The national championship football game between Clemson University and the University of Alabama rematch on Monday, Jan. 9, lived up to the original from the year before. It had all the makings of a heavyweight fight—and without a doubt, it was a fight.
Alabama began the game on defense, pounding away at Clemson’s offense. The Crimson Tide landed shot after shot on Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson, including what looked like a blow to the head on the third play of the game.
The early knockdowns certainly had an effect on Watson, as he looked sluggish and timid early on while Alabama built a 14-0 lead that felt much larger. Clemson added to its own misery with a fumble that the Tide recovered.
Still, the Tigers found a way to keep standing round after round and drive after drive against the Tide. Clemson kept the game close with a touchdown in the second quarter to cut the Alabama lead in half at 14-7.
Alabama went for the early knockout but couldn’t finish the job on Clemson. The Tide forced another fumble in third but only got a field goal to make it 17-7 on a drive that started at the Clemson 16-yard line.
Three points were all the Tide could muster from two Clemson turnovers. Alabama couldn’t figure out a way to score points with its defense or special teams the way it had all season.
Clemson came alive in the second half with a touchdown to make it 17-14. Alabama answered right back with a quick strike to make it 24-14 late in the third quarter, but the Tigers responded with yet another touchdown to cut the Tide lead to only three points, making it 24-21 early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers took their first lead in the game with 4:38 left to play, but they didn’t see their 28-24 lead last long as Alabama’s offense kicked back into gear after being nearly nonexistent for most of the second half.
Alabama scored with 2:07 left to lead 31-28, meaning the Tide had to put the pressure on its historically great defense to win the title. Clemson was more than happy to put its superb offense back to work, as it had found ways to tear through the Tide for most of the second half.
Watson and his teammates on offense made play after play against the Tide to keep driving down the field. Clemson scored the game-winning touchdown with one second left to finish off Alabama 35-31.
In the end, the Alabama defense had punched all it could but couldn’t land the knockout blow, and the Tide ended up staggering down the stretch. Clemson weathered the early storm to rack up 511 total yards after 34:44 in possession of the ball, 99 plays and going 7 for 18 on third down.
Even with a freshman quarterback, Jalen Hurts, Alabama scored 31 points after going 14 for 32 on passing as a team for just 155 yards. The Tide only managed 376 total yards, possessed the ball for 25:16, ran 66 plays and went a horrible 2 for 15 on third down.
The best Alabama offensive weapon, running back Bo Scarbrough, ended up leaving the game with an injury. That still didn’t stop Alabama from taking a late lead.
Alabama changing offensive coordinators from Lane Kiffin to Steve Sarkisian didn’t stop the team from having a chance to win this game. It is still remarkable and should be noted, even in defeat, what Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has built.
Clemson wore down an Alabama defense that couldn’t find ways to get off the field. The Tigers’ defense made big stops along the way, including forcing a field goal that turned out to play a huge role in the end result.
Both teams deserved to win the game, but Clemson, without question, earned the victory. This win also validated the ACC which went 9-3 in bowl games and showed the SEC was merely average, going 6-7 in bowl games.
Whatever you want to call this game, don’t call it an upset. Clemson gave Alabama all it wanted in the Tide’s 45-40 victory last season.
Most of the major pieces of the Clemson offense returned this season and played in that game. The Tigers played like they could be winning their second title instead of their first since 1981.
Alabama will be fine after this game since Hurts should develop as a passer during the offseason, and the Tide is always stacked with four- and five-star players. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Alabama back in the playoffs at the end of next season.