.

Neither team could muster up much offense in the first quarter, and each team put up just a field goal to keep the score deadlocked, 3-3, at the end of the first stanza.

Things heated up for Clemson offensively in the second quarter. The Tigers reached the end zone on their first drive of the quarter via a 52-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Lawrence to Justyn Ross. The Tigers’ point-after attempt was blocked by the Irish, and the score sat at 9-3.

Ross would strike again for the Tigers later in the quarter when he grabbed a 42-yard pass from Lawrence to extend Clemson’s lead to 16-3. Along with a career-high two touchdowns, Ross also set the Cotton Bowl Classic record for most receiving yards in a first half with 137. 

Clemson would go on to score one more touchdown with just two seconds to go the first half. Tee Higgins pulled down a 19-yard pass from Lawrence in acrobatic fashion to supplement their lead. Lawrence broke a Cotton Bowl Classic record of his own in the first half, passing for 264 yards, with 229 yards coming in the second quarter alone. The Tigers went to the locker room at halftime leading Notre Dame, 23-3.

Both teams’ offenses were stalled to start the second half thanks to big stops by both defenses. Midway through the third quarter, Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman broke the record for most tackles in a New Year’s Six game during the CFP era when he recorded his 16th total tackle. He would end the game with 18 total tackles, a CFP Semifinal record. His teammate, linebacker Te’von Coney, also notched 16 total tackles. 

With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, running back Travis Etienne busted out a 62-yard run that went all the way to the house for Clemson’s lone touchdown of the third quarter. Etienne had his eighth 100+ yard rushing game of the season and set a new Clemson single-season record for rushing yards.

Both teams were shut out in the fourth quarter, but Clemson continued to dominate on defense and held off the Irish to win the Classic.

The Tigers are no stranger to lopsided wins as they have defeated 12 of their 14 opponents by 20 or more points. Clemson boasts a similar trend in CFP Semifinal games as they have now outscored their three CFP Semifinal opponents 88-20 in their three games.

With 327 yards through the air and three passing touchdowns, Trevor Lawrence was named the J. Curtis Sanford Offensive MVP. Lawrence became the second player to pass for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in a College Football Playoff game. The other was former Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, who did so twice against Alabama.

With his six total tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss, defensive end Austin Bryant was awarded the McKnight Trophy for the most outstanding defensive player of the game. 

During the postgame Field Scovell Trophy presentation, head coach Dabo Swinney praised his group saying.

“This is what we came here to do. This senior group just won their 54th game, and they’re going back to their third National Championship in four years,” Swinney said. “We’re so excited to have the opportunity to go to California and represent the ACC and play another great opponent.” 

Clemson will go move on to face the winner of Saturday night’s Orange Bowl matchup between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma. The Tigers will take on the winner in the 2019 CFP National Championship at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on January 7. 

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