No. 3 Clemson dominates rematch with No. 2 Notre Dame to win ACC title
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No. 3 Clemson beat No. 2 Notre Dame 34-10 to capture the program's sixth consecutive ACC championship and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Unlike in the previous meeting, won 47-40 in overtime by the Fighting Irish, Clemson's roster was at full strength. After missing that loss due to COVID-19, quarterback Trevor Lawrence had 412 yards of offense and three touchdowns.
After spotting the Irish an early field goal, Clemson went into halftime ahead 24-3 after running back Travis Etienne's long touchdown run late in the second quarter.
Clemson running back Travis Etienne breaks free from the Notre Dame defense for a touchdown during the second quarter of the 2020 ACC title game at Bank of America Stadium. (Photo: Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports)
While the win solidifies Clemson's place in the national semifinals, Notre Dame's playoff case becomes murkier. No longer a lock, the one-loss Irish will now contend with Texas A&M for the fourth spot in the field.
Here are the major takeaways from the Tigers' win:
Clemson locks down another playoff berth
Winning the rematch will send Clemson into the semifinals for the sixth straight season, likely as the No. 2 overall seed.
The debate over No. 1 in the final playoff rankings might be complicated by a Florida upset of Alabama in the SEC championship game. In that case, the Tigers and Crimson Tide would both enter the postseason with one loss, though Clemson would be able to tout a conference championship.
With several starters back in action after missing November’s loss, the Clemson defense held the Irish to 263 yards of offense. Unlike in that earlier loss, the Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage and harassed Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, making six sacks.
The playoff field becomes more unpredictable
Ohio State is in after beating Northwestern. Clemson is now in. Alabama can lose to Florida and still finish in the top four. The playoff field is almost set.
If hugely disappointing, the loss won't take Notre Dame out of contention. At 10-1, the Irish are still a very strong option in the top four, though getting there would likely involve a semifinal matchup with Alabama.
But A&M also has one loss, to the Crimson Tide, along with eight wins against the SEC. Notre Dame ends with nine wins against ACC competition. While the Aggies have a great win against Florida, that doesn't trump the Irish beating Clemson.
Oklahoma is another option after beating Iowa State to win the Big 12, though the Sooners' two losses weakens their case.
If Notre Dame does remain in the top four, the SEC championship game will determine the final order. If Alabama wins, here’s how it'll look: Tide, Tigers, Buckeyes, Irish. Even if the committee still thinks Notre Dame is better than OSU, the committee will drop the Irish into fourth to avoid scheduling a third matchup with Clemson.
Lawrence reenters the Heisman Trophy race
Once the Heisman frontrunner, Lawrence took a backseat to two Alabama standouts, quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, and Florida quarterback Kyle Trask after missing those two games in November.
If final impressions matter in the Heisman race — and history suggests they very much do — Lawrence could've hardly done more to improve his case.
In addition to his 322 passing yards and two scores, Lawrence illustrated his impact on Clemson's running game. A non-factor in the earlier loss, star running back Travis Etienne ran for 124 yards and a touchdown. In all, the Tigers ran for 219 yards on 27 carries after gaining 34 yards on 33 carries in November.
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