Top photos of Clemson’s Cotton Bowl victory
It took Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence a little bit of time to settle into Saturday’s Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame.
Maybe it was the month off. Maybe it was his first time playing in AT&T Stadium with its 160-foot long HD video board. Or maybe it was adjusting to everything that comes with playing in the College Football Playoff, from the cameras being shoved in your face the moment you step off the bus to your every move being analyzed.
Whatever it was that led to Lawrence getting off to a slow start, it didn’t last long.
Lawrence put together an incredible second quarter performance, passing for 229 yards and three touchdowns during the 15-minute period, as the Tigers completely turned around what was a close game en route to a 30-3 victory against Notre Dame.
“He’s just so poised. He just sees it. And he’s got a gift of an arm,” Clemson coach Dabo 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.”
With the win Clemson advances to the national title game for the third time in four seasons. The Tigers will face Alabama at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif.
The true freshman Lawrence looked more like an NFL quarterback than a guy who was in high school last year. He finished 27-for-39 for 327 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and was named the game’s offensive MVP.
“It makes it a lot easier on me when you have guys all around you that are just great players and take that load off of you,” Lawrence said. There’s not much pressure when you have guys this good playing around you. So just that. And the coaches have helped me a ton, just helped me prepare and get me ready for all these situations.”
His favorite target against the Irish was a fellow freshman in receiver Justyn Ross. The Alabama native, who did not join Clemson’s program until the summer, caught six passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. He had five catches for 137 yards in the pivotal second quarter.
Tee Higgins added a juggling 19-yard, one-handed catch for a touchdown later in the second quarter before sophomore running back Travis Etienne put the game away with a 62-yard touchdown run late in the third.
“(Trevor) and No. 8 (Ross) got it going early. That was the spark that we needed,” Swinney said. “And the big plays were definitely the difference in the game.”
Lawrence earned his 10th victory as a starter, which broke Kyle Parker’s school record by a freshman (first-year or redshirt). He became the first Clemson freshman quarterback to win double-digit games as a starter.
Lawrence supplanted senior Kelly Bryant as Clemson’s starter ahead of the Tigers’ Sept. 29 game against Syracuse. Bryant announced a transfer a few days later. Lawrence has 2,943 yards passing and 27 TDs in 10 starts and has thrown 137 consecutive passes without an interception.
In his 11th start, he will try to become the first true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a national championship since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985.
“He doesn’t just have a talented arm. That’s just what you guys see,” Clemson All-America defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “He’s a cool customer. He’s never rattled.”
Defensively the Tigers held Notre Dame’s offense in check all night. Notre Dame managed only 248 total yards, and Clemson was disruptive up front with eight tackles for loss and six sacks.
Austin Bryant was named the Defensive MVP of the Game as he led the way with three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
The Irish were held to only 88 rushing yards.
“Going into the game, we knew that we were going to have to stop the run... (Notre Dame) has got some great running backs that can make stuff happen. We had a great plan. We prepared well and put the work in throughout the time we had to prepare for this game,” Bryant said. “I think it really showed tonight by us being able to dominate in the running game. I think it goes to show the work we put in. Coach V (Venables) gave us a great plan, phenomenal plan, and it worked tonight. Just grateful that he put us in position to make plays.”
The Associated Press contributed
How they scored
CLE_FG Huegel 40, 8:35
ND_FG Yoon 28, 4:31
CLE_Ross 52 pass from T.Lawrence (kick failed), 12:50
CLE_Ross 42 pass from T.Lawrence (Huegel kick), 1:44
CLE_Higgins 19 pass from T.Lawrence (Huegel kick), :02
CLE_Etienne 62 run (Huegel kick), 2:04
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Notre Dame, D.Williams 16-54, Book 17-30, Armstrong 1-6, (Team) 1-(minus 2). Clemson, Etienne 14-109, Brice 2-31, Choice 2-30, Feaster 4-20, Dixon 6-11, T.Lawrence 7-6, Overton 1-3, Rencher 1-1.
PASSING: Notre Dame, Book 17-34-1-160. Clemson, T.Lawrence 27-39-0-327, Brice 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING: Notre Dame, M.Boykin 5-69, D.Williams 3-29, Finke 2-24, Mack 2-11, Armstrong 2-8, Claypool 2-8, Kmet 1-11. Clemson, Ross 6-148, Rodgers 6-26, H.Renfrow 4-62, Higgins 4-53, Chase 2-17, T.Thompson 2-8, Etienne 1-8, Feaster 1-3, W.Swinney 1-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Clemson, Huegel 49.