SAN FRANCISCO — Everything seemed to be going well for Alabama at the start of the game.
The Tide won the toss and kicked off to Clemson and forced a three-and-out. Then Tua Tagovailoa completed two passes and Bama was on the move with a first down at its own 41.
But what Tagovailoa and Alabama did not know is that Clemson had them right were they wanted them. On the next play, the Tide’s All-American quarterback thought the Tigers’ were in man coverage, so when Isaiah Simmons came on a blitz from his nickel position, Tagovailoa thought he was throwing to an open receiver on the blitz side.
Instead, A.J. Terrell was playing zone and Tagovailoa threw the football right to him. The sophomore from Atlanta obliged and took the football 44 yards for a touchdown.
Alabama was stunned, and Clemson had a 7-0 lead.
“We thought they would throw the ball to us based on what we were doing with our SAM (linebacker),” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said following the Tigers’ 44-16 victory to win the 2018 National Championship. “We were in a cloud coverage, something we really haven’t done going into the game and it worked out to perfection.”
A lot worked out for the Clemson defense in the national championship game. Though it gave up 443 yards to the Tide, it held them to a season-low 16 points, the fewest ever for a Nick Saban coached team at Alabama.
“Obviously, that is Alabama. They are going to make some plays,” Venables said. “I am so proud of those guys for not getting discouraged and to continue to believe in themselves and in each other.”
Alabama had its opportunities. On its first three possessions of the second half it reached the Clemson red zone area, only to be turned away each time.
The Tide reached the Clemson 22, 14 and 2-yard line and failed to get the ball into the end zone or come away with any points.
“To see them go out as champs and as the number one scoring defense in all of football, 15-0, the best ever and the best offense I have been around. To me, they are just a little bit better than Southern Cal’s offense in 2004 so whatever that means,” Venables said. “This is a special performance and a special year. This is a great legacy these guys have lived out and I cannot thank them enough.
“I think your character and your leaderships is revealed in those moments. It is easy to say, but that is what it comes do. It is a sure will to win and compete and not to be discouraged and not be denied and find a way. They epitomized all of those things in those series.”
Other than the Tigers’ two interceptions on Tagovailoa, the defense also snuffed out an Alabama fake punt on the Tide’s opening drive of the third quarterback bogged down at Clemson 22. Nyles Pinckney busted through the line and tackled holder Mac Jones for a loss.
“We stemmed to a Cover 2, which was like no block,” Venables said. “We went into the game knowing they would have a fake and we showed one front and steamed to another and played Cover 2 to it and sniffed it out, so it was game-plan specific just assuming there might be a critical time in the game where they might be able to seize the momentum and make that play. We always have different field goal fake defenses, but this one was game plan specific and guys executed it to perfection.”