NEW ORLEANS — Clemson found itself behind the eight ball before it even touched the football in Monday night’s 24-6 loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama won the toss and elected to defer to the second half. On the ensuing kick return, running back Travis Etienne was knocked down at his 16-yard line. From there, the Tigers quickly went three-and-out and just like that the Crimson Tide gained control of field position and they did not relinquish it.
Alabama’s average field position was its own 43, while the Tigers started at their own 24.
“It started with the field position early. We were backed up a lot and then we did not hit some plays,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We had a third down play to Deon (Cain), and if we hit that we spark the tempo a little bit and give us a little bit more confidence and give us some momentum.”
As it turns out, Cain dropped what was a wide open ball on a crossing rout which would have been more than enough to pick up a first down. Instead, the Tigers (12-2) punted the ball back to Alabama, who on the ensuing drive completed a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley for a 10-0 lead with 12 seconds left in the first quarter.
“From then on out we were never able to get into a rhythm and when started to drive the ball a little bit, then we obviously got into and had some critical mistakes that were characteristic of ourselves and that just gave them all the confidence they needed to pin their ears back and get after us.”
Clemson finished the game with a season-low 188 total yards on 70 plays and did not score a touchdown all night. Bryant finished the night completing 18-of-36 passes for 124 yards and was intercepted twice.
“The biggest thing is just the challenge to make the plays that are there. Then as coaches the conversation is let’s try to find a way to help them,” Elliott said. “Let’s try to change some things up. Let’s get the ball out quick and whatever we need to do to make the adjustment from a protection standpoint and figure what run protection we can go to so the conversation is trying to figure out what is the next plan of attack.”