These Plays Decided Clemson’s 30-3 Cotton Bowl Win over Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff

    Clemson advanced to the College Football Playoff National Championship game for the third time in four seasons after defeating No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 in

    December 29, 2018

    Clemson advanced to the College Football Playoff National Championship game for the third time in four seasons after defeating No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. The Tigers scored first and they never trailed in the game as freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns, while Clemson’s defense held Notre Dame to 2.5 yards per carry and 4.7 yards per pass attempt.

    Here are the plays that sealed the victory for Clemson.

    Justyn Ross’ separation against Notre Dame’s secondary

    Several times during the ESPN broadcast, there was mention of a stat that Notre Dame had only allowed one passing touchdown longer than 20 yards prior to the College Football Playoff.

    Clemson had two in the opening half of the Cotton Bowl.

    Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross, a physical 6-4 freshman, was on the receiving end of both of the long touchdown receptions and he finished with a team-best six catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns.

    The first came early in the second quarter, when he beat the man coverage of Notre Dame cornerback Donte Vaughn, then after the catch he outran safety Jalen Elliott down the sideline for the touchdown.

    It was the first touchdown of the game and showed the big-play ability of the Tigers’ offense, which scored on a three-play, 65-yard drive that took just one minute and four seconds.

    Two drives later, Ross found a seam in Notre Dame’s defense on 3rd & 14 for a 42-yard touchdown as he blazed past safety Alohi Gilman for the score.

    Turnovers and near-misses on potential turnovers

    It’s worth noting that Notre Dame wasn’t completely unlucky when it came to turnovers and the bounce of the ball in the Cotton Bowl Classic. Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams fumbled on the third play from scrimmage but a fortuitous bounce sent the ball back into his grasp when it looked like Clemson was sure to recover it.

    But on the first play of the Fighting Irish’s second drive, quarterback Ian Book fumbled as Clemson defensive Clelin Ferrell, whose hit forced the fumble, recovered the ball. The Tigers took over at their own 47 and used the good field position to kick a 40-yard field goal for the first points of the game.

    Notre Dame answered with a 10-play, 66-yard drive that ended in a field goal to tie the game.

    Then came arguably the most pivotal play of the entire game and one that Notre Dame fans might reflect upon wistfully. On the ensuing kickoff, Clemson’s Derion Kendrick fumbled after a hit by Cole Kmet and Notre Dame appeared to recover the ball but after video replay, it was ruled that the ball bounced out of bounds and Clemson maintained possession.

    Had the call on the field stood, Notre Dame would have taken over with a drive that would have started in the red zone, where the Irish likely would have scored to take the lead. Instead, Clemson had a six-play drive that sputtered and the Tigers were able to flip the field with a punt.

    Clemson drove 65 yards in just three plays on its next possession to take a lead it would never relinquish.

    On the opening drive of the second half, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence had a pass batted at the line of scrimmage that appeared to be intercepted by Notre Dame’s Asmar Bilal but after a review, the interception was overturned.

    The first interception of the game came late in the third quarter, when Clemson’s Nolan Turner picked off Book and returned it 24 yards to set up a 62-yard touchdown run by running back Travis Etienne three plays later.

    Notre Dame turns the ball over on downs, punts on back-to-back possessions

    With the game tied 3-3 early in the second quarter, Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly elected to go for it on 4th & 3 at Clemson’s 34-yard line. Book threw a pass intended for wide receiver Myles Boykin into double coverage and Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons used his long arms to break up the pass.

    Clemson took over on offense with solid field position and scored to take the lead.

    On Notre Dame’s next drive, Book rushed a throw over the middle that was intended for Boykin on 3rd & 2, forcing the Irish into a three-and-out.

    Notre Dame entered the game having converted 44.3 percent of its third down conversions and 65.2 percent of its fourth down conversions, but the Irish’s inability to convert on those two short-yardage conversion attempts when they game was still competitive proved to be costly.

    Clemson’s execution before halftime

    After Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence found wide receiver Justyn Ross for his second long touchdown of the first half to give the Tigers a 16-3 lead, they kicked the ball off to Notre Dame with 1:44 left in the half.

    Book completed a 13-yard pass to Chris Finke on the first ply of the drive, then Clemson put the clamps on Notre Dame, holding the Irish to three yards on their next three plays before calling a timeout to stop the clock. Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome sent his punt into the end zone for a touchback, giving Clemson 48 seconds to try to go 80 yards to score again before halftime.

    An offside penalty on second down gave Clemson a 2nd & 3, which it converted. Then Lawrence found Hunter Renfrow for a 32-yard gain and Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery leveled Lawrence well after the throw. He was called for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, giving Clemson the ball at Notre Dame’s 19-yard line.

    Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney used another timeout to stop the clock with nine seconds left.

    On 1st & 10, Lawrence threw to the right corner of the end zone, where wide receiver Tee Higgins made an incredible, one-handed grab and kept a foot inbounds to put the Tigers up 23-3 at halftime.

    The game was all but over.

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