Dominant second quarter allows Tigers to rout Notre Dame in Cotton Bowl
ARLINGTON, Texas — Clemson is heading back to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
The second-ranked Tigers scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to cruise to an easy 30-3 victory over No. 3 Notre Dame in the 83rd Cotton Bowl Classic on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The win marks Clemson’s third trip to the title game in the last four years and its fourth overall.
The Tigers will play the Alabama-Oklahoma winner in the championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif.
“That is what we came here to do,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said afterward. “This senior group just won their 54th game and they’re going back to their third national championship in four years. And man, we’re so excited to have the opportunity to go to California and represent the ACC and play another great opponent.”
Clemson (14-0) got two touchdown receptions from Justyn Ross, while Tee Higgins made the catch of the game as he tipped the ball to himself and then made a one-handed catch while getting his feet down in the back of the end zone.
The Higgins’ touchdown was a 19-yard score that came with two seconds left in the half. It gave Clemson a 23-3 lead at halftime.
Ross’ two touchdowns came on big plays. He gave Clemson the lead for good when he hauled in a 52-yard touchdown pass with 12:50 to play in the half. The freshman later caught a 42-yard touchdown which gave the Tigers a 16-3 lead with 1:44 to play before halftime.
Ross led Clemson with 6 receptions for 148 yards. Higgins had four catches for 53 yards.
Trevor Lawrence completed 29-of-37 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
Clemson racked up 261 yards in the decisive second quarter. The Tigers finished the game with 538 yards.
“Our guys, they got it done in the trenches,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said afterwards. “We kind of hung in there. We finally got a little running game going, but the big plays on offense, the sacks on defense, created a couple of turnovers, a big play by Nolan Turner here in the second half.”
Etienne went 62 yards on a third-and-one play in the third quarter to give the Tigers a 30-3 lead at the 2:04 mark. The run allowed the sophomore to set a new single-season rushing record at Clemson. He broke Wayne Gallman’s mark of 1,527 yards from the 2015 season.
The ACC Player of the Year rushed for 109 yards against the Irish, just the second running back this year to go over 100 yards against Notre Dame.
The game was tied, 3-3, early in the second quarter when Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book threw incomplete to Miles Boykin on a fourth-and-three play from the Clemson 34.
The Tigers needed just three plays to take advantage as Lawrence found Ross down the sideline as he high pointed the pass, broke a tackle and ran the ball in for a 52-yard touchdown.
The Tigers’ defense held the Irish (12-1) to 248 total yards and just 88 yards on the ground. Book finished the game 17-of-34 for 160 yards, one interception and a fumble. He also was sacked six times.
“We’re going to celebrate this tonight,” Swinney said. “All the glory to God, no doubt about it. It’s almost unbelievable, but we did it and we’re here. And I’m proud of our guys.”