Cotton Bowl The first of the two College Football Playoff semifinals features the lone meeting between unbeaten teams during bowl season.
Of course, if Clemson or Notre Dame faces Alabama in the National Championship a second matchup of undefeated programs would occur, but for now the Cotton Bowl on December 29 is the only scheduled meeting between zero-loss teams.
The Tigers and Fighting Irish took similar paths to the Cotton Bowl, as they both boast strong running backs, ferocious defenses and experienced a change at quarterback in the middle of the regular season.
Although Clemson is favored to win the game that kicks off at 4 p.m. ET, Notre Dame has an opportunity to challenge Dabo Swinney’s Tigers if it stays true to the things it has done well all season.
As for the Tigers, they carry plenty of playoff experience into the Cotton Bowl, but there’s one important area on the field where they can’t bank on past contests.
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Notre Dame’s Approach to Challenge Clemson’s Defense
Notre Dame’s offense is receiving the least amount of love out of the four playoff teams.
It’s easy to doubt the abilities of the Fighting Irish because they didn’t play through the gauntlet of a power-conference schedule, but they put up impressive numbers nonetheless.
The toughest test for the Fighting Irish offense comes in the Cotton Bowl, as all three layers of the Clemson defense are capable of making game-changing plays.
In their preparations for the contest, the Fighting Irish need to show no fear attacking Clemson’s dominant defensive line chock full of NFL prospects.
If Notre Dame is able to chip away at the Tigers on the ground with running back Dexter Williams leading the way, it’ll be able to sustain a few long drives and keep Clemson’s offense off the field.
SOUTH BEND, IN – NOVEMBER 10: Dexter Williams #2 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball for a 58-yard touchdown during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Notre Dame Stadium on November 10, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame won 4
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Challenging Clemson’s front seven also keeps the Tigers honest, and it’ll stop them from dropping back in coverage and forcing quarterback Ian Book to beat them.
In their most dominant victory on a neutral field, the Fighting Irish used a balanced approach to steamroll Syracuse by 33 points.
Against the Orange at Yankee Stadium, Brian Kelly’s team totaled 292 passing yards and 171 on the ground.
Clemson is a better team than Syracuse, but the performance against the Orange provides a template for what the Irish can do against a ranked opponent, as Syracuse was No. 12 at the time of the November 17 game.
It also helps the Fighting Irish that Book and Williams enter the Cotton Bowl off a string of strong performances, as the quarterback’s thrown for over 300 yards in three of his last four games and Williams averaged 124.3 rushing yards in the last three games.
LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Ian Book #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish throws a pass against the USC Trojans during the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djanse
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If Notre Dame’s offense remains on the field and creates points on every first-half possession, it’ll stand a chance of advancing to the National Championship.
However, if the Irish let the Tigers penetrate into the backfield from the first snap, we’ll be in for yet another controlling performance out of the second-ranked program in the FBS.
Trevor Lawrence’s Pocket Presence In A Big Game
It’s incredibly hard to pick out flaws in Clemson’s game, but if there’s one area where it lacks experience it’s at quarterback.
While Trevor Lawrence has played well in his freshman season, he hasn’t faced many pressure-packed situations.
In the two games in which Clemson won by less than 10 points, Lawrence wasn’t under center for the majority of the contest, as Kelly Bryant took charge in Week 2 against Texas A&M and the freshman was knocked out of the four-point win over Syracuse.
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Since the four-point win over the Orange, the Tigers have an average margin of victory of 38.25 points, including a 61-point win against Louisville and a 60-point triumph versus Wake Forest.