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Clemson vs. Notre Dame 2018 Cotton Bowl: 4th Quarter Film Review

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Cotton Bowl-Notre Dame vs Clemson Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

And then there were two.

Clemson cruised past Notre Dame in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl to claim a spot in the College Football Playoff National Championship next Monday night in Santa Clara. The Tigers will face Alabama for a shot at their second title in three years.

This game, along with the Crimson Tide’s victory over Oklahoma, proved again that there are still two teams above everyone else in the college football world. After all, this will be the fourth consecutive year Clemson and Alabama battle in the CFP, and third time in the national championship game.

The Tigers outworked and outmatched the Fighting Irish all night long in Dallas. Clemson was much more physical and seemed to keep Notre Dame running for help all night long. The Tigers held Notre Dame to just 88 yards on the ground and kept Irish quarterback Ian Book in check from the start. Book finished 17-for-34 with 160 yards and one interception. Clemson held Notre Dame to just 248 total yards of offense.

Offensively, Trevor Lawrence had quite the day against the solid Irish defense that was supposed to rattle his cage. The freshman finished 27-for-39 with 327 yards and 3 touchdowns. Travis Etienne added 109 yards and a touchdown of his own on the ground.

The two played a close first quarter, but the Tigers opened up the game in the second quarter with three touchdowns. Etienne’s score with 2:04 left in the third quarter all but sealed the victory for Clemson.

Here’s some fourth quarter film review of our backups dominating Notre Dame starters, something that brings a gigantic smile to my face.

30-3 Clemson, 14:47, Clemson 20

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Delayed handoff vs. Cover 2 Man, Choice gains 23 For an offensive line that's faced some criticism this year, they sure did open up a good hole for Choice on this play. Adam picks up 20+ with a good downfield block from Overton. Irish defense is just gassed at this point.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 PA Go vs. Cover 1 Man, pass incomplete My gawd what a beautiful throw by Lawrence that probably would've been caught had the defender not had his hands draped all over Kendrick. This was clear PI. Defender knew he had been beaten and never let go of the jersey. Shame it was a no call.
2nd & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Bubble screen vs. Cover 2 Man, pass to Chase gains 13 Once the SAM linebacker left coverage on Chase, all Clemson needed was a good perimeter block from Kendrick. The SS was a solid 10 yards downfield, and Chase is speedy enough to pick up the first down. Lawrence gets the ball out so clean as well.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Counter vs. Cover 2 Man, Feaster gains 2 Feaster gets a good jump off the counter but Overton and Chalk don't stick their blocks. WILL linebacker completely sheds Chalk and Overton just runs past his defender to block the FS, who is probably the only man Feaster has to beat if Chalk and Overton stick their blocks.
2nd & 8 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Inside zone vs. Cover 2 Man, Feaster gains 6 Another run from Feaster that could've benefited from another block or two at the LOS. Falcinelli gets stuck blocking the MIKE and SAM linebackers, and that stops the run soon after Feaster gets through the hole.
3rd & 2 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Inside zone vs. Cover 1 Man, Feaster gains 9 Great job by Feaster to bounce outside and pick up the first down.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 PA Out vs. Cover 1 Man, pass to Chase gains 4 Chase uses the cushion the FS gives to run a clean out route. Lawrence also makes a great read seeing that cushion and not pushing the downfield throw to Kendrick. May have been able to hit Chase a second earlier but I like the call on first down.
2nd & 6 Shotgun vs. 4-3 HB screen vs. Cover 2 Man Zone Under, pass to Feaster gains 3 This is not a bad call. I would've liked to see Simpson keep his block on the WILL linebacker, but he whiffs unfortunately. That causes Feaster to bounce outside and he can't outrun the defense. Probably should've kept running for the sideline instead of cutting back.
3rd & 3 Shotgun Trips vs. 4-3 Rollout pass vs. Cover 1 Man, pass to Thompson gains 2 Great call, poor execution. Kendrick and Thompson have to keep their breaks from intervening, and Thompson must be aware of the line to gain. I'll cut him slack with Kendrick probably causing the short break. Lawrence has to make a better throw as well. Even with the short break, Thompson easily picks up the first with a good throw from TLaw. That should've been an easy conversion.
4th & 1 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Inside zone vs. All-Go Man Outside, Etienne gains 4 Etienne shows how much he's grown in the physicality of his game. He's hit at the LOS but breaks away and picks up the first down. Alabama will have their hands full stopping him.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Pop pass vs. Cover 1 Man Zone Under, pass to Swinney gains 2 We have a Will Swinney appearance, pretty much sealing this game. If Etienne helps open the hole, he could've picked up a bit more.
2nd & 8 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Jet HB dive vs. Man Zone Under, Etienne fumble recovered by ND Tough way for such a good drive to end. Etienne doesn't seem to fully tuck the ball away, and the SS forces the fumble. Hate to see that late in a game, but thankfully it didn't hurt anything.

*first play of the quarter was a Notre Dame punt*

30-3 Clemson, 9:05, ND 12

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel PA Go vs. Cover 2 Man LB Fire, Book sacked for loss of 6 Huggins dominates the LG and gets pressure on Book, which forces him to tuck the ball and run right into Shaq Smith, who completely obliterates the RB in pass protection. These are 2nd and 3rd string players dominating the Irish starters. No big deal (also I'm going to miss Huggins next season).
2nd & 16 Shotgun vs. Nickel QB draw vs. Cover 2 Man Zone Under, Book gains 11 This is a good call by ND. Clemson spaced out the defense and left one linebacker in the box, opening up space for the mobile Book to run. LG and LT definitely held Huggins and Rudolph (I don't blame them), but it is what it is.
3rd & 5 Shotgun Trips vs. Nickel RB wheel vs. Cover 2 Man Zone Under, Book gains 4 Book is looking for the RB wheel route out of the backfield, but Shaq Smith does a great job in coverage, and Book is forced to scramble and pick up any yards he can. I like Smith a lot.
4th & 1 Shotgun Trips vs. 4-3 HB dive vs. Cover 2 Man CB blitz, Williams gains 2 Williams is able to push forward enough for the first down.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. Nickel HB swing vs. Cover 1 Man LB fire, pass complete for 7 yards Simple swing pass to the back. Lamar doesn't take a great angle to the ball and Williams is able to scoot free for a gain of 7. Johnson makes a good play from his FS position though.
2nd & 3 Empty Shotgun Trips vs. Nickel Dropback vs. Man LB fire, Book throws pass out of bounds This was a weird play from the start. Book seems to pump fake to a receiver not even paying attention, and then Lamar forces Book to scramble, and he finishes by throwing the ball away to avoid feeling the wrath of XT. I guess Book was trying to fake the hitch on the near side and then go deep, but that might have been miscommunication for ND.
3rd & 3 Shotgun vs. 4-3 WR screen vs. Cover 1 Zone Under, pass incomplete It looks like Ferrell may have tipped Book's pass, but either way, the receiver heard footsteps and dropped the pass, which may have been a little too high as well. Notre Dame punts.

30-3 Clemson, 6:49, Clemson 29

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Inside zone vs. Cover 1 Man, Dixon gains 5 Backups are in on offense which means it's Chase Brice and Lyn-J Dixon time! Dixon muscles his way forward for 5 yards on the inside zone. Brice jogs downfield after the carry, looking cool as ever.
2nd & 5 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Inside zone vs. Cover 1 Man, Dixon gains 10 Same play but the offensive line creates a better hole for Dixon to run through. He's fast.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 PA Go vs. Cover 1 Man, pass incomplete Brice saw the 1-on-1 matchup outside with Overton and immediately knew he was going there, but unfortunately he didn't see the safety cheating over and he comes in to help break up the pass along with the DB in coverage. The bubble screen to Thompson may have been his best option.
2nd & 10 Shotgun Trips vs. 4-3 HB sweep vs. Cover 1 Man, Dixon loses 3 The backup o-line gets outworked by the Irish d-line and Dixon has nowhere to go but backwards.
3rd & 13 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Corner route vs. Cover 2 Zone Under, pass incomplete This is a similar play to what Clemson ran on 4th down in the Syracuse game where Brice converted to Higgins, except Brice tries to hit Overton in triple coverage. Probably should've checked down to Chalk in the flat, but I like that Brice is confident enough to attempt a risky throw. Clemson punts.

30-3 Clemson, 4:48, ND 11

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3?? Book's pass to Boykin complete for 15 yards ESPN shows Ferrell and Bryant highlights while Notre Dame is snapping a play, so we're not able to see what exactly goes on outside of Book hitting Boykin for a gain of 15 and the first down. I'd rather watch our defensive line's highlights anyways.
1st & 10 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Dropback vs. Cover 2 Zone Under, Book sacked for loss of 2 Once again, the Tiger backup D-line manhandles Notre Dame's O-line, and it's Justin Foster registering the sack. Losing 4 All-Americans will be tough, but Clemson certainly has the depth and talent right behind them to keep moving forward.
2nd & 12 Shotgun vs. 4-3 Corner route vs. Cover 1 Man, pass incomplete I cannot say enough about Nolan Turner on this play. He picks the TE up off the line and closes in about as well as you can on the ball, coming in to break up the pass. Gets his hands up through the defender and everything. Textbook pass breakup. He needs more PT.
3rd & 12 Shotgun vs. 4-3 RB out vs. Cover 1 Zone Under, pass incomplete Out route to the RB coming out of the backfield. Not a great throw by Book and Williams drops it. Notre Dame punts.

The final drive for Clemson features Dabo throwing in all the backups and letting everyone get some PT in the final minutes. Darien Rencher gets a carry, Lyn-J Dixon gets a carry, and Clemson stacks Will and Drew Swinney on the same side for a few plays (Notre Dame got beat so bad that BOTH of Dabo’s kids were running routes on them). To top it off, Chase Brice goes full dual-threat and bulldozes a kid on his way to a 23-yard pickup.

Monday night’s national championship could come down to how well Clemson’s backups play. All season long, Dabo and the staff have rotated guys in and out during games, and the 2nd and 3rd stringers have gotten a lot of experience this season. That was exactly Dabo’s goal for the consistient rotations, because in a game of this caliber, you need everyone ready to go, and he knows that well.

Guys like Xavier Thomas and Nolan Turner are going to be huge for Clemson vs. the defending champs Alabama. They’ve seen good amounts of PT this season in backup roles and I feel confident that they can step in and help the Tiger defense.

On offense, Lyn-J Dixon needs to be another back Clemson can throw in to help the run game. Dixon certainly has the speed to hurt the Tide defense in open space and running through good enough holes created by the offensive line. Having him will help keep Etienne, Feaster, and Choice fresh against an Alabama defense ranked 19th in rushing defense. I don’t suspect big rushing days from either offense, however.

Clemson-Bama Part IV is setting up to be the best matchup in the series. Monday night can’t get here fast enough.

Hopefully our 4Q film review next week ends in a celebration breakdown. I would love to examine another Christian Wilkins full split.