Clemson Crowned National Champions After 44-16 Domination of Alabama
The Clemson Tigers completed one of the greatest seasons in college football history behind a surprising 44-16 domination of #1 Alabama. Freshman QB Trevor Lawrence was terrific, and the Tigers' dominant defense was once again up to the task when it mattered, surrendering yards but getting key stops and making big plays when needed. The #1 Crimson Tide were considered by many to be the greatest team in the history of college football. The Tigers' subsequent dismantling of the Tide, therefore, gives them a legitimate claim to being considered the greatest team of all-time.
Just take a look at how the Tigers finished the season:
#1 Alabama W 44-16 (Nat'l Champ.)
#3 Notre Dame W 30-3 (Nat'l Semifinal)
Pitt W 42-10 (ACC Title Game)
The initial shock has started to wear-off at this point, but it is still hard to believe what we all witnessed on Monday evening, as Nick Saban just doesn't lose all that often. Period. When he does lose, it's not by 28 points (the worst margin he has ever lost by while at Alabama) - the last time he lost by that much was while he was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. It was the inability to execute for a team that prides itself on being well-prepared, that was unable to get it done when the preparation failed, and then were forced to look for a plan B.
One of those mistakes happened very early in the game, in fact, less than two minutes into the game. Tigers' DB A.J. Terrell made a terrific play just 1:30 into the 1st Quarter to get the scoring going in a big way. Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa had just completed back-to-back passes to move the ball out across the 41, and then Terrell made a big-time play as he snagged the ball away and was off to the races for the 44-yard INT-return for a TD. Tagovailoa only threw 4 picks the entire season, so to see him throw a pick-6 just a minute and a half into the game was shocking to say the least.
Bama bounced back almost immediately, however, as All-American WR Jerry Jeudy got free for a 62-yard TD reception just 1:15 later. It seemed like business back to usual for the Tide, who tied the game 7-7 after some early fireworks. Jeudy did his part in the game, catching 5 passes total for 139 yards and the one score.
The real story of the game was Clemson's ability to convert time and time again on 3rd and long situations. The Tigers went 10-15 on 3rd down for the game, with many of those situations being third and long, including hitting on a big 3rd and 14 early on. With just over 11 minutes to go in the 1st quarter, and the score already tied 7-7, Tee Higgins burned the Tide over the top for 62 yards and a huge first down conversion. Lawrence looked like a polished veteran on the play. Alabama only rushed 3 for some reason, which allowed the freshman to unleash a 40-yard strike right over the top of the Bama defense. Higgins added another 22 after the catch and Clemson's 3rd down offense was off and rolling.
Tagovailoa had one of his more disappointing games, although he did finish with 295 yards through the air. The sophomore completed 22/34 overall but threw the 2 early first half picks, and finished with 2 TDs. It wasn't his worst effort, but it wasn't his best either. Time and time again the Alabama offense was able to drive down the field, but was unable to come away with touchdowns.
They were stuffed down near the goal-line on one possession, missed an extra point off the right upright later on in the 1st quarter, and then called a disastrous fake FG against a base defense instead of letting the Heisman - runner-up take another crack at it on 4th down. Trailing 31-16 at the time, the play-call was a terribly-timed, poorly-executed mess that gave the Tigers even more momentum and seemed to seal the Tides' impending doom. They promptly scored just moments later when WR Justyn Ross was jammed at the line, and the Alabama DB went to the ground and stayed down with an injury. Ross burned the safety as he streaked wide-open up the right-side and Lawrence once again delivered a perfect ball as Ross used his speed and athleticism and was off to the races for a game-breaking and back-breaking 74-yard TD. Even after Clemson missed the ensuing extra point, it didn't matter much as the game was teetering on becoming a full-blown route (37-16). Later in the 3rd quarter it turned out to be when Lawrence hit Tee Higgins for a 5-yard score to push the lead out to 44-16.
Clemson Freshman QB Trevor Lawrence was the star of the game, completing 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INT for the Tigers. The O-Line put forth a dominant effort all night long, helping the run game churn out tough yardage when needed, and keeping Lawrence upright, as he was not sacked a single time on the night.
2nd Team All-America HB and ACC OPOY Travis Etienne, put his mark on the game, as he accounted for 3 total TDs himself, rushing for 86 yards on 14 carries with a pair of scores, while adding 1 catch for 5 yards and a TD. Star wideout Justyn Ross, who came in trailing teammate Tee Higgins by 8 yards for the team-lead, went for 153 yards and 6 catches with one score. He finishes the season with exactly 1,000 yards. Higgins left his mark on the game as well, adding 3 catches for 81 yards and the 1 TD.
In the end, Clemson out-coached, out-executed, and out-played Alabama in the trenches in surprisingly dominant fashion. Crimson Tide All-American tackle Jonah Williams spent much of the night getting battered around by Tigers All-American DE Clelin Ferrell, as he caused disruption for the Bama offense.
Alabama was able to move the ball, totaling 443 yards of offense, including 148 on the ground on 37 attempts. They were just 4-13 on 3rd downs and just 3-6 on 4th downs, however. The lack of execution when it really mattered is what lost this one for the Tide and won it for the Tigers. Alabama was a really, really good football team, it just so happened that this year's Clemson was better, as they put on a 44-16 shellacking in an emphatic conclusion to a dominant season. Hats off to HC Dabo Swinney, as the Tigers were able to make it 2 out of 3 when it comes to National Championships.