In its five-year history, there’s usually one game in the College Football Playoff that turns out to be a blowout.
Oregon blasted Florida State in 2015. Alabama shut out Michigan State, 42-0 in 2016. Clemson humiliated Ohio State 31-0 in 2017.
In 2018, that game was the Cotton Bowl between Notre Dame and Clemson in front of a sold out crowd clad evenly in Fighting Irish green and Clemson orange at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Clemson shined in every facet of the game and rolled to a 30-3 win over Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff semifinal Saturday.
The Tigers advance to their third national championship game in the past four years and have risen to national prominence under head coach Dabo Swinney.
He led the team to a 14-0 record, including an undefeated regular season, a win December’s ACC Championship game over Pittsburgh, and Saturday’s win.
A team with multiple defined strengths, perhaps its play on both the offensive and defensive lines are what sets it apart. A veteran offensive line paved open running lanes for star running back Travis Etienne- who ran for 109 yards and a touchdown.
On the other end, Clemson’s defensive line is perhaps the most feared in the country- and they proved it Saturday. It usually starts with senior Dexter Lawrence- but he was suspended Friday after twice testing positive for a banned supplement.
Star seniors Austin Bryant, Albert Huggins, and Christian Wilkins- along with junior Clelin Ferrell- all filled the void with their play on Saturday. They dominated the line of scrimmage, holding dynamic Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book to a measly 190 total yards, no touchdowns, and a turnover.
It continues a fascinating narrative for Clemson’s senior group- who won its 54th total game with Saturday’s triumph. And even without Lawrence, statistically the group’s leader, Bryant, Huggins, Wilkins- three players who turned down the 2018 NFL Draft for a shot at this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship, led the way.
Bryant recorded a game-high six tackles, including two sacks and a dominant three tackles for loss.
Throughout the season, Clemson’s young offensive core has been able to lean on its strong defensive unit and play loose and relaxed. That’s exactly what happened Saturday.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a true freshman and the No. 2 recruit in the 2018 ESPN100 football recruiting ranking, shined in his biggest test so far. A tie game after one quarter, Lawrence and Clemson set themselves apart with three passing touchdowns- including two bombs to fellow freshman Justyn Ross.
That was all Clemson needed, punctuated by a 62-yard dash from Etienne around Notre Dame’s shaky defense, the defense held the Fighting Irish offense scoreless in the second half.
Paired with Alabama’s 45-34 win the other semifinal game at the Orange Bowl Saturday, Clemson’s next test is its biggest- and the fourth straight season that the Tigers will meet the Tide in a playoff game.
And it provides an opportunity for its senior-laden defense to accomplish its main goal: winning a national title.
Read more about Clemson, Notre Dame and the College Football Playoff at News4usonline.com.
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