Click HERE to sign up for an annual subscription to BlueAndGold.com and get your FREE gift code for $99 in Irish apparel and gear!
Virtually identical to six years earlier, a memorable 12-0 regular season ended in rubble for Notre Dame with a 30-3 defeat to Clemson in the College Football Playoff held at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas.
An explosive second-quarter passing clinic by Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence with his playmaking receiving crew saw the Tigers score three touchdowns to build a 23-3 halftime lead.
Despite the absence of star nose tackle Dexter Lawrence because of a failed drug test, Clemson’s defense dominated with its combination of talent and depth, limiting Notre Dame to 248 yards total offense and its lowest point total in its 37-game bowl history.
Lawrence set a single-half Cotton Bowl record with 264 yards passing through the first two quarters, and then Clemson salted the game away with a 62-yard touchdown burst by running back Travis Etienne.
Clemson finished with 538 yards total offense, 327 passing and 211 passing. Box Score.
FIRST QUARTER: Notre Dame 3, Clemson 3
Top Moment: On Notre Dame’s second series, junior quarterback Ian Book fumbled on a scramble that defensive end Clelin Farrell recovered at his 47-yard line. That led to a 30-yard drive that was capped by a 40-yard field goal by Greg Huegel with 8:35 remaining.
Notre Dame answered with a 66-yard march that concluded with a 26-yard field goal by senior kicker Justin Yoon at the 4:31 mark. The crucial play came on third-and-10 from the Irish 25-yard line when running back Dexter Williams caught a 16-yard middle screen from Book.
Top Performers: In addition to his fumble recovery, Ferrell recorded a sack. Notre Dame junior defensive end Julian Okwara also had a sack and a pass pressure.
Stats: Clemson’s 17 plays netted only 45 yards, 10 on the ground while Lawrence was 6 of 11 passing for 35 yards. Notre Dame totaled 85 yards, 34 rushing on 11 carries, with Book completing 6 of 8 tosses for 51 yards.
Items: After Derion Kendrick fumbled the Notre Dame kickoff that Irish junior Chase Claypool recovered inside the Tigers’ 10-yard line with the score 3-3, further review showed the ball had barely touched out of bounds, giving Clemson possession at its 13-yard line.
SECOND QUARTER: Clemson 23, Notre Dame 3
Top Moment: Facing third-and-14 with a 9-3 lead, Lawrence found fellow freshman Justyn Ross down the seam for a 42-yard touchdown with 1:44 remaining, expanding Clemson’s lead to 16-3. That capped an 85-yard touchdown drive.
After a three-and-out, Clemson took possession at its 25-yard line with 48 seconds left, and instead of running out the clock, went for the jugular. A 32-yard completion to Hunter Renfrow plus a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on senior tackle Jerry Tillery that same play set up a 19-yard jump-ball touchdown to wideout Tee Higgins, which was well covered and even batted by junior quarterback Donte Vaughn before Higgins grabbed it with one hand and kept one foot in-bounds from the end line with two seconds left.
Top Performer: The Lawrence-to-Ross combination thrived. The game’s first touchdown was scored when Lawrence’s deep ball down the line was grabbed by Ross over Vaughn for a 52-yard tally at the 12:50 mark. Tillery blocked the extra point to leave the score 9-3 … The tandem connected again on the aforementioned route when junior safety Alohi Gilman was caught in single coverage down the middle. The duo also connected on a 35-yard completion on a third-and-seven play in between, but Clemson did not score on that possession.
During these 15 minutes of action, Lawrence was 13 of 15 passing for 229 yards and three touchdowns.
Stats: Notre Dame finished the half with 141 yards total offense, carrying 17 times for 34 yards and Book totaling 107 yards passing while completing 11 of his 20 tosses. The Tigers amassed 306 yards total offense, 264 via the aerial rout.
Items: With the score still 3-3, a fourth-and-three Book pass at Clemson’s 34-yard line was batted down by linebacker Isaiah Simmons in one-on-one coverage with senior Miles Boykin … With the score still only 9-3 and on third-and-seven from the Irish 24-yard line, Lawrence was sacked by junior end Ade Ogundeji, and Huegel then missed a 49-yard field goal with 6:50 left… Notre Dame consensus All-American junior cornerback Julian Love was sidelined early in the quarter with an injury and did not return until the start of the second half — but not before Clemson took advantage of his absence.
THIRD QUARTER: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3
Top Moment: Notre Dame had a first down at Clemson’s 26-yard line with the score still 23-3, but Book was sacked by end Austin Bryant on back-to-back plays. Then on third-and-22, safety Nolan Turner intercepted a Book pass. Three plays later, Etienne burst through a hole on third-and-short for a 62-yard touchdown at the 2:04 mark.
That sequence, particular the sacks, were the final flicker of hope for any hopes of an Irish comeback.
Top Performer: Bryant’s sacks propelled a strong overall defensive performance by the Tigers.
Stats: Notre Dame had 217 yards total offense after three quarters, 138 passing and 79 rushing. Clemson was at 423 yards, 303 passing and 120 rushing.
Items: After forcing a Clemson punt, Notre Dame’s initial possession of the second half from its 13-yard line ended with a perfect 36-yard punt by Tyler Newsome to the two-yard line that was downed by Gilman. The Irish initially lined up for a 54-yard field goal attempt before opting to punt.
FOURTH QUARTER: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3
Top Moment: Clemson’s senior class recorded its 54th victory compared to only four defeats. Notre Dame finished with its fourth 12-win season (1988, 1989, 2012 and 2018).
Top Performer: While playing with mainly backups, Clemson’s defense continued its mastery while limiting Notre Dame to 31 yards in the final 15 minutes.
Stats: Notre Dame’s 248 yards total offense were the fewest in a bowl since the 155 in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, a 41-9 loss to Oregon State.
Items: Clemson had its first turnover of the game with 9:13 left, and the score 30-3, when Gilman dislodged the football from Etienne that senior linebacker Asmar Bilal recovered at his 12-yard line.