ARLINGTON, Texas — After falling to Clemson 30-3 in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly stressed that “four big plays” were the difference and that the Irish’s issues Saturday were “technical and tactical,” rather than talent-based.
“I do not feel like there was an overwhelming difference in terms of talent,” Kelly said. “If we coached better and we made plays that we have been making all year, we would have had a pretty good darn football game going into the fourth quarter.”
Kelly pointed to Clemson’s four big touchdown plays and the loss of All-American cornerback Julian Love during the second quarter as the reasons for Clemson’s victory.
With Love out, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence connected on touchdown throws of 52, 42 and 19 yards during the second quarter. Running back Travis Etienne later added a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put the Irish away.
“I think Clemson was extremely smart and opportunistic in taking advantage of some things schematically,” Kelly said. “They did a great job of pushing the ball vertically in some opportunistic situations.”
Even though Notre Dame struggled offensively, as well, gaining only 248 yards, Kelly said he feels differently about his program than he did in 2012, when Alabama routed Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game.
“Do I feel like it’s different than that game? Oh I do. Absolutely,” Kelly said. “I left that game feeling there was so much work to be done from the inside out, so much development, so much recruiting. They were the better team today, there’s no doubt about it.
“This is a totally different feeling. I feel like this football team is on the brink [of a championship]. Where when I left that game, it was, ‘Boy, do we have a lot of work to do.’ … We can come back here and win. So it’s a different, real different feeling for me.”
Quarterback Ian Book agreed that this is only the start of a successful era for Notre Dame.
“Not to take any credit away from Clemson, that’s a great team and a great defense, if we play the way we have been all year it would be different,” he said. “We expect to be back here next year.”