Clem­son routs Notre Dame in Cot­ton Bowl semi­fi­nal

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Sports -

When Clem­son’s Dabo Swin­ney en­trusted a team with cham­pi­onship as­pi­ra­tions to fresh­man quar­ter­back Trevor Lawrence in Septem­ber, this is what the Tigers’ coach had in mind.

Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touch­downs and No. 2 Clem­son beat No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 on Satur­day in the Cot­ton Bowl to reach the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off ti­tle game. The Tigers (14-0) will play ei­ther No. 1 Alabama – for a fourth straight sea­son in the play­off – or No. 4 Ok­laho- ma on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Cal­i­for­nia.

“This is what we came here to do,” Swin­ney said. “This se­nior group just won their 54th game and they’re go­ing back to their third na­tional cham­pi­onship in four years.”

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. “Our guys, they got it done in the trenches,” Swin­ney said.

On of­fense, fresh­men led the way. Lawrence, mak­ing his 10th ca­reer

start, was 27 for 39 and did not throw an in­ter­cep­tion against a Notre Dame de­fense that had been one of the best in 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 what coach Brian Kelly said af­ter the game was a head 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 to half­time, but the of­fense couldn’t keep that fe­ro­cious Clem­son front, even without sus­pended star tackle Dex­ter Lawrence, out of the back­field.

In the fi­nal 2 min­utes, Trevor Lawrence con­nected with Ross on a 42-yard score and with Tee Hig­gins for a one-handed, 19-yard touch­down re­cep­tion – again over Vaughn – with 2 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 44-28 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.

Bryant, a se­nior, led the Tigers to the play­off last sea­son and a semi­fi­nal loss to Alabama. He was piv­otal in an early vic­tory this sea­son at Texas A&M. But Lawrence is a rare tal­ent, a po­ten­tial first over­all NFL draft pick. When Lawrence took over, the ceil­ing on Clem­son’s po­ten­tial rose. Now it is be­ing re­al­ized.

With a pow­er­ful arm, quick re­lease, poise in the pocket and sig­na­ture flow­ing blond hair, 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.


Clem­son wide re­ceiver Justyn Ross fights off a tackle at­tempt by Notre Dame safety Jalen El­liott and gets into the end zone for a 52-yard touch­down in the first half of their semi­fi­nal Satur­day.

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