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Daniel Wilco | | December 30, 2018

Clemson cruises past Notre Dame in Cotton Bowl to advance to College Football Playoff championship

Clemson heads to the CFP national title game

When Clemson's Dabo Swinney entrusted a team with championship aspirations to freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence in September, this is what the Tigers' coach had in mind.

Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns and No. 2 Clemson beat No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 on Saturday in the Cotton Bowl to reach the College Football Playoff title game. The Tigers (14-0) will play No. 1 Alabama — a 45-34 winner over No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl — for a fourth straight season in the playoff on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

MORE: Clemson vs. Notre Dame final stats
HIGHLIGHTS: Clemson rolls past Notre Dame | Alabama wins shootout with Oklahoma

"He's just so poised. He just sees it. And he's got a gift of an arm," Swinney said. "But I just love his humility and how consistent he is with his preparation, day in and day out. Easy, easy guy to coach. Easy guy to get behind and support. His teammates love him."

Clemson's overpowering and experienced defensive line, led by ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, smothered Ian Book and the Fighting Irish (12-1), holding them to 248 yards.

On offense, freshmen led the way. Lawrence, making his 10th career start, was 27 for 39 and did not throw an interception against a Notre Dame defense that had been one of the best on the country. Freshman receiver Justyn Ross had six catches for 148 yards and two long touchdowns.

"It makes it a lot easier on me when you just have guys all around you who are such great players and take that load off of you. There's not much pressure when you have guys this good playing around you," Lawrence said.

The Irish hung around for a quarter, with the teams exchanging field goals. But in the first quarter, Notre Dame All-America cornerback Julian Love went out with what coach Brian Kelly said after the game was a head injury and Lawrence started taking apart the Irish.

Below, find everything you need to know about the game, and relive the action with our live updates that were posted throughout the game:

MORE: All-time history, recent matchups between Alabama and Clemson
MORE: College football teams with the most national championships


Clemson-Notre Dame: Cotton Bowl time, TV channel

Clemson and Notre Dame battle in a College Football Playoff semifinal at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 29. The game is on ESPN.

MORE: Complete college football bowl schedule, TV listings

Clemson-Notre Dame: Cotton Bowl prediction, preview

Clemson is back in the College Football Playoff, reaching the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. Though Notre Dame played for a national title in the 2012 season, this marks the Irish's first appearance in the CFP, which started in 2014.

That history and the statistics suggest the Tigers will be huge favorites to win — and possibly set up another showdown with Alabama.

MORE: Cotton Bowl history, scores

Notre Dame has wins over ranked Michigan and Syracuse, but four of its 12 wins were decided by a touchdown or less. It wouldn't be too surprising if some of the questions remain from those lingering skeptics from 2012, when a 12-0 Notre Dame lost to Alabama 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game (a season that Notre Dame later had to vacate all wins from). But the Irish are 12-0 again — and are again big underdogs.

MORE: Top 25 scores, schedule for bowl games

On paper, Clemson has to feel confident. The Tigers averaged almost 74 yards per game more than Notre Dame and allowed 54.8 fewer yards as well.

Quarterback Ian Book has played well in key moments for the Irish, but Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence has already emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the country. RB Travis Etienne, at almost 1,500 rushing yards, also gives Clemson an edge.

But the biggest strength on Clemson is the defensive front. End Clelin Ferrell and tackle Christian Wilkins were both named to The Associated Press All-America first team this season.

MORE: Final College Football Playoff rankings

Clemson-Notre Dame: Stats, how they compare

Clemson Stat/Leader Notre Dame
13-0 (8-0 ACC Atlantic) Record (Conference) 12-0 (Independent)
No. 2 CFP ranking No. 3
45.4 Points per game 33.8
13.7 Points allowed 17.2
529.8 Yards per game 456.1
270.1 Passing ypg 265.6
259.8 Rushing ypg 190.5
276.7 Yards allowed per game 331.5
183.8 Passing yards allowed 198.0
92.9 Rushing yards allowed 133.5
Trevor Lawrence
2,606 yards (24 TDs, 4 INTs)
Passing yards leader Ian Book
2,468 yards (19 TDs, 6 INTs)
Travis Etienne
1,463 yards, 21 TDs
Rushing yards leader Dexter Williams
941 yards, 12 TDs
Tee Higgins
802 yards, 10 TDs
Receiving yards leader Miles Boykin
803 yards, 8 TDs
Clelin Ferrell
45 total tackles, 17 tfl, 10.5 sacks
Defensive leader leader Te'von Coney
107 total tackles, 9 tfl, 3.5 sacks

Clemson-Notre Dame: Score prediction

As the clear underdog, Notre Dame will embrace the doubters and the questions. But Clemson is Clemson. A showdown with Alabama seems to be inevitable going into the semifinals. A late touchdown by the Tigers will put the Irish away for good.

Clemson 31, Notre Dame 17

MORE: National Championship history

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