NEW ORLEANS — From start to finish, No. 4 Alabama took it to top-ranked Clemson on Monday night in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl.
While the Crimson Tide physically outmuscled the Tigers on both sides of the ball en route to a 24-6 win, Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow pointed to his team’s mentality as the biggest reason it got beat.
“I just don’t think we had a very good mindset tonight, honestly,” Renfrow said. “We didn’t come out to play as well as we should’ve. From the first kickoff, they came and smacked us in the mouth, and we didn’t really get up after that.”
Las Vegas favored Alabama entering the game, but not many others did. Most thought the Tigers would come out on top after they throttled Miami in the ACC title game, while the Tide limped in after a loss to Auburn its last time on the field.
The skepticism about whether Alabama was worthy of a playoff spot, and whether it could get past Clemson, only served as fuel for the Tide in retrospect. Alabama looked like the more focused and prepared team, especially on defense, as it suffocated Clemson’s offense to the tune of 188 total yards.
The Tigers managed only 64 yards rushing, converted just eight of 19 third-down attempts and turned the ball over twice as Nick Saban’s bunch avenged its loss to Dabo Swinney’s team in last season’s national title game.
“They just outplayed us, honestly,” Renfrow said. “We got behind the chains a lot, and they played a lot of two-man and played a lot of coverage where it was tough for us to go make plays.”
After Clemson amassed 75 points and 1,061 yards against Alabama the last two years behind Deshaun Watson, Kelly Bryant and company were unable to muster much of anything in the rubber match.
Bryant threw for just 124 yards and was intercepted twice.
Renfrow — who recorded a combined 17 catches for 180 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama in 2016 and 2017 — was limited to five catches for 31 yards in Round 3.
“It’s shocking, almost,” Renfrow said of the outcome. “But that’s on the offense. We have to get better, and we have to try to get back here next year.”
Clemson was held without a touchdown after scoring 10 of them the past two years.
The Tigers’ best chance at a meaningful touchdown came early in the third quarter after the defense forced and recovered a fumble by quarterback Jalen Hurts on Alabama’s first possession of the second half. But Clemson went three-and-out and was forced to settle for one of Alex Spence’s two field goals in the contest.
“I know I had an MA that drive where we could have gotten points and we didn’t capitalize, and that was kind of the story of the night,” Renfrow said. “We didn’t make the plays that were there, and then we had some turnovers that kind of piled up. But if we just made the plays that were there, we were going to have a chance.”
Instead, Clemson was unable to take advantage of opportunities. As a result, it is Alabama — not the Tigers — that is headed to the national championship game for the third straight year.
“It goes back to us doing the little things right,” Renfrow said. “We didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t pay attention to details, and they just came out to play and we weren’t ready. So that’s on us.”