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Cotton Bowl: What Clemson football must do to beat Notre Dame

Clemson is a 13-point favorite in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame, which is one of the biggest point spreads in the entire bowl season.

But Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has warned that beating the Fighting Irish will not be easy, no matter what the spread is.

Notre Dame isn’t a flashy team, and its stats don’t jump off the page at you. While Clemson is in the top 5 in total offense and total defense, Notre Dame is No. 28 and 20. But the Irish are a solid group that Swinney says will provide Clemson a tough challenge.

“This is a team that the most impressive thing about Notre Dame to me is they don’t beat themselves,” Swinney said. “You can watch from Game 1 all the way through and you can count on three fingers how many times they’ve got guys running wide open for example. I mean they’re where they’re supposed to be. You have to make the plays, you have to play well. You have to execute. They’re gonna make you execute and make plays. They’re not going to give you a whole lot.”

Swinney added that the Notre Dame offense is explosive with Ian Book at quarterback after he replaced Brandon Wimbush early in the season. And just as Notre Dame’s defense doesn’t make many mistakes, its offense doesn’t either.

“Book, he’s a baller, man. And Wimbush is a heck of a player. But Book just kind of took them to another level. He’s a slippery guy, makes a lot of plays. They take care of the ball. They do a nice job of that,” Swinney said. “They’re stingy on defense, and then offensively they take care of the ball. They play within their scheme, and they create field position. They’ve won a lot of close games. They do a nice job, man. They don’t beat themselves. You have to beat them, and to this point, nobody’s been able to do that.”

No one has been able to beat Swinney’s Clemson team either, but the Tigers have had some games where they have made some mental mistakes that were costly.

The most recent and glaring occurrence came in the final game of the regular season when South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley passed for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns against the Tigers as the back seven of Clemson’s defense made uncharacteristic miscues.

Clemson is hopeful that the time off between the ACC championship game and the Cotton Bowl will allow the Tigers to clean up their problems before facing a Notre Dame team that is not going to beat itself.

“When we’ve had issues this year, it’s not like people are just running by us and making these incredible plays. We’ve got guys running wide open because we don’t line up right and play poor leverage and we don’t play with situational awareness,” Swinney said. “It starts with your communication, making sure you know the call … Let’s make them earn it. Let’s don’t let guys be running wide open. Let’s make sure we’ve got contested plays.”

College Football Playoff schedule

Cotton Bowl

The No. 2 ACC champion Clemson Tigers (13-0) will play No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) in the Cotton Bowl at 4 p.m. Dec. 29 (ESPN) at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Orange Bowl

The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) will face No. 1 Alabama (13-0) in the Orange Bowl at 8 p.m. Dec. 29 (ESPN) in Miami in a matchup of Heisman Trophy front-runner quarterbacks — Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and the Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa.

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