Clemson’s family scores 30 unanswered to defeat Alabama’s factory.
Coming into Monday night’s National Championship game, Clemson was still somewhat of a mystery in many fans’ eyes. The team ran through the lackluster ACC conference with ease, and beat a Notre Dame team who many thought didn’t earn a spot in the playoff to begin with. Clemson’s biggest test was against a Texas A&M team (that ended with a 9-4 record) on the road in September. Clemson only won this game by 2 points. A lot of similarities can be said about this years’ Alabama team. While they dominated a much better conference, a majority of the teams they played had fatal flaws. LSU, a team that lacked any sort of offensive talent, still competed with Alabama with their defense alone. Georgia a good team with a great record, and Oklahoma had the 114th best defense in the nation. Alabama came in as favorites because of their sheer domination of the (most overrated but still) best conference in college football in a down year for most of their competition, and also, because they’re Alabama.
After the pick six to kick off the game by Clemson defensive back A.J. Terrell, it was clear that Clemson was going to compete with Alabama all night. The Tigers went blow for blow in the first quarter with the Tide, and an upset looked possible as the score was only 16-14 in favor of Alabama. From there, the Tigers quickly destroyed – scratch that – shattered the underdog narrative. There are no cases of a team establishing so fast that it was a clear favorite after being a heavy underdog entering the game.
Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables mixed the play calling consistently and forced Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to be on his heels all night long. The Tigers’ front seven threw everything they could at Bama’s line – sending seven or eight rushers on one play, then dropping back lineman and sending backers in on the next. The defense was constantly moving and switching blitzers throughout the game, but also managed to get pressure with just three or four rushers at a time. The Tiger DBs managed to stick with the talented wide receivers from Alabama, and clearly made sure to shut down the short passing game, closing the lanes for slant patterns that Tua thrived in throwing against Oklahoma.
Where Clemson’s defense dictated the tone of the game, Alabama’s defense had trouble slowing down Trevor Lawrence and the many wide receivers in Clemson’s attack. Lawrence beat the Tide by going over-the-top of the defense with ease. The 19-year old phenom stood in the pocket with poise on every drop back, and pushed the ball down the field with ease. Travis Etienne gashed the Tide for quick runs of six and seven yards at a time, and Justyn Ross balled out on the outside, catching six passes for 153 yards and one long touchdown that broke the Tide’s will in the third quarter.
Clemson never leaned on their lead. There were plenty of times where Etienne could’ve become featured in a slowed-down, run the clock out approach, but Lawrence continued to sling the ball downfield, because it was working to perfection. Alabama has plenty of studs on their defense, but they didn’t play as a unit at all, while Clemson did.
The biggest narrative in the ballgame is how Clemson’s staff outcoached Nick Saban and his staff of stars. Dabo Swinney and Venables came in with a defensive plan that stumped Bama, knocking Tua down time after time, and never letting Joshua Jacobs or Damien Harris get settled in in the ground game. Seniors on Clemson like star defensive lineman Christian Wilkins came back specifically for another shot at the Tide, and it showed all night. Players on the defensive side were flying to the ball, never letting receivers Devonta Smith or Jerry Jeudy gain extra yards without fighting for them. The offensive game plan was built around exposing the Tide’s lackluster cornerbacks. While Alabama has a great front seven and two all-world safeties, they hadn’t been tested down the field all year. It was obvious that Alabama was not prepared as well as Clemson was, and Saban had to go off-script, calling a fake field goal that didn’t work, and being uncharacteristically aggressive on fourth downs.
As the confetti settled, the Tigers celebrated their 44-16 win, showing that the family approach can outdo the factory feel of Alabama’s program. The last thing senior D-linemen Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell did on their west coast visit was make a recruiting pitch to players on the opposite side of the country, furthermore establishing that Clemson already preparing for the future, and ready to bring anyone into their family.