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Clemson is headed back to familiar territory.
Following a thorough 30-3 drubbing of No. 3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, Dabo Swinney’s Tigers are headed to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game for a third time in the last four seasons.
Clemson completely controlled the game on both sides of the ball, smothering the Irish offense with their defensive speed and athleticism while overwhelming the ND defense with, well, speed and athleticism.
The game was tight early on, with each team yielding just a field goal in the first quarter. But once Clemson got going offensively, the floodgates opened and it was quickly evident that Brian Kelly’s team was in over its head.
The Tigers took a 9-3 lead in the second quarter when freshman Justyn Ross beat his defender and caught a 52-yard touchdown from Trevor Lawrence. Two Notre Dame punts and a missed Clemson field goal later, Ross was scoring on the receiving end of another 42-yard touchdown on a perfectly thrown pass from Lawrence.
That score was a punch in the gut to a Notre Dame defense that was looking to get off the field on third-and-12. Instead, Lawrence fit in a laser on a seam route to Ross, who beat Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman, to extend the lead to 16-3 with 1:44 left in the half.
And if Ross’ second score wasn’t demoralizing enough, Clemson wasn’t finished yet. Notre Dame quickly punted the ball back to the Tigers and the help of a long completion and a roughing-the-passer penalty, Trevor Lawrence found Tee Higgins for an insane 19-yard touchdown and a 23-3 halftime lead.
The game was basically over from there, as the second half was nothing more than a formality. Notre Dame’s offense was hapless and helpless against Clemson’s defense. The final nail in the coffin was a 62-yard scoring burst from Travis Etienne after an ill-advised interception thrown by Notre Dame’s Ian Book.
It was clear early on that it may not be in the cards for the Irish. In the first half after tying the game 3-3, Clemson’s Derion Kendrick fumbled the kickoff return and Notre Dame recovered. But the ball went out of bounds — barely — before the recovery, negating an immediate goal-to-go opportunity for Notre Dame.
Did the play change the game? Maybe it did early on. But with the way Notre Dame was overmatched, it may have proven to be a mere footnote in a comprehensive beatdown by Clemson.
Another postseason Notre Dame disappointment
The last time Notre Dame played for the national title it was outclassed in all areas by Alabama on Jan. 7, 2013 in the BCS Championship Game. This one didn’t go much differently.
The game is a sour ending for what was a fantastic season for the Irish. Notre Dame ran undefeated through a schedule that included Stanford, USC, Michigan, Florida State and Virginia Tech. But four of those traditional powers had lackluster (for them) seasons in 2018. Should that have been a warning sign for Notre Dame’s chances against Clemson? Maybe. It’s still really hard to go undefeated in college football.
It’s also really hard for the loser to stay competitive in a semifinal game. The Irish’s loss is the fifth time in nine CFP semifinals that the loser has lost by 20 or more points. And, more distressingly for Notre Dame fans, the continuation of a disturbing postseason trend.
Notre Dame is now 0-8 in its last eight New Years Six bowl games with an average margin of defeat of 20.75 points.
— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) December 30, 2018
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