A pair of long touchdown passes by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence to Justyn Ross in the second quarter have been the big difference through one half of play in the College Football Playoff semifinal game being played in the Cotton Bowl. No. 2 Clemson leads No. 3 Notre Dame 23-3 at the half in Arlington as the Irish are in desperate search of a spark on offense to make things interesting in the second half.
With Clemson playing without star defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, Notre Dame went attacking on the ground right away with a designed run with Dexter Williams picking up 11 yards to open the game. The opening drive would stall soon after that, however, with a false start penalty called on Williams and a third-down drop by Chase Claypool on what might have been a first down.
The Notre Dame defense showed they were ready to play on their first series against the Tigers, forcing a three-and-out. The defense was again put to the test following the first critical event of the game. Ian Book fumbled the football and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell recovered at the Clemson 47-yard line. Clemson was held to a 40-yard field goal on the possession, which should go down as a victory for the Irish defense all things considered.
Book made up for his turnover on the ensuing possession with a big third-down completion to Williams, who picked up 16 yards when he needed 10 for a first down. Book then attempted a pass down the left side of the field to Miles Boykin that fell incomplete, but Clemson was flagged for pass interference for 15 yards and a free first down. Book completed his next two passes and then took off running for a first down to take the Irish into the red zone for the first time of the game. But, in a game of defense, Notre Dame would settle for a field goal try by Justin Yoon from 28 yards out to draw the game even at 3-3 in the first quarter.
Notre Dame seemingly made a big play on special teams with a fumble recovery but video replay ruled Clemson’s Derion Kendrick had managed to knock the football out of bounds prior to the Notre Dame recovery, ensuring Clemson retained possession of the football by rule.
With the game tied 3-3 after one quarter of play, Clemson came up with a big passing play to quickly put together the game’s first touchdown early in the second quarter. Trevor Lawrence tossed a ball up along the right sideline to Justyn Ross, who hauled in the pass and broke a tackle and managed to race his way down the sideline to reach the who spent 15 minutes in the sideline medical tent for an apparent leg injury. He was seen riding a stationary bike on the sideline as the second quarter continued. Midway through the second quarter, free safety Alohi Gilman was helped off the field as well as injuries started to become a serious concern for the Irish.
Notre Dame missed on a chance to get some more points on the board later in the second quarter when a video replay review overturned a pass completion and fumble recovery by Alize Mack. What would have been a gain of eight or nine yards instead dropped the Irish into a 3rd & 10, which was soon followed by a punt from midfield. It was the second video replay that frustrated Notre Dame fans.
Clemson would pad their lead on the ensuing possession with Lawrence once again connecting with Ross for a long touchdown pass, this time a 42-yard pass down the middle to the streaking receiver in open space. A costly roughing the passer penalty just before halftime committed by Jerry Tillery allowed Clemson to have a chance to go for the jugular just before halftime, and that’s just what they did. Lawrence connected with Tee Higgins for a 19-yard score that was upheld by video review, putting Clemson up 23-3 with two seconds remaining in the half.
Notre Dame has some work to do against one of the best defenses in the country. The offense has tried running some tricks and plays to keep Clemson on their toes, but the Tigers have responded well in coverage and are not allowing much room to work for the Irish. We’ll see what kind of adjustments can be made at the halftime break as Notre Dame attempts to make a comeback in the second half.