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.
"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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Clemson-Notre Dame: Stats, how they compare
|13-0 (8-0 ACC Atlantic)||Record (Conference)||12-0 (Independent)|
|No. 2||CFP ranking||No. 3|
|45.4||Points per game||33.8|
|529.8||Yards per game||456.1|
|276.7||Yards allowed per game||331.5|
|183.8||Passing yards allowed||198.0|
|92.9||Rushing yards allowed||133.5|
2,606 yards (24 TDs, 4 INTs)
|Passing yards leader||Ian Book
2,468 yards (19 TDs, 6 INTs)
1,463 yards, 21 TDs
|Rushing yards leader||Dexter Williams
941 yards, 12 TDs
802 yards, 10 TDs
|Receiving yards leader||Miles Boykin
803 yards, 8 TDs
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