CLEMSON TO PLAY FOR TITLE
The Tigers will play for the national title after Trevor Lawrence and Co. beat Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl.
When Clemson’s Dabo Swinney handed his national championship-contending team to freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence during September, this is what the coach had in mind.
Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns and No. 2 Clemson beat No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 Saturday in the Cotton Bowl to reach the College Football Playoff championship game for the third time in four seasons.
The Tigers (14-0) will play either No. 1 Alabama – for a fourth straight season in the playoff – or No. 4 Oklahoma on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
Clemson’s overpowering and experienced defensive line, led by ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, smothered Ian Book and the Fighting Irish (12-1), holding them to 248 yards. On offense, freshmen led the way. Lawrence, making his career start, was 27-for-39 and did not throw an interception against a Notre Dame defense that had been one of the best on the
country. Freshman receiver Justyn Ross had six catches for 148 yards and two long touchdowns.
The Irish hung around for a quarter, with the team’s exchanging field goals. But early in the second quarter, Notre Dame All-America cornerback Julian Love went out with an apparent leg injury and Lawrence started taking apart the Irish secondary.
Lawrence hooked up with Ross on a deep throw down the sideline and the big receiver beat Love’s backup, Donte Vaughn, for a tackle-breaking, 52-yard score early in the second quarter. The Irish looked as if they might be able to keep it close until halftime, but the offense couldn’t keep that ferocious Clemson front, even without suspended star tackle Dexter Lawrence, out of the backfield.
During the final two minutes, Trevor Lawrence connected with Ross on a 42-yard score and with Tee Higgins for a onehanded, 19-yard touchdown reception – again over Vaughn – with two seconds left in the second quarter. Lawrence was 13-for-15 for 229 yards in the quarter.
That made it 23-3 at half and once again the Fighting Irish looked outclassed against the best of the best. Not so different from the 42-14 loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS championship game or the 4428 loss to Ohio State in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. In fact, Notre Dame is 0-8 in BCS and New Year’s Six games since winning the Cotton Bowl in 1993.
Though to be fair, Clemson has been doing this to everyone since Lawrence settled in. The Tigers haven’t had an opponent stay within 20 points since a close call against Syracuse on Sept. 29.
That was Lawrence’s first game as a starter, one he didn’t finish because of a head injury, and Clemson’s first after quarterback Kelly Bryant left the team.
With a powerful arm, quick release and poise in the pocket, Lawrence is positioned to become one of college football’s biggest stars. It will help to have receivers such as Ross, Higgins and Amari Rogers, all underclassmen. And a runner like sophomore Travis Etienne, who broke a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins reaches to catch a pass that is tipped by Notre Dame cornerback Donte Vaughn in the end zone for a touchdown late in the first half Saturday in the College Football Playoff semifinals in Arlington, Texas. Clemson won 30-3.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence celebrates after throwing for 327 yards and three scores during a 30-3 win against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.