Clemson captured its second national title in three years with a 44-16 victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship game Monday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
With the win, the Tigers finished the season with a perfect 15-0 record, while the Crimson Tide concluded their season 14-1.
Here’s a look back at how Clemson won the national title game:
Clemson led Alabama by a score of 31-16 at halftime, giving the Crimson Tide their largest deficit of the season at 15 points. The Tigers scored 14 points off of two interceptions by Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, while Clemson running back Travis Etienne scored three total touchdowns in the first two quarters.
The first interception by Tagovailoa was a 44-yard pick-six by A.J. Terrell that gave Clemson a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. It marked the first time that the Tigers scored first in the four-game playoff series with Alabama.
Alabama quickly answered with a three-play, 75-yard drive in 1:15 that saw Tagovailoa connect with Jerry Jeudy for a 62-yard touchdown pass to tie the score. The Tigers then responded with a four-play, 75-yard drive in 1:30 that Etienne capped with a 17-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-7 in favor of Clemson. A 62-yard pass from Lawrence to Tee Higgins on third-and-14 set up Etienne’s score. Alabama answered again with another touchdown drive, this time a long 10-play, 75-yard march that concluded with a 1-yard goal line pass from Tagovailoa to Hale Hentges with 6:23 to play in the opening frame.
The Tide took their first lead of the game at 16-14 on a 25-yard field goal by Joseph Bulovas less than a minute into the second quarter, but the Tigers then reeled off 17 straight points to end the first half to take a 15-point lead into the locker room. A 1-yard touchdown rush by Etienne put Clemson back in front 21-16, and a 5-yard reception by Etienne from Lawrence on a shovel pass extended the Tigers’ lead to 28-16 following an interception of Tagovailoa by Trayvon Mullen on Alabama’s previous possession. A 36-yard field goal by Greg Huegel with 45 seconds left before halftime gave Clemson a 31-16 lead.
The Tigers took full control of the game in the third quarter and led by 28 points at 44-16 heading into the final period. Alabama drove 51 yards on 13 plays on its opening possession of the third quarter but came away with no points when it failed to covert on a fake field goal attempt. Clemson capitalized in short order with a 74-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to freshman wide receiver and Alabama native Justyn Ross, which made the score 37-16. After Alabama’s ensuing possession ended with a failed fourth-down conversion attempt at Clemson’s 14-yard line, the Tigers proceeded to put together a 12-play, 89-yard touchdown drive. The drive was keyed by a pair of outstanding receptions of 37 and 17 yards by Ross on third and long, and capped by a beautiful 5-yard touchdown toss from Lawrence to Tee Higgins with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Clemson essentially sealed the national championship victory with another stop on fourth down early in the fourth quarter. Tagovailoa tried to get to the edge on a running play on fourth-and-goal from Clemson’s 2-yard line but was stuffed by Clelin Ferrell for a 7-yard loss, and the Tigers took over on downs again, up by 28 points with 12:17 to play.
What went right?
Lawrence was sharp throughout the night with the exception of a few throws and earned Offensive MVP honors for his efforts. The true freshman showed his poise and composure on college football’s biggest stage while throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns on a 20-of-32 clip. Etienne finished with 86 yards rushing and three total touchdowns, while Ross recorded 153 yards receiving and a touchdown on six catches and Higgins had 81 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Clemson compiled 482 yards of offense overall and went 10-of-15 on third down and 1-of-1 on fourth down, and the Tigers committed just one penalty in the contest. Clemson went 5-of-6 in the red zone and won the turnover margin by two. Brent Venables and the Tigers’ defense did a good job of fooling Tagovailoa with different coverages and blitzes that forced him to mistakes and created opportunities for turnovers.
What went wrong?
It’s difficult to pinpoint things that went wrong for Clemson on a night when the Tigers blew Nick Saban and Alabama out of Levi’s Stadium on their way to the national championship. But if you’re being nitpicky, Clemson’s defense did allow 443 total yards, including 108 rushing in the first half, and 23 total first downs to Alabama while allowing the Tide to convert three fourth-down attempts in six tries and win the time of possession battle in the first half, 19:26 to 10:34.
A crucial penalty against Alabama at the goal line late in the first quarter proved costly and helped turn the tide of the game Clemson’s way. On second and goal from the six-inch line, Alabama offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr. was called for a false start, backing the Tide up to the 6-yard line. Two plays later, Clemson stopped the Tide on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line and forced them to settle for a field goal.
Although the field goal gave Alabama its first lead of the game at 16-14, the Tigers keeping the Tide out of the end zone helped change the momentum of the game. That showed as Clemson went on to score 30 unanswered points — including 17 straight in the second quarter — and rout Alabama en route to the third national championship in program history.