Photo courtesy of Clemson athletics
It was presumably a must-win game for Clemson and once again, Dabo Swinney’s squad showed their prominence. The Tigers left nothing in doubt with a 34-10 victory over Notre Dame in the ACC Championship on Saturday.
Both teams ultimately ended up in the College Football Playoff. Nonetheless, Clemson emerged as the national championship threat alongside Alabama. It was the sixth straight conference crown for the Tigers and sixth straight appearance in the playoff.
Notre Dame was not completely dominated from the start. After connecting on a field goal and then intercepting Trevor Lawrence on the first two possessions, it seemed like the Fighting Irish may make another statement. However, the following drive ended inside the 10-yard-line with zero points and Notre Dame never recovered.
Lawrence quickly connected with Amari Rodgers for a 67-yard score to take the lead for good. Additional touchdowns by E.J. Williams and Travis Etienne, as well as a B.T. Potter field put the Tigers up 24-3 at the half.
Ultimately, a 21-yard Chris Tyree rush was Notre Dame’s only touchdown of the game, which occurred well after the decided.
The key factor in this game was certainly Lawrence, who heavily outperformed Notre Dame’s Ian Book. D.J. Uiagalelei was equally efficient as a passer in their first meeting, but Lawrence’s zone rushing and playmaking ability made a huge difference.
The quarterback play was not the only difference between these two games though. The presence of key defensive pieces for the Tigers were critical.
Linebacker James Skalski, who did not play in the first meeting, was a key component getting pressure on Book. As a whole, the Clemson defensive unit caused Notre Dame to have its worst blocking grade, with the exception of the game at Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame was also dominated in the rushing department. Kyren Williams was held to just 50 yards on 15 carries while Book was completely contained to the pocket. The Irish were held to a season-low in avoided tackles and runs resulting in first downs.
Finally, the dynamic receiving corps that Notre Dame has used to torment defenses all season was ineffective. Clemson’s defensive backfield is loaded with stars. Clemson ran 13 blitz plays, which left isolated coverage assignments, but Book was able to gain just 38 passing yards on those plays.
Clemson certainly benefited from having its team healthy but won in every facet of this game.
Notable Player Performances
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence: Lawrence completed 25 of 38 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for an additional 90 yards and a touchdown. Eight of 12 passes he threw beyond 10air yards were completed.
Clemson RB Travis Etienne: Etienne ran for 124 yards on just 10 carries. He was accountable for six avoided tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Etienne had at least one positive run in each of the eight gaps.
Clemson LB James Skalski: Skalski was all over the field and made an impact in a variety of ways. He was responsible for three quarterback hurries, one sack, four run stops, and gave up just one reception for nine yards in 20 coverage snaps.
Clemson S Lannden Zanders: Zanders had perhaps his best game of the season. He was not responsible for a single catch in coverage and forced a fumble.
Notre Dame OT Robert Hainsey: The offensive line struggled as a unit but Hainsey was a lone bright spot. Hainsey played all 61 offensive snaps and did not allow a quarterback pressure or take a penalty.