What a game. What a game! Well, maybe not if you like close, competitive games for four quarters. Alabama kept pace with the Tigers for the first quarter, they were only down 14-13, but Clemson pretty much took over after that.
Clemson packed on 17 points in the second quarter. The Crimson Tide were only able to put up three. When the second half rolled around, Clemson was in clear control. The Tigers scored 13 more points in the third quarter, those were the final points of the game. Alabama was held scoreless in the second half.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Nick Saban elected to go for it on fourth down multiple times, including on a controversial fake field goal. Fortune just didn’t favor the Tide on Monday night though. Clemson’s defense held Alabama to 4-13 on third down and 3-6 on fourth down.
Speaking of the defense, they were crucial to the victory. The defense actually scored first when A.J. Terrell intercepted Tua Tagovailoa and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. The defense intercepted Tagovailoa one other time during the game.
One thing the numbers will tell you, Alabama had 443 yards in the game and Clemson only had slightly more with 482. Saban’s team actually had more first downs (23) than Clemson (21). So why was the final score so different? Turnovers ruined Alabama because when they tried to overcome the mistakes they turned the ball over on downs three times. I never thought Clemson would blow Alabama away with offense, but that’s what happened and the defense benefited from it. That allowed the already dominant group to seize complete control of the game. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables deserves a lot of credit for keeping Alabama from breaking big plays and forcing them to try and grind out yards the hard way.
Trevor Lawrence, a 19-year-old freshman, picked apart the Alabama secondary going 20-32 for 347 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball six times for 27 yards. Freshman wide receiver Justyn Ross benefitted the most, catching six passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Travis Etienne scored three touchdowns, two on the ground and one through the air.
Clemson finished the season 15-0. This is the first time in the modern playoff era that a team went 15-0 and won the championship. Head coach Dabo Swinney has built a monster program that can challenge Alabama on a yearly basis. The team has a lot of juniors and seniors that the NFL will probably call away now, but there are still many more underclassmen ready to step up and take those spots. Lawrence will be a sophomore next year, Ross will be a sophomore, Tee Higgins will be a junior, and Etienne will be a junior. Clemson isn’t going anywhere.