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Clemson Football

Book'em: Clemson trounces Notre Dame 34-10 to claim ACC Championship

December 19, 2020
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dabo Swinney gathered his team in the visiting locker room of Notre Dame Stadium.

Heads hung low to the floor, eyes glazed over in dejection. Despite fighting hard until the bitter end, Clemson came up just short in double-overtime of college football’s game of the season.

For the first time in four years, his Tigers had fallen in a conference tilt. The losing feeling was one Swinney’s program wasn’t accustomed to. But although the 12-year head coach had been defeated, he was certainly not distraught.

That battle had been lost, he admitted to his shattered players. But the war? It was far from over.

“We’re 7-1,” Swinney said. “Nobody was handed a trophy tonight. They didn’t roll the stage out there and hand a trophy to anybody.

“We’ve got a ways to go.”

They may not have rolled out a stage after Saturday night’s showdown in Charlotte.

But the orange and white confetti that cascaded onto the Bank of America Stadium grass told the story. The words Swinney spoke into the microphone postgame drove it home.

“Of all the teams I’ve had, this team deserved it the most.”

The “it” Swinney spoke of was the ACC Championship crown, Clemson’s sixth in as many years.

“Unbelievable, uncharted waters we’ve navigated this year. Unbelievable leadership. I’m just so proud of them. I’ve never had a team deserve this more.”

Clemson Sports Talk
Dabo Swinney and Clemson came away with a sixth-straight ACC title on Saturday night, the longest such streak in league history.

Revenge is said to be one of the most powerful motivators in most every endeavor, yet all week long, Dabo Swinney tried to downplay the notion that avenging November’s double-overtime loss to the Irish was on his team’s mind.

“It’s just another Saturday for us,” Swinney said leading up to the ACC Championship. “Just another game.”

But after a few minutes of action, it became increasingly clear something was different for the Tigers. The energy level was higher. The execution on both sides of the ball was cleaner. Clemson — compared to the top-five foe lined up opposite them — was flat-out better, in every aspect of the game.

This was a Tiger team that hadn’t peeked from behind the orange curtain so far in 2020. A team that hid in the shadows, waiting for the most crucial moment to shine brightest. A team that filled in the blanks to any questions previously left unanswered. Saturday’s 34-10 domination in the Queen City was a statement, one that the College Football Playoff committee will surely hear with a thunderous roar.

After two weeks of nationally-televised talking, it was the behind-the-scenes scheming and plotting that won the day for Clemson. Whatever the Fighting Irish pulled out of their hat, coordinators Tony Elliott and Brent Venables shut it down.

“We really challenged ourselves to put together a game plan that helped these players be successful,” said Elliott. “I thought the entire staff did a great job putting these players in the best position to win.”

“Just another game” quickly turned into one of the most outstanding overall Tiger performances in recent memory. Clad in the team’s storied orange britches, Clemson spent the majority of Saturday’s matchup beating the britches off an inferior Notre Dame team.

After the Fighting Irish drove the ball down the field and converted an ACC Championship-record 51-yard field goal on the first drive, Clemson’s opening possession went awry. Trevor Lawrence was clinical, but a tipped pass on a slant route fell into the arms of Irish safety Kyle Hamilton, allotting Notre Dame the ball once again. Ian Book led the Irish down to the 6-yard line, but Jonathan Doerer’s 24-yard field goal attempt doinked off the right upright.

From there, the onslaught began.

Trevor Lawrence did it all for the Tigers, finishing the game 25-36 passing for 322 yards and two touchdowns, along with 90 yards rushing and a scamper for six. His premier touchdown throw — a 67-yard dart to a streaking Amari Rodgers — was the first snowball that came tumbling down the hill before the avalanche.

“I just had to hold the safety, No. 14, off long enough to get the ball to Amari,” explained Lawrence. “I knew if I did that, Amari was going to win, he’s great at that. It was a great play.”

Travis Etienne contributed 124 yards and a touchdown of his own. Saturday’s performance was Etienne’s first 100-yard stat line in his previous six outings.

On offense, freshman E.J. Williams continued the tradition of Clemson wide receivers breaking out in postseason play, posting a career-high four receptions for 80 yards and a score. His one-handed grab in the third quarter cemented itself a surefire candidate to roll on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

The presence of James Skalski was welcomed back on defense, as the fifth-year linebacker accounted for five tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a sack. As a unit, Brent Venables' defense brought Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book to the ground behind the line six times, the most of any team all season long.

“Our guys dominated up front against a very good offensive line,” said Brent Venables. I thought we did a great job creating pressure, caging the quarterback.”

Clemson’s defense — a unit which gave up 519 total yards to Notre Dame back in November — allowed just half that on Saturday. 263 scrimmage yards were all the Irish could muster, a majority of which came during the fourth quarter. On the offensive side of the ball, Clemson came away with 541.

Perhaps the most important stat? 219 rushing yards for the Tigers, compared to a mere 34 the last time these two teams faced off.

“We really challenged the offensive line to come out and set the tempo,” explained Tony Elliott. “That’s the most scrutinized position we have on this team. We didn’t rush the ball well last time against them, but today we were effective.”

“We just had a different intensity about ourselves,” said Travis Etienne. “To come out here, Trev have 90 [yards] and me have over 100… it’s just a tale of two different games.”

Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
The Tigers ran for 219 yards on Saturday: Etienne accounted for 124, Lawrence had 90.

Thus, the final tune of the 2020 regular season is sung, and it ends on the highest of notes.

Up next for the Tigers: a trip to the College Football Playoff. The opponent remains to be determined and is in the hands of the CFP committee. The location of the game — and the name and sponsor attached to it — are both still up in the air, as well.

“We’re going to enjoy this tonight,” said Dabo Swinney.

“But we’re looking forward the bus ride home, to a little pizza party tomorrow, and then to seeing what’s next for the Tigers.”

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Book'em: Clemson trounces Notre Dame 34-10 to claim ACC Championship

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