Clemson reaches the College Football Playoff Championship, again. The Tigers remain undefeated for the 2018 season after rolling Notre Dame 30-3. Both teams started relatively slowly, making it look like the 2018 Cotton Bowl would be a good match, but Clemson broke the game open at the end of the second quarter. Clemson’s freshman phenom quarterback Trevor Lawrence had no issues with the big stage. The Tigers defense did not skip a beat without Dexter Lawrence. Finally, Irish head coach Brian Kelly is undoubtedly a great football coach. He won the Dodd Trophy Coach of the Year again this year, but he struggles on the big stage. Let’s review how it happened.
Clemson Reaches the College Football Playoff Championship
The 2018 Cotton Bowl did not start out looking as though Clemson would hold the Irish to only three points all game. Both teams started slow, trading three-and-outs. It was not until the second quarter that the Tigers hit their stride and Notre Dame could not keep up. Ian Book struggled throughout the entire game and the Clemson defense forced two turnovers.
Truthfully, Notre Dame was not ready for Clemson’s adjustments in the second half. Did the undefeated Irish deserve to be in this game? Yes. They went undefeated in the regular season and had a pretty good resume doing it. Are the No. 1 and No. 2 teams just that far above the rest? Maybe. What we know for sure is that Clemson reaches the College Football Playoff Championship for the second time in three seasons.
Trevor Lawrence Looked Like A Seasoned Veteran
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was confident with freshman Trevor Lawrence to command the Tiger offense. The freshman signal caller looked like he had played on that stage before. Nothing seemed to rattle him. When things weren’t clicking in the first quarter, he stayed patient. He threw all three of his touchdown passes in the first half. The last one being to Tee Higgins, who made an amazing catch in the back of the end zone with only two seconds on the clock at the end of the first half. He ended the game with 327 yards in the air, going 27-for-39, all against a tough Notre Dame secondary. After the game he stated that, “Even before the game, [he] knew that [he] belonged.” Now everyone else that doubted also knows that he belongs.
Clemson’s Defense Did Not Need Dexter Lawrence
There was a lot of speculation how well Clemson’s defensive front would do without standout Dexter Lawrence. It did not look like he was missed at all. The rest of the defensive line reminded the college football world that they also put up big numbers this season. Further, that the unit is not made up of one player. Defensive end Clelin Ferrel picked up right where he left off in the regular season. Ferrel ended the Cotton Bowl with 4 tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins also continued to make his presence known all game. Overall, the Clemson defense had a game. The Tigers held Notre Dame to 248 yards of total offense, recorded six sacks, and two turnovers.
Fighting Irish 0-6 in New Year’s Six Bowls Under Kelly
The Fighting Irish had a good run this season. Going undefeated in the regular season is something to be proud of, but not being able to get it done when it counts seems to be the trend for Brian Kelly. The head coach gets them there, but cannot seem to figure out how to win the big game. This has been the same issue every time he has brought Notre Dame to a New Year’s Six. The biggest stage in college football. What needs to be done to get it done? That is unknown. Better preparation? Maybe. The talent is there for the Irish, so maybe Kelly can figure it out next year.