CLEMSON TO PLAY FOR TI­TLE

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY RALPH D. RUSSO

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.

ROGER STEIN­MAN AP

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.

JEF­FREY MCWHORTER AP

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.

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