ARLINGTON, Texas – Everybody in the media targeted Clemson’s secondary in the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl Classic after it surrendered 510 yards in Clemson’s late November win over South Carolina.
A month worth of talking about the game led to talk about the weakness of the Tigers’ secondary and the fact Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book averaged a 70.4 percent completion rate.
Second-ranked Clemson responded by dominating the No. 3 Irish, 30-3, in Saturday’s Cotton Bowl to advance to a third College Football Playoff National Championship Game in four seasons. And, the secondary stepped up to shut down Book’s passing attack.
The Notre Dame quarterback finished the day with lackluster numbers, he completed just 17-of-34 passes for 160 yards, threw an interception and fumbled on a scramble play. His completion percentage was 50 percent, 20 points lower than his average as the Irish failed to score a touchdown. The three points were the fewest ever by a Notre Dame team in a bowl game.
Clemson safety Nolan Turner hauled in the Tigers’ only interception of the game and returned it 24 yards.
Turner believes his unit improved a lot after that South Carolina game to get to the point of shutting down Book.
“We started making big plays and focusing on details to get the job done,” Turner said. “We started matching players better on routes and found ways to tighten up some of our defensive schemes.”
The secondary played with a chip on their shoulder and stepped up when they needed to. The longest play allowed by the defensive backs was 23 yards and the only play greater than 20 yards on the day.
Now Turner and the rest of the Tigers are celebrating for a night before turning their sights to Alabama the CFP title game. But, he is happy with how the team fought back through adversity and challenge of losing three players before the semifinal game, including defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
It means a lot to go to the National Championship and carry those guys with us,” Turner said. “It is pretty special to be on a team that earned a trip to the National Championship three times in the past four years.
The championship game is on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif. at 8 p.m. EST.