TIGERS SIX PACK
Avenging an earlier regular season loss, the 3rd-ranked Clemson captured their sixth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title with a convincing 34-10 triumph over previously undefeated and 2nd-ranked Notre Dame. The win moved the Tigers to 10-1 on the campaign and dropped the Irish to an identical 10-1 slate.
The Golden Domers started the scoring at 8:16 of the first period. After taking the opening kickoff, ND took 6:44 to march 46 yards in 11 plays. The drive stalled but K Jonathan Doerer split the uprights from 51 yards away to give the Irish a 3-0 advantage.
Notre Dame had a chance to extend their lead. With Clemson driving with their opening possession of the contest, Irish S Kyle Hamilton corralled QB Trevor Lawrence’s deflected aerial and returned it to the Blue & Gold 38 yard line.
After seven plays,
the drive stalled at the CU 6-yard line but this time Doerer’s 24-yard attempt bounced off the right upright at 1:42 of the first quarter. The Tigers dodged a bullet and the momentum seemed to shift immediately to the Orange & Purple.
Clemson would score the next 34 points and it began with 41 seconds left in the opening period. It took the Tigers only 61 seconds to go 80 yards in four plays after the missed Notre Dame field goal. Lawrence (25-of-36 for 322 yards and 2 TDs with 1 INT) hit a streaking WR Amari Rodgers behind the Irish secondary with a 67-yard catch-and-run. K B.T. Potter nailed the PAT and the Tigers had a 7-3 lead that they would never relinquish.
The Tigers padded their lead at the 9:24 mark of the second period. This time Lawrence spotted E.J. Williams on a short in route and the freshman wide receiver completed the rest for a 30 yard touchdown. That culminated a six play drive that traversed 72 yards in 2:44. Potter was good again with the conversion and CU increased its lead to 14-3.
The Tigers scored again at 4:28 of the second quarter.
After moving 68 yards in eight plays that ate 2:37 of clock time, the Irish forced a field goal. Potter was true from the 27-yard line and CU stretched their advantage to 17-3 but the Orange & Purple weren’t finished in the first half.
After forcing a Notre Dame punt, Clemson found pay dirt again with just 21 ticks left before intermission. The Tigers took only 1:49 to go 88 yards in 10 plays. This time it was RB Travis Etienne (10 carries for 124 yards and a TD) scampering the final 34 yards on a fourth-and-1 run off left tackle. Potter again made the extra point and CU advantage blossomed to 24-3.
For all intents and purposes, the game was over at halftime. Why, you ask? That’s because the CU defense was completely shutting down the vaulted Irish offense.
DC Brent Venables game plan worked to perfection in the first 30 minutes. The Tigers defense held Notre Dame to 3 points by limiting the Blue & Gold to 38 rushing yards on 19 carries along with 131 yards through the air. That’s while the Clemson offense put up 24 points while amassing 339 yards of total offense.
Clemson increased the spread at 3:43 of the third period. This time it was Lawrence (14 rushes for 90 yards and a TD) doing it with his legs as he finished off an eight play drive that took 2:35 to go 83 yards with a 34-yard scamper. Potter hit the PAT and the lead ballooned to 31-3.
Both teams put up points in the final quarter. Potter with a 37-yard field goal to expand the Clemson lead to 34-3 at 10:31. ND posted a TD with RB Chris Tyree rumbling 21 yards and Doerer’s kick made the final arithmetic 34-10 with 8:09.
I had a chance to talk to victorious HC Dabo Swinney on the media postgame Zoom. I inquired with the first question how the coaching staff is able to get big performances from the Tigers in big games.
LH : In this unprecedented run of ACC championships, your team has stepped up every time. Have you and your coaching staff done anything different for extra motivation, or is this just the culture of Clemson coming up to the forefront?
DS : Well, I mean, we just do what we do. You know, we’ve got a great culture. We do the right things. We have good players, we try to be consistent in our recruiting evaluation and development. We start over every year. We don’t carry anything over, we don’t assume anything and go back to work. It’s like, well this tonight, but we’ll reset tomorrow, get locked in on what’s next and have fun doing it. So, every year is a new journey, a new challenge. And we’ve got a staff that really loves each other and cares about each other and enjoys working together, and that certainly resonates to them as well.
The second was a little more touchy. It was about how Lawrence was just getting no respect from the media as it applies to the Heisman Trophy..
LH : #16 is 34 and one, and Clemson has never won a Heisman Trophy. Why is this guy not even get considered? And now all of a sudden everybody’s talking about everybody else. This guy’s the best player in the country isn’t he?
DS : I think that you have to ask somebody else that. You know, Deshaun Watson didn’t win it, even though he was the best player a couple years there. I can’t answer that. I mean, I really, I hate to even have to campaign for him, if you will. It’s become a stat award, and it’s so media driven and for whatever reason, a lot of it and they say well we only missed two games, he’s played nine games. He’s played more games than most other people. He’s played nine games, and he’s unbelievable. He doesn’t play in every fourth quarter. I mean we can leave him out there and just rack up stats and all that, to me it’s not about stats. It’s about who’s the best player and he’s the best player and that’s just him. There’s a lot of great players in college football, but there’s only one Trevor Lawrence, and he’s a generational player. He’s such a humble young man, unbelievable work ethic. Unbelievable commitment. He graduated in three years. Incredible commitment to excellence, he sacrifices. I mean this kid fought to play football this year, in a year where everybody’s opting out. If anybody had a reason they could opt out it would be him and he’s fighting to go play football. I mean, it’s incredible. And again, if you can watch Trevor, I think he just does things so easily sometimes people just don’t appreciate it. So, I don’t know, I can’t, I can’t answer your question.
Coach, I’ll answer it for you. Lawrence is, without a doubt, the best college player in the nation and should win the Heisman Trophy in a landslide. And, if anyone out their needs a second opinion, just hang around until late April in 2021 when #16 is the first pick in the National Football League Draft. End of story.
Finally, the reason for delaying the posting of this column is a legitimate one. We wanted to wait and see if both teams would be invited to the College Football Playoff Final Four and that came to fruition late Sunday afternoon.
Clemson will take on Ohio State and Notre Dame will go against Alabama. Let’s the games begin.