A lot has been said and written about Hunter Renfrow since he made a two-yard catch with one second left on Monday to give Clemson its first football national championship since 1981.
Renfrow also scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, made a key six-yard catch on third down during the final drive and caught a game-high 10 passes for 92 yards in the Tigers’ 35-31 victory over Alabama. However, as good as all that was, perhaps the biggest play he made all night was when he chased down Alabama’s Ryan Anderson from behind following a rare Wayne Gallman fumble with Clemson trailing 14-7 in the third quarter.
In the week leading up to Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott told his wide receivers they would have to make a tackle should Alabama pick up a fumble or get an interception in the game. He said they would be the only ones that could catch them.
Alabama’s defense recorded a record 11 defensive touchdowns this season. So when Anderson stripped the football from Gallman’s arms on the fourth play of the second half and picked it up at the Clemson 28 and started running with it, it looked as if he was going to score.
However, he never saw Renfrow behind him as the 5-foot-11, 180-pound receiver chased him down and then took out his legs at the Clemson 16-yard line to prevent the score.
It turned out to be a huge play as the Clemson defense stopped Alabama in three plays on the ensuing possession, setting up a 27-yard Adam Griffith field goal. That made the score 17-7 instead of 21-7 and gave the Tigers back a little of bit of the momentum.
Renfrow’s tackle came back to haunt Alabama after his game-winning catch turned out to be the four-point difference in the outcome.
“They’ve scored on special teams and defense all year … NOTS (Non Offensive TouchdownS). They created a new name,” Swinney said. “That was a big goal of ours. That’s a hidden play in the game. That play, the pooch punt by Deshaun (Watson) on I think it was 4th-and-2 there, and just we thought about it, contemplated going for it, but they were up 10. We just could not get field position. I just felt like, let’s try to flip the field here, get a stop, and kind of reload with good field position, and that’s what happened.
“That play and the tackle by Renfrow were just kind of two plays mixed in a bunch of plays, but man, those were monsters. That was one of the big keys for us. We were four-for-four in the red zone, four touchdowns, I believe, and they had three points. Don’t ever ask me about turnovers again. I can’t even say – if you’d have told me we were going to have two turnovers against Alabama, we’d get beat. But our defense rose up. They got three points off of the two turnovers. But that tackle was huge. Huge!”
Now this is impressive. Over his last 17 games, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers have beaten No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 3 Louisville, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 1 Alabama (rankings by AP).
Swinney stands alone. With Clemson’s win over Alabama, Dabo Swinney has now won six bowl games over coaches who already had a national championship on their resume over the last five years. He is the only coach in college football history to do it.
There is nothing wrong with being second. Swinney joins Bud Wilkinson as the only person to play on and serve as head coach of a team that won the Associated Press National Championship.
Wilkinson played on the 1936 Minnesota team that was the first AP National Champion, and was the head coach of Oklahoma teams of 1951, 1955 and 1956 that won titles.
Swinney played on the 1992 Alabama team that won the AP national title.
However, Swinney is the first coach to beat his alma mater in a postseason game to win the National Championship.
There is a first time for everything. With Clemson’s win over Alabama, it marked the first win over the No. 1 team in football in Clemson history. On New Year’s Eve, Clemson defeated No. 2 ranked Ohio State, the first time Clemson defeated the No. 2 ranked team in football.
Clemson was a combined 0-9 against the top two ranked teams heading into the playoffs, but then beat each within nine days.
Also, Clemson finishes the year with three wins over SEC teams for the first time. The Tigers downed Auburn, South Carolina and Alabama.
Jan. 9 is a good day at Clemson. Clemson defeated Alabama on January 9, 2017, the program’s first win over No. 1 in football. On January 9, 1980, Clemson defeated Duke for its first win over the nation’s top ranked team in men’s basketball.
Bouncing back. Clemson is the first school to win the national championship the year after losing in the national championship game the previous year since Florida State in 1999. The Seminoles lost to Tennessee in the BCS Championship in 1998 before defeating Virginia Tech in the 1999 BCS title game.
Tough schedule. Clemson finishes the season with a 14-1 record and National Championship against the nation’s top schedule according to the NCAA statistical service. The Tigers beat 11 teams that finished with a winning record, including five teams that won at least 10 games.
Tied for first. Clemson’s 14 wins tied the FBS record for wins in a season. Alabama also finishes with 14 wins. It is the second straight year both teams won 14 games. Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama are the only programs to win 14 games in a season more than once.
Clemson is now 28-2 over the last two years and 31-2 over its last 33 games.
Road warriors. Clemson finishes the season with a record eight wins away from home this year. The previous record was seven set last year.
To be the best you have to beat the best. Clemson defeated Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State and Alabama this year, the programs that had won each of the last seven national championships prior to this year.
The best. Clemson’s senior class finishes with a record of 49-7, the most wins by a class and the best winning percentage in school history.
It’s been a long time. Monday was Clemson’s first win over Alabama since 1905. The Tigers had lost 13 straight games to the Crimson Tide.
Watson goes out on top. Watson ended his career with a record of 32-3 as Clemson’s starting quarterback. He is the school’s all-time leader on a percentage basis and tied Tajh Boyd (32-8, 2010-13) and Rodney Williams (32-10-2, 1985-88) for the most wins by a starting signal caller.
Breaking own marks. Watson broke the Clemson single-season record that he set last season for touchdown responsibility. His four touchdowns accounted for gave him 50 for the year.
Watson also broke his own total offense record for a season in the ACC. He had 5,209 yards last year, and this year he had 5,219 total yards.
Watson sets another ACC record. Watson threw three touchdown passes, passing Jameis Winston of Florida State for an ACC record 41 over the course of the season.
Wilkins passes Adams on single-season list. Christian Wilkins set the Clemson record for pass breakups by a defensive lineman in a season with two deflections, giving him 10 for the season. Gaines Adams previously held the record with nine in 2005.
Like father, like son. Five members of the 2016 Clemson national championship team are sons of members of the 1981 Clemson national championship team. Those current players are twins J.D. Davis and Judah Davis (Jeff Davis), Jarvis Magwood (Frank Magwood), Cannon Smith (Bill Smith) and Kanyan Tuttle (Perry Tuttle).
—Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports