TAMPA, Fla. — No. 2 Clemson defeated No. 1 Alabama 35-31 on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., to win the national championship for the first time in 35 years. Both teams finished the season with a 14-1 record, but Clemson took home college football’s crown. Here is a look back at how Clemson earned its historic victory:
Clemson fell behind by two scores early in the second quarter before fighting back to cut its deficit in half before halftime. Clemson went for it on fourth-and-short on its first possession of the game, but Wayne Gallman’s run was stuffed short of the sticks, giving Alabama’s offense a short field. Alabama then scored first on a 25-yard touchdown run by Bo Scarbrough, which capped a three-play, 59-yard possession. Scarbrough added another score on Alabama’s first possession of the second quarter to hand his team a two-score lead, but Clemson responded two possessions later with an 8-yard touchdown run by Deshaun Watson to make the score 14-7 at the break.
The second half began inauspiciously for Clemson when Gallman fumbled on the Tigers’ first possession and the ball was recovered by Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson. However, the Crimson Tide failed to take full advantage of the turnover after taking over at Clemson’s 16-yard line, settling for a 27-yard field goal by Adam Griffith. Following the field goal, Clemson’s offense started to find its rhythm. After a short punt by Alabama’s JK Scott, Clemson drove 42 yards in four plays and found the end zone thanks to a 24-yard touchdown reception by Hunter Renfrow that made the score 17-14 midway through the third quarter. At the end of the third quarter, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard pushed his team’s lead back to two scores with a 68-yard touchdown catch that was the result of a blown coverage. It didn’t take long for Clemson to respond, though. Less than three minutes later, Watson hooked up with Mike Williams for a 4-yard touchdown pass at the start of the fourth quarter that trimmed Alabama’s lead back to three at 24-21.
After both teams traded punts in the fourth quarter, Clemson took its first lead of the game on a 1-yard touchdown run by Wayne Gallman with 4:34 left. On the next possession, Alabama answere with a 30-yard touchdown run by Jalen Hurts with just over two minutes remaining to regain the lead, 31-28.
Finally, Clemson broke through with the winning score when Hunter Renfrow hauled in a 2-yard touchdown pass with just one second remaining on the clock to provide the final margin.
What went right?
What went right was Clemson’s resiliency. Down by two scores on a couple of different occasions, Clemson kept fighting and never gave up before prevailing in the end.
Deshaun Watson was spectacular. In his final game, Watson went 36-of-56 passing for 420 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 43 yards and another touchdown. Meanwhile, Hunter Renfrow recorded 10 receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Clemson’s offense racked up 511 yards of offense despite the slow start, while the Tigers converted seven of 18 third-down attempts and committed just three penalties.
Defensively, Clemson had seven tackles for loss.
What went wrong?
Clemson’s defense made its share of big plays but allowed 31 points and 376 yards of offense, including 221 rushing. The Tigers also turned the ball over twice.
In a game full of big plays, Deon Cain might have made the biggest one midway through the second quarter. Alabama had all the momentum, up 14-0, when Cain notched a 43-yard catch-and-run to help set up the Tigers’ first score. Clemson’s offense rolled for most of the game from there.