We have our College Football Playoff Final Four. Here’s the first look and analysis of the semifinals.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl
Saturday, December 29th
4:00 or 8:00, ESPN, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
It’s only the fourth-ever matchup between the two, with the 2015 Clemson 24-22 win over the Irish – famously played in a monsoon – and the national champion 1977 Notre Dame getting by a nasty Tiger team 21-17 in Death Valley.
The Irish backfield and running game have to try to get going against – arguably – the nation’s defensive front.
Clemson finished the regular season third in the nation against the run allowing just 93 yards per game, and slowing down a loaded Pitt attack in the ACC Championship.
Can the Tiger attack get by a swarming Irish defense and terrific secondary? Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence leads a balanced and explosive attack, but they’ll have to control the game to keep the Notre Dame rushing offense off the field.
Notre Dame hasn’t faced a whole slew of devastating passing attacks, but it’s still done its part against the ones that can throw, finishing fourth in the regular season in pass efficiency defense, allowing just seven touchdown passes and picking off 12 touchdown passes.
How stingy is the Irish secondary? Only four teams have hit 60% of more of their passes, but it closed out with a rough day against JT Daniels and a mediocre USC passing game. Now it has to deal with Lawrence.
The biggest Notre Dame problem, again, is that Tiger run defense. No one has hit the 200-yard mark against this group that allowed just 2.4 yards per carry on the year.
That puts the pressure on Ian Book and a Notre Dame passing game that hasn’t received a whole lot of love, but it can work. With a month to prepare, the offense has to find the balance and get throwing against a Tiger secondary that got lit up by Jake Bentley and South Carolina a few weeks ago.
Clemson is in the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight year, and Notre Dame is where the fan base and the program expect it to be. It’ll be unbeaten vs. unbeaten, and it’ll be a fight.