ARLINGTON, Texas — Second-ranked Clemson spent the first part of Christmas Eve on the practice field after arriving Sunday evening ahead of their College Football Playoff Semifinal matchup with third-ranked Notre Dame.
As Clemson prepared inside of AT&T Stadium for the Cotton Bowl Classic it seemed focused but also energetic and excited to play for a shot at another trip to the CFP National Championship Game.
Last season, the Tigers (13-0) traveled to New Orleans and fell to eventual national champion Alabama in a game that showed little offense from the Tigers, who finished the game with just 188 total yards and zero touchdowns.
This year the offense has proved much more explosive giving new life to this year’s undefeated squad.
Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow remembers the Sugar Bowl from a year ago and believes the experience of that painful loss is serving his team well in preparation for Notre Dame. Not only is the memory proving motivational, but an improved and experienced unit is breeding confidence for the Tigers in Dallas.
They are a much more veteran team despite key contributions from freshmen, like standout quarterback Trevor Lawrence who took the reigns as the starter after winning the job as the backup in a beatdown of the Yellow Jackets on Sept. 22.
“Yeah, just a little different, a little more experienced, I would say,” Renfrow said. “We still have Justyn Ross on the outside that’s a freshman, and a few more freshman pieces.”
Dynamic playmakers like Ross paired with leadership from veterans in Renfrow, center Justin Falcinelli, All-American left tackle Mitch Hyatt and others have made a major impact on the offense with Lawrence at the helm. To Renfrow, the leadership is essential in not repeating last season’s finale.
“But I would say, just the experience we have and just being on that team last year and not finishing the way we wanted to,” Renfrow said. “I think it’s definitely going to help us as we finish, hopefully well, this year.”
This years’ offense has already scored more points than any other in school history (590) and is averaging a school-best 529.8 yards per game.
Not only are they putting up big numbers, but the unit is balanced keeping defenses on their toes. The Tigers average 259.8 yards on the ground and 270.1 yards passing, making them one of just three schools (UCF, Oklahoma) to average at least 250 through the air and rushing.
This unit can win games on the ground or through the air, with five games of at least 300 rushing yards and five games of at least 290 passing yards.
With Lawrence captaining the ship Clemson has won all nine games while scoring at least 40 points in each contest. The freshman has completed 212 of 326 passes for 2,606 yards and 24 touchdowns with just four interceptions, shattering nearly every program record for a freshman along the way.
Renfrow is a formidable weapon for the Tigers on the biggest stage with five CFP games under his belt. In the playoff he has 31 receptions for 320 yards and five touchdowns owning the CFP record in receptions and receiving touchdowns.
Clemson has its work cut out with undefeated Notre Dame, but can enter more confident than a year ago behind an explosive and productive offense. The Cotton Bowl Classic kicks off at 4 p.m. EST, Saturday on ESPN.