Not much went Notre Dame’s way Saturday afternoon in its sobering 30-3 loss to Clemson. From a major official review taking away possession near pay dirt, to an injury to top defensive back Julian Love, to the stark reality that Clemson’s defensive front was indeed a rock—one that the Irish offense could not budge much less scale.
Love left the contest early in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury and was replaced by seldom-used junior Donte Vaughn. The Tigers took nine snaps to notice but when it was readily apparent there was fresh meat on the boundary, freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence lofted a jump ball touchdown—a 52-yard catch-and-run to fellow rookie Justyn Ross for the game’s first touchdown.
Kicker Greg Huegel’s ensuing PAT was blocked by Jerry Tillery and the Tigers lead was limited to 9-3 early in the second quarter as the teams had traded field goals prior.
While the loss of Love was debilitating to the Irish defense, the game’s first major break occurred in the first quarter. With the score knotted at 3-3, Irish sophomore tight end Cole Kmet forced a fumble on a kickoff return by Derion Kendrick. Chase Claypool recovered and Notre Dame appeared ready to take over at the Tigers 8 yard-line.
Possession was overruled by the replay official who stated the ball touched out of bounds and Clemson retained possession at its own 13-yard line.
Clemson’s defense asserted itself in the second quarter, holding the Irish offense to 40 yards on 12 snaps and taking advantage of that three-series stretch with another Lawrence-to-Ross touchdown toss, this time on a 42-yard frozen rope down the seam, beating Alohi Gilman for a 16-3 advantage late in the second quarter.
The Tigers delivered a first-half death blow near the final gun with a 4-play, 80-yard drive aided by an egregious roughing the passer penalty against Irish senior Jerry Tillery. Lawrence targeted Vaughn again thereafter and the junior was the victim of a remarkable 19-yard juggling touchdown—secured with one hand and a shoulder pad by Tee Higgins.
The snap that broke Notre Dame’s back was executed with just nine seconds remaining in the half—Vaughn left alone on the boundary against the ACC’s top receiver in 2018.
Irish senior Justin Yoon produced Notre Dame’s only first half points with a 28-yard boot following a 10-play, 66-yard Irish drive that stalled at the Clemson 10-yard line, knotting the score at three at the 4:31 mark of the first quarter.
After two promising second-half Irish drives ended in a punt and interception, respectively, in Clemson territory, Tigers running back Travis Etienne delivered his weekly death blow, ripping off a 62-yard score untouched through the heart of the Notre Dame defense.
The ensuing 30-3 advantage with 2:04 remaining in the third quarter all but cemented Clemson’s third championship game appearance in four seasons.
Controlled by the Irish defense early, Etienne nonetheless gained 109 yards on just 14 carries.
The second-ranked Tigers out-gained No. 3 Notre Dame 538 to 248 including 327 yards through the air by Lawrence, 148 to his classmate Ross. Notre Dame’s longest gain from scrimmage on the afternoon was a mere 23 yards, with quarterback Ian Book limited to 160 passing yards on 17-34 passing.
Irish junior safety Alohi Gilman finished with a College Bowl Game record 18 tackles
SOURCE: 247 Sports, by Tim Omalley