The Clemson Tigers defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the College Football Semifinal on Saturday 30-3.
After winning the toss, Clemson decided to defer and give Notre Dame the first offensive possession. Immediately, Dexter Lawrence’s replacement Albert Huggins made an impact by forcing a fumble. Notre Dame recovered, but the tone was set for the defensive line to provide nonstop pressure. Clelin Ferrell took that energy and ran with it, sacking the quarterback twice and forcing and recovering the fumble.
On offense, Clemson started slowly and scored only three points in the first quarter. Trevor Lawrence seemed to be forcing his throws and there were multiple dropped passes. Derion Kendrick avoided disaster after he nearly fumbled a punt return. The ball bounced out of bounds by a hair, though, granting Clemson the ball back.
At the end of the first quarter, the game was tied 3-3 after the teams hit a pair of field goals.
In the second half, Justyn Ross stole the show after reeling in a 52-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Lawrence. The extra point was blocked, though, putting the Tigers ahead 9-3. He also had a 34-yard gain after gaining separation on the sideline. Tee Higgins dropped what would have been a wide-open touchdown in the endzone on the subsequent play, though. Mitch Hyatt, who struggled greatly in the first half, gave up a sack on third down. Greg Hugel then missed a 49-yard field goal attempt.
A defensive stand, highlighted by an Austin Bryant sack, forced Notre Dame to punt the ball back to Clemson. Hunter Renfrow had a vintage third down conversion while Justyn Ross continued his outstanding second quarter with a 42-yard touchdown to put Clemson up 16-3. By the end of the first half, Ross had caught five passes for 137 yards (a Cotton Bowl record) and two touchdowns.
Right before halftime, with the Tigers on offense, Lawrence hooked up again with Hunter Renfrow to put the team past mid-field. A late hit on the quarterback tacked on an extra 15 yards, putting Clemson comfortably within the 20 with only nine seconds left in the half. As the half expired, Tee Higgins made an unreal juggling catch and pulled down a 19-yard touchdown pass to put Clemson up 22-3 going into the half.
Most of the third quarter was a stalemate with neither team able to score. Clemson’s defensive line was fantastic, as Austin Bryant recorded back-to-back sacks at the end of the quarter to bring up third down. On the ensuing play, Clemson safety Nolan Turner intercepted a pass to put the Clemson offense in position near midfield. Travis Etienne then broke the stalemate by running straight up the middle of the field for a 62-yard touchdown to give Clemson a 30-3 lead.
On defense, Isaiah Simmons appeared to have forced a turnover as he ripped the ball out of receiver Jafar Armstrong’s arms. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the referees had called the receiver down due to forward progress, a call that is not reviewable.
The fourth quarter was similarly slow, with backup quarterback Chase Brice taking over around the 7-minute mark. By game’s end, Trevor Lawrence had accumulated 327 passing yards and three touchdowns. Justyn Ross had a career day with six catches, 148 yards and two touchdowns.
With the win, Clemson advances to its third College Football Championship in four years. The Tigers will take on the winner of the Capital One Orange Bowl on January 7, 2019 in Levi Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers.