As the craziness of the 2020 season winds down, we find ourselves witnessing an ACC Championship game between Clemson and Notre Dame, something that normally wouldn’t happen given Notre Dame’s independence in football. Tiger fans have been looking forward to this rematch since the clock expired on the first meeting of these two in South Bend in early November. Most prognosticators had the Tigers as double digit favorites in the rematch, seeing as the Tigers would have several starters that were missing in the first game, p rimarily Trevor Lawrence and James Skalski.
The Tigers won the toss and deferred. The Irish started well, with QB Ian Book moving in the pocket to salvage a 3rd down conversion, and making effective use of his tight ends. The Tigers dialed up pressure and forced Notre Dame to settle for a 51-yard FG. With 8:16 left in the 1st quarter, the Irish led 3-0. Travis Etienne returned the kickoff to the 20. Lawrence hit Amari Rodgers for 3 yards and then Etienne was bottled up on a flare pass for a loss of 2. E.J. Williams pulled in a pass over the middle to move the chains. A long pass to Cornell Powell fell incomplete and then Lawrence ran for a 1st down. A face mask penalty moved the ball to the Irish 39. Etienne took a short pass for 5 yards. On the next play, Lawrence’s pass was tipped and intercepted. The Irish took over at their 37.
The Irish took off, making some nice catches and some good runs, moving down to the Tiger 10. The Tiger defense stiffened after that, and the Irish missed the 24-yard FG. Hopefully that would give the Tiger offense some motivation. Lawrence had a nice 7-yard run on 1st down and Etienne picked up 6 yards to get the 1st down. Lawrence then hit Rodgers in stride for 67 yards to score. With 41 seconds left in the 1st quarter, Clemson led 7-3.
The Irish returned the kickoff out to the 17. They picked up 18 yards on an end-around on their first play. Book rolled right and connected with a receiver for 30 yards down to the Tiger 35. The Tigers then forced 3rd & 6 and held them to 4. On 4th & 2, Book was pressured and rolled right, but couldn’t connect with a wide open receiver, and Clemson took over on downs at the 28. Lawrence hit Cornell Powell out to the Tiger 49 and then ran it down to the Irish 41. Etienne moved the chains a couple of plays later. Lawrence scrambled for a few yards and on the next play he found Williams over the middle for another score. With 9:24 left in the half, the Tigers were up 14-3.
Notre Dame started with a 9-yard gain, and then the Tigers feasted with two sacks. Rodgers fair caught the punt at the Clemson 27. A couple of Lawrence runs and a couple of Rodgers catches moved Clemson to the Irish 23. Etienne picked up 11 to the 12. The Irish defense stiffened and the Tigers had to settle for a 27-yard B.T. Potter FG. The Tigers led 17-3 with 4:28 left in the half.
The Irish took a fair catch and had a nice 1st down gain to move the chains, but then the Tigers forced 3rd & long and the Irish couldn’t convert. Rodgers took the fair catch at the Clemson 11. A false start on Powell got the drive off to a bad start but Etienne picked up 7 on 2nd down after a 1st down incompletion. Etienne picked up the 1st down with a nice block from Lawrence. Passes to Powell and Braden Galloway gave the Tigers 3rd & 1. On 2nd & 10, Etienne broke through the middle for 9 yards, but Lawrence thought he had a 1st down and spiked it. On 4th and 1, Etienne got the yard and 43 more to score. With 21 seconds left in the half, Clemson led 24-3. The Irish decided they had seen enough and just ran the clock out.
Etienne returned the kickoff out to the 38. Rodgers picked up 9 on 1st down, but Lawrence was sacked on 2nd. The Lawrence to Rodgers connection on a slant failed and the Tigers had to punt. The Irish took over at the 18, but the Tiger defense swarmed Book and the Irish had to punt on 4th & 21, and it rolled down to the Tiger 45.
Rodgers picked up 5 on 1st down, but a hold set the Tigers back. On 1st down, Lawrence was sacked for a 1-yard loss. On 2nd down, Lawrence ran for 9 yards. Chez Mellusi took a Lawrence pass for 8 yards. Will Spiers’ punt put the Irish at the 12. A couple of plays in, the Irish fumbled but were able to recover it. The Tiger defense forced 3rd & 7 and the Irish couldn’t convert.
Clemson started at their 17 after a 59-yard punt. A 1st down incompletion and a 1-yard run by Lawrence set up 3rd & 9. Williams made a beautiful one-handed catch on the sideline to move the ball out to the Tiger 40. On 2nd down, Etienne rumbled up the middle for 17 yards. On the next 2nd down, he picked up 9 yards. Lawrence took it up the middle on a nicely blocked counter play for 34 yards to the end zone. At 3:43 in the 3rd quarter Clemson led 31-3. The Irish moved into Tiger territory, courtesy of a bogus late hit penalty. The Tigers forced 4th & 6 and the Irish appeared to convert, but they were called for a hold. After the punt, Clemson took over at their 14.
Rodgers picked up 3 yards on 1st down and Powell picked up the 1st down on a quick out. Williams caught a pass over the middle for 10 yards and Galloway got 10 more on a short check down. Lawrence scrambled for 9 yards and then was sacked on 2nd down, setting up 3rd & 6. Mellusi took a short pass from Lawrence, who was avoiding a blitz, and ran down to the 23. A couple of short gains didn’t get enough yards and Potter came in and kicked a 37-yard FG. The Tiger lead was extended to 34-3 with 10:31 left. Notre Dame started at the 25 and moved down the field, with a pass interference penalty helping quite a bit. One big hit on this drive was Nolan Turner being called for targeting. The Irish scored after some bad pursuit back side on a run. With 8:09 left, the Tigers led 34-10.
Lawrence threw a couple of short passes and then connected with Powell for a 1st down. D.J. Uiagalelei came it at QB when it was clear that the game was over. He threw one incomplete pass and then the Tigers punted. The Irish didn’t move past midfield and eventually punted. Clemson then ran the clock out.
So, as many expected, the Tigers handled the Irish to win their 6th consecutive ACC championship. Clemson looked much better on both sides of the ball today, but especially on defense with the return of Skalski, Tyler Davis, and Mike Jones, Jr. Depending on what happens in the SEC championship, the Tigers should end up ranked 2nd or possibly 1st. Who do you think they’ll face in the CFP first round? Let us know in the comments below. Check back with us for reviews of today’s game and previews of the playoffs. As always, thanks for stopping by.