Instant Observations: Clemson flips the script and then some on Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Bottom Line

If only Notre Dame’s football team on Saturday could have been as bombastic as its head coach the day before.

Instead, the Irish offense fizzled on some early opportunities and CFP No. 3 Clemson flipped the script — and then some — on No. 2 Notre Dame, romping into the College Football Playoff with a 34-10 demolition of the Irish in the ACC Championship Game.

Among its statistical superiority in a rematch of ND’s 47-40 double-overtime victory on Nov. 7, Clemson (10-1) dominated the running game, 219-44, after getting outrushed, 208-34, six weeks ago in South Bend.

Consequently, Notre Dame (10-1) may have played its way out of the CFP and into the consolation Orange Bowl with its performance at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly justifiably stuck up for his players Friday in a pre-ACCCG Zoom conference on Friday, ripping the CFP for even considering staging one of the semifinals at the Rose Bowl, which continues to ban spectators because of state and local COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Kelly argued any CFP game should only be staged at a venue where players’ families, at the very least, could attend.

It didn’t take Clemson long to make Kelly’s argument irrelevant. If ND remains in the top four, it likely would be paired against No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. The Tigers took a 24-3 halftime lead and never took their foot off the accelerator.

Big Picture

It wasn’t just that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence looked effortless in navigating through the nation’s No. 15 team in total defense after missing the first meeting between the two teams while coming back from COVID-19, Notre Dame’s offense severally regressed with a season-low 263 total yards.

The Tigers neutralized Notre Dame’s season-long physicality on both sides of the line of scrimmage, casting doubt on how the Irish might hold up against any New Year’s Six opponent.

Questions Answered

Trevor Lawrence is indeed a difference-maker, but also impactful were the handful of defensive players who missed the first meeting between the two teams. The Irish offensive line, meanwhile, hasn’t looked consistently elite since center Jarrett Patterson was lost for the season the week after the first Clemson game.

Questions Lingering

What does the CFP Selection Committee do with Notre Dame? Did Trevor Lawrence surge into the Heisman Trophy lead? Does Notre Dame really want to play Alabama?

My Game Ball Goes To

Offense: Not a lot of choices, but Tommy Tremble gets it with two catches for 41 yards and his typical maniacal blocking.

Defense: Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton had a game-high 10 tackles, as well as an interception and a pass breakup.

The Road Ahead

The College Football Playoff top 4 and semifinal pairings will be announced at 12:15 p.m. (EST) Sunday on ESPN after 15 minutes of talking heads prattling on about what they expect to see. The rest of the CFP Top 25 and the remaining New Year’s Six bowls will be revealed at 2:30.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly looks on during the ACC Championship football game on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, inside Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.