CHARLOTTE, NC - Yep, that's what I was expecting when I predicted a 41-20 win for the Tigers! Many in the media seemed oblivious to the fact that the Tigers were missing Trevor Lawrence, Frank Ladson and half their defense in the double-overtime game. I heard several say they were surprised that the Tigers were favored in Vegas by 10.5 points. I said that I was surprised they weren't favored by more. In fact, immediately after the Tigers lost that first game, I said that they would have won by 30 if they were full strength. Well, that's almost exactly what happened. The Tigers would have won by 30 or more on Saturday if they really tried in the second half when the game was well in hand.
The difference of having Skalski and Davis was easy for anyone to see. Neither played in the first meeting, and they made play after play in the rematch, starting with Skalski's big sack on Notre Dame's first possession to force a long field goal. Along with Mike Jones, who also missed the first meeting, they made a tremendous difference in both containing Ian Book and stopping the run game, which ran all over the Tigers in South Bend. The Irish averaged just 1.5 yards per rush after averaging 5.4 in the first meeting. The entire defense was phenomenal, sacking Book 6 times with 10 tackles-for-loss. They held the Irish to 263 total yards, just over half the amount they had in the first meeting. After converting their first two 3rd downs, the Irish were 1-10 for the rest of the game!
Trevor Lawrence, the rightful Heisman, had another brilliant performance, going 25-36 for 322 yards and 2 touchdown passes. He had a deflected pass intercepted on the opening possession, but it didn't faze him one bit. Trevor also ran the ball as well as he has since the Ohio State Fiesta Bowl last year. He rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. One of the most impressive plays I saw him make, though, was the block that he laid on a defender to spring Travis on a 3rd and 7 run deep in their own end! That allowed them to score the touchdown just before halftime and put the game well out of reach. To me, that play epitomizes who Trevor is. He's not just flash and finesse and golden locks of hair. He will bare-knuckle brawl if it's what he has to do to win a football game! And that's why his teammates love him. As Dabo outlined after the game, it would be a crying shame if the Heisman doesn't attach its name to Trevor Lawrence. For what he has done off the field as much as what he does on it. They missed the boat twice with Deshaun Watson, and if they name the wrong person a third time over Trevor Lawrence, it will be an absolute travesty. Virtually every media person in the country says Trevor Lawrence is the best player in college football and has all season, which is why he is an unquestioned lock for the No.1 NFL Draft pick. Then those same people get confused and start looking up stats. The Heisman isn't supposed to be a stat award. It says on the trophy: "Most Outstanding Player." That is unquestionably and undisputedly Trevor Lawrence, hands down.
I predicted that Travis Etienne would redeem his first performance against Notre Dame with a big game in the rematch, and he did just that. It felt like he was so close to breaking a long run two or three times in the first meeting but just couldn't break free. He finally did at the perfect time, right before halftime on a 3rd and one run at midfield. There were less than 30 seconds left on the clock, but rather than call a pass play, Dabo decided to run since he had one timeout left. It was the right call, and Travis took it to the house for 44 yards. He finished with 124 yards on just 10 carries, and he needs one more TD to tie for 4th on the all-time touchdown list.
Tony Elliott said the other day that they needed freshmen EJ Williams and Brannon Spector to step up and make some plays, with Ngata out and Frank Ladson coming off a foot surgery. Williams wasted no time, making a big 3rd down conversion catch on the Tigers' first possession to prevent a 3-and-out. He followed that up with a spring for the pylon after making a catch on a crossing route, a score that went for 33 yards. He also made a Justyn Ross-like one-handed catch on the sideline that was just like the one his high school teammate Ross made as a freshman against Alabama in the National Championship Game. In fact, the gasps from the press box were nearly identical to the ones I heard that night when Ross made his catch. Williams finished with 4 catches for 80 yards to go with his second career touchdown.
Amari Rodgers had another superb game, scoring the Tigers' first touchdown on a 67-yard post route. He finished with 8 catches for 121 yards to lead the team. Powell added 4 catches for 59 yards, and Mellusi made 2 catches, including a 23-yard screen.
As I said before, the first loss to Notre Dame was a fluke. It was entirely the result of injuries and Trevor Lawrence having COVID. I said after that game that in my mind, it only confirmed the fact that Clemson is the No.1 team in the nation. Despite all those missing stars and a true freshman quarterback making his first start on the road, the Tigers still had a 7-point lead with the ball and 2 minutes left. And the offense gave Notre Dame 10 points, so the Tigers should have had a 17-point lead with the ball in the last 2 minutes. Therefore, Clemson should have never dropped from No.1 and should be No.1 now in my opinion, although I realize that the committee will rank the Tigers No.2 behind Alabama. What that means, of course, is that the Tigers will likely play Ohio State in the semifinal for the second straight year and 3rd time in the last 5 years. The Tigers are 4-0 all-time against Ohio State, all in bowl games!
It's the 20th ACC Title for the Tigers and an unprecedented 6th straight conference championship win. Perhaps even more impressively, the Tigers have won at least 10 games in 10 straight seasons, joining FSU and Alabama as the only programs to do so. It's remarkable that Dabo was able to keep that streak going through this pandemic, with 2 less regular season games than they would ordinarily play! Dabo joins basketball legend John Wooden as the only coaches to take their teams to 6 consecutive Final Fours.
Our post-game interview with Dabo, notes and highlights are below. Click on the purple link for more post-game interviews with coaches and players. Also, I'll have a Zoom call with Dabo on Sunday afternoon after the CFP Selection Show, so stay tuned!
Clemson, which was already the first team in ACC history to win five consecutive outright titles, became the first team in ACC history to win six consecutive ACC titles outright. (Note: Florida State earned at least a share of nine consecutive ACC titles from 1992-2000 but never earned more than three consecutive titles outright.)
Today, Clemson and Oklahoma became the first teams in any active conference to win six consecutive outright conference titles. The last team presently in the Power Five to win at least six straight outright titles was Oklahoma (12 from 1948-59) as part of the now-dissolved Big 8 Conference.
Clemson became the first program to win 20 ACC titles. Since helping form the conference in 1953, Clemson’s ACC-leading 20 titles include 19 outright championships.
Clemson earned its 26th conference championship all-time, including four SIAA championships and two Southern Conference championships prior to the formation of the ACC. Clemson's 26 conference titles across all conferences are the most of any current or former ACC member.
Clemson improved to 7-1 all-time in ACC Championship Games.
Clemson has now won 10 games for a school-record 10th consecutive season. Clemson became only the third program in history ever to post 10 consecutive 10-win seasons, joining Florida State (14 from 1987-2000) and Alabama (13 from 2008-20).
Clemson became the first school to win 10 games in 10 straight seasons as a member of the ACC, as only the final nine of Florida State's 14-straight 10-win seasons came during the Seminoles' tenure in the ACC.
Clemson improved to 18-8 under Dabo Swinney in rematches of losses. Entering Saturday, Clemson had suffered only 32 losses under Swinney and had 25 previous opportunities to avenge its most recent loss against an opponent, going 17-8 in those contests. (There are six programs Clemson has not faced again since a loss in the teams' most recent meeting.)
Clemson improved to 14-10 all-time in games between AP Top 10 teams and pushed Clemson to 9-3 in games between AP Top 10 teams since the start of the 2016 season.
Clemson earned its 13th all-time victory against an AP Top 5 opponent. Ten of Clemson's 13 all-time wins against AP Top 5 teams have come under Head Coach Dabo Swinney.
Clemson improved to 9-5 all-time in games between two AP Top 5 teams. Clemson is now 7-3 since 2016 when both teams have entered a game in the AP Top 5.
Clemson defeated an AP Top 2 team for the fifth time in school history. Clemson has two wins against No. 1 (vs. Alabama to end 2016 and 2018) and three wins against No. 2 (vs. Ohio State in 2016 and 2019 and against Notre Dame on Saturday). Of note: Ohio State was ranked No. 2 by the AP for the 2016 Fiesta Bowl despite being the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson improved to 4-2 all-time against Notre Dame. Clemson (4-2), Florida State (6-4), Michigan (25-17-1), Nebraska (8-7-1) and Ohio State (4-2) are the only schools to have played Notre Dame at least four times and hold a winning record in the series.
Clemson earned a 10th win through the first 11 games of a season for the 11th time in school history. Clemson previously won at least 10 games in its first 11 contests in the 1948, 1978, 1981, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The 2020 Clemson seniors improved to 51-4 since 2016 to tie the 2016 and 2019 Alabama seniors for the fifth-most wins by a four-year class in FBS history.
Clemson improved to 52-3 against conference opponents since the start of the 2015 season, the first year of Clemson's active run of six consecutive ACC titles.
Clemson won its 14th consecutive December game, dating to Clemson’s 2011 ACC Championship Game victory against Virginia Tech. Clemson entered the game as one of three schools to be undefeated in December since 2011 with a minimum of five games played, a list that also included Alabama (10-0) and Penn State (6-0) as of the start of Saturday’s contests.
Clemson improved to 25-13 all-time in December games, including postseason play.
Clemson has now won 87 of its last 89 games, including each of its last 50, when leading at halftime.
Clemson is now 109-2 since 2011 when leading after three quarters.
Clemson improved to 108-2 when totaling more first downs than its opponent since 2011.
Clemson improved to 68-1 when rushing for 200+ yards under Dabo Swinney.
Clemson improved to 52-2 since 2015 when outscoring opponents in the “Middle Eight,” defined as the final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half.
Clemson is now 52-2 when having a 100-yard rusher since 2011.
According to ESPN, the game represented only the fourth time in the AP Poll era (since 1936) that two teams have faced one another twice in a single season with both teams ranked in the AP Top 5 for both meetings, joining 1959 LSU/Ole Miss, 1996 Florida State/Florida and 2011 LSU/Alabama. With Clemson’s win on Saturday, teams that lost the first meeting are now 4-0 in rematches between Top 5 contests that same season. In every instance, the team that lost the first game won the rematch by at least 21 points.
Clemson recorded 541 total yards, including 322 passing and 219 rushing. It was Clemson’s second game this season exceeding both 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, joining Clemson’s victory against Miami (Fla.). Clemson is now 53-0 when both passing and rushing for 200+ yards under Dabo Swinney.
Clemson’s 500-yard performance was its fifth of the season and its first since Nov. 28 vs. Pitt. Clemson is now responsible for three of the four 500-yard games in ACC Championship Game history.
Clemson has now opened a season with 400 yards of offense in each of the first 11 games of a season for the second time in school history (2018).
Clemson has now rushed for 200 yards in consecutive games for the first time since last year's regular season finale and ACC Championship Game against South Carolina and Virginia, respectively.
Clemson joined 2013 Florida State as the only ACC teams ever to score 34 or more points in each of the first 11 games of a season.
Clemson recorded multiple rushing touchdowns in a 27th consecutive game. The last time Clemson was held to a single rushing touchdown was in a 27-point win in the 2018 Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame.
After surrendering 519 yards to Notre Dame in November (310 passing and 209 rushing), Clemson limited Notre Dame to 263 total yards on Saturday. Clemson held Notre Dame to 44 rushing yards after surrendering 65 yards on the first offensive play alone in the teams’ meeting in November.
Clemson held Notre Dame to 1.5 yards per carry. Clemson has held opponents to 2.0 or fewer yards per carry 25 times since 2014, second-most in the country. Clemson is 24-1 in those contests.
Heisman contender Trevor Lawrence was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after he completed 25-of-36 passes for 322 yards with two passing touchdowns. Healso rushed for a season-high 90 yards, the second-most of his career and his most since a 107-yard rushing day against Ohio State in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.
Lawrence’s 412 yards of total offense (passing and rushing) were second-most in ACC Championship Game history, trailing only Deshaun Watson’s 420-yard total offense output against North Carolina in 2015.
Lawrence improved to 34-1 as a starter, adding to his standing as the winningest starting quarterback in Clemson history and further improving the best winning percentage (.971) by an FBS starting quarterback since Division I split in 1978.
Lawrence became the first starting quarterback to win three ACC Championship Games.
Clemson produced a 300-yard passer (Lawrence) and a 100-yard rusher (Travis Etienne) in a single game for the second time this season, joining the season opener at Wake Forest. The performance represented the 16th time in history that Clemson has produced both a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher in a single game. All 16 instances at Clemson have come since the turn of the century. Thirteen have come under Dabo Swinney, including five by the Lawrence/Etienne duo.
Lawrence posted his 12th career 300-yard passing game. He, Tajh Boyd (18) and Deshaun Watson (13) are the only players in school history to record double-digit career 300-yard passing games.
Lawrence (9,698) passed Charlie Whitehurst (9,665) for third-most career passing yards in Clemson history.
Lawrence added to his school record for career touchdown passes of 50 yards or more on a 67-yard pass to Amari Rodgers in the first quarter. It was Lawrence’s 19th touchdown pass of 50 yards or more with Clemson.
Lawrence now has a 50-yard touchdown pass in consecutive games for the first time since the ACC Championship Game and the Fiesta Bowl in 2019.
Lawrence also scored on a 34-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter. It was his seventh rushing touchdown of the season and his 17th of his career. The 17 career rushing touchdown pass Kelly Bryant for sole possession of fifth-most by a Clemson quarterback in the modern era.
Etienne rushed 10 times for 124 yards with one rushing touchdown and caught three passes for 12 yards.
The 100-yard rushing game was a school-record-extending 20th of Etienne’s career, tying him with NC State’s Joe McIntosh and Boston College’s AJ Dillon for seventh-most in ACC history.
Etienne snapped a six-game streak without a 100-yard rushing game.
Etienne’s 12.4-yard rushing average was his 13th career game averaging at least 10 yards per carry (minimum five carries), adding to his FBS lead in that category since 2000.
On a fourth and one, Etienne scored on a 44-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds remaining in the first half.
With the score, Etienne added to his FBS record for most career games scoring a touchdown, scoring in a 45th game of his 54-game career.
The touchdown was Etienne’s 13th rushing touchdown of the season, allowing him to join Wisconsin's Ron Dayne as the only players in FBS history to record at least 13 rushing touchdowns in four different seasons.
Etienne (4,943) moved past Kyle Parker (4,902) to move into the Top 10 in Clemson history in yards of total offense, a category that includes both yards rushing and yards passing, despite having only 23 career passing yards.
In four ACC Championship Game appearances, Etienne has recorded 42 carries for 418 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He has scored in all four of his ACC Championship Games.
Wide receiver Amari Rodgers led all receivers in receptions (eight) and receiving yards (121).
Rodgers recorded his fifth career 100-yard receiving game, his third of the season. All five of his 100-yard receiving games have come away from home, including four road games and Saturday’s neutral-site contest.
Rodgers scored Clemson’s first points of the game on a 67-yard touchdown reception from Lawrence on the Tigers’ second drive. The reception was the second-longest in ACC Championship Game history.
On the touchdown reception, Rodgers (2,090) eclipsed 2,000 receiving yards for his career, becoming the 15th player in Clemson history to hit that milestone. He now sits 13th in career receiving yards in Clemson history.
It was also Rodgers’ 15th career touchdown catch, making him the 16th player in school history to record 15 career touchdown receptions.
Rodgers (173) also moved past Rod Gardner (166) and Derrick Hamilton (167) for seventh on Clemson's all-time leaderboard for career receptions.
The touchdown was Rodgers’ sixth career touchdown of 50 yards or more (including five receiving and one via punt return), tying him for eighth-most by a Clemson player since 1950.
Wide receiver E.J. Williams recorded his second touchdown of the season on a 33-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Williams’ four receptions for 80 yards were both career highs.
Linebacker James Skalski became the first player ever to appear in five ACC Championship Games.
Skalski recorded his first full sack of the season on a third down on Notre Dame’s first drive.
Clemson recorded six sacks. Clemson has now recorded multiple sacks in 33 of its last 34 games, including each of its last 17. Clemson’s 17th straight game with two or more sacks ties a 17-game streak from 1998-99 for the Tigers' second-longest streak since 1980.
Clemson’s six sacks tied for the most in ACC Championship Game history, matching Florida State’s six in 2005. Clemson’s previous best was four, set against both Virginia Tech in 2016 and Miami (Fla.) in 2017.
Clemson (44) reached 40 sacks on the season, giving Clemson at least 40 sacks in seven straight seasons. Clemson’s seven-season streak is the longest in the country.
Defensive end K.J. Henry and cornerback Derion Kendrick recorded sacks on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. The sack improved Henry’s season sack total to 3.5, while the takedown was the first of Kendrick’s career.
True freshmen Myles Murphy and Malcolm Greene split a third quarter sack.
Greene’s half sack was the first of his career, as he became the 20th different Clemson player to record at least half a sack this season, the most in the FBS.
Greene later added a full sack in the third quarter, forcing Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book out of bounds on a scramble for a two-yard loss.
The half-sack pushed Murphy’s season total to 4.0, tying William Perry (4.0 in 1981), Ricky Sapp (4.0 in 2006) and Shaq Lawson (4.0 in 2013) for third-most sacks by a Clemson true freshman all-time.
True freshman linebacker Trenton Simpson later matched that mark, recording his fourth sack of the season in the fourth quarter.
Safety Lannden Zanders recorded his first career forced fumble in the third quarter.
Clemson won the game despite losing the turnover margin, 1-0. It was the first time in the six-game all-time series between Clemson and Notre Dame that the team that lost the turnover margin won the game.
After surrendering an opening field goal, Clemson scored 24 consecutive points to hold a 24-3 lead at halftime. In Clemson’s six consecutive ACC Championship Games since 2015, the Tigers have recorded a cumulative 146-50 halftime lead, an average lead of 16 points per game.
Clemson faced its seventh different opponent in its eight ACC Championship Game appearances all-time, a list that includes Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech (twice), North Carolina, Miami (Fla.), Pitt, Virginia and Notre Dame. The only non-Atlantic Division foe Clemson has not faced in an ACC title game is Duke.
Clemson played a third AP Top 10 opponent in a single season for the seventh time in school history (four each in 2013 and 2015; three each in 1966, 1977, 1981 and 2016). It is only the third time in school history Clemson has played three Top 10 opponents prior to bowl season (three in 1966 and 2013).
Clemson played a third matchup of two AP Top 10 teams in a single season for the fourth time in school history (three Top-10 matchups each in 2013, 2015 and 2016). It joined the 2013 season as the only seasons in school history that Clemson has played in three games between Top 10 teams prior to bowl season.
With its second meeting with Notre Dame this season, Clemson played a team twice in a single season for the third time in school history. Clemson dropped two meetings with Georgia Tech in 2009 and swept two meetings with Virginia Tech in 2011. With the win, Clemson split a two-game single-season series with an opponent for the first time.
Captains for the contest were running back Travis Etienne, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, linebacker James Skalski and safety Nolan Turner.