Clemson defense comes up big in Cotton Bowl

Clemson defense comes up big in Cotton Bowl

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Clemson defense comes up big in Cotton Bowl

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Cotton Bowl Instant Replay: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3

Clemson defeated Notre Dame, 30-3, on Saturday in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. With the win, the Tigers advanced to the national championship game for the third time in four seasons and will play the winner of the Orange Bowl semifinal between Alabama and Oklahoma.

The Tigers improved to 14-0 on the season, while the Fighting Irish finished the year 12-1.

Here is a look back at how Clemson earned the victory:

What happened?

After the first quarter ended in a 3-3 tie, Clemson grabbed momentum and took a commanding 23-3 lead into the locker room at halftime thanks to three touchdown passes by Trevor Lawrence in the second quarter. Two of Lawrence’s touchdowns were 52- and 42-yard passes to fellow true freshman Justyn Ross, who had five catches for 137 yards in the first half. Tee Higgins tacked on a spectacular juggling catch in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown with just two seconds left in the half to give the Tigers a 20-point lead at the break.

Clemson blew the game open in the third quarter following an interception of Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book by Nolan Turner. Three plays later, Travis Etienne exploded for a 62-yard rushing touchdown up the middle that made the score 30-3 with 2:04 remaining in the quarter. Etienne had been bottled up for only 39 yards rushing on 11 carries before the long score, which provided the game’s final score.

What went right?

Despite the absence of Dexter Lawrence, Clemson’s defense was dominant for the duration of the game. The Tigers allowed just 248 total yards and three points – the fewest points ever for Notre Dame in a bowl game in school history – while limiting Notre Dame star running back Dexter Williams to only 54 yards on 16 carries, an 3.4-yard average. Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant led the way with a team-high six total tackles, three for loss, two sacks and a quarterback hurry. Albert Huggins recorded a tackle and a quarterback hurry as he filled in for Lawrence. Overall, Clemson’s defense notched six sacks, eight tackles for loss and forced a couple of turnovers.

Not only did Bryant and Clemson’s defensive line step up in a big way, but the secondary played outstanding in coverage as well, helping to hold Book to 17-of-34 passing for 160 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

Offensively, Lawrence and Ross shined for the Tigers. Lawrence completed 27-of-39 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns, while Ross finished with six for 148 yards and two scores.

Another thing that went right for the Tigers was that they caught breaks on several replay reviews — most notably Derion Kendrick’s lost fumble close to Clemson’s own end zone on a kickoff return that was reviewed and ruled not to be a fumble because the ball touched the out-of-bounds line.

What went wrong?

Not a lot went wrong for the Tigers in this one. However, they did have an extra point blocked, a turnover on an Etienne fumble in the red zone in the fourth quarter, and a sack allowed by Clemson’s offense on third down in the second quarter that forced a longer field-goal attempt from Greg Huegel (49 yards) which he hooked wide left.

Also, Isaiah Simmons appeared to have forced a turnover at the end of the third quarter after ripping the ball away from Notre Dame’s Jafar Armstrong before any part of his body hit the ground. However, Armstrong was ruled down on the field, and the play was not reviewable due to forward progress being called. The play didn’t matter much in the end as Clemson had a comfortable lead by that point and Notre Dame was forced to punt anyway.

Game-changing moment?

With the game even at 3-3 early in the second quarter, Notre Dame opted to go for it on 4th-and-3 from Clemson’s 34-yard line, and the Tigers came up with a big stop when Bryant pressured Book and helped to force an incomplete pass that was beautifully broken up by Isaiah Simmons.

Clemson took over on downs, and just three plays later, Lawrence hooked up with Ross for a 52-yard touchdown strike that put the Tigers ahead 9-3. Clemson proceeded to dominate the second quarter, posting 261 total yards of offense and scoring two more touchdowns to take control of the game at halftime.

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