SAN FRANCISCO – For weeks, the media rumbled about the shortcomings of the Clemson secondary after they gave up 510 yards passing in their last regular season game vs. South Carolina.
None of the talk mattered on Monday night when the secondary flexed its muscles when faced with their biggest task of the year, stopping Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
Clemson dominated Alabama to reclaim its position atop the college football mountain with a 44-16 thrashing of the Crimson Tide. The win gave the Tigers their second College Football Playoff National Championship in three years and third undisputed national championship.
It was clear in the locker room after the game that the Tigers found motivation in the headlines. And they left no doubt who the better team was at Levi’s Stadium.
Cornerback A.J. Terrell remembers all the things people said about their group before the game and had to put on blinders to remain focused on the Crimson Tide. At the end of the day he was proud of how his unit responded.
“We hear the noise every week, for me I take it like any other game and just block it out,” Terrell said. “We came in sharp as a secondary, Trayvon and I played well and the safeties had an excellent game. We just really came prepared,” he said.
Clemson’s defense established itself as the No. 1 team in scoring defense for the first time in program history allowing just 13.1 points per game. It also stopped Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide four times in the red zone without points.
The other cornerback Trayvon Mullen was still in disbelief on the field after the game of just how dominant the Clemson defense was.
“That was unbelievable, I was just thinking about that,” Mullen said. “That just shows the type of defense we are, how good we are and how hard we guard,” he said.
Terrell set the tone for the Tiger defense on the Tide’s first offensive drive of the game. On the third play after a pair of completions by Tagovailoa, Terrell baited the sophomore quarterback and jumped a throw in the flats returning the interception 44 yards to give Clemson a 7-0 lead.
The Atlanta, Ga.-native finished the game with eight tackles, a forced fumble and the tone-setting pick-six.
Tagovailoa entered the game having thrown just four interceptions on the season. He finished the CFP National Championship 22-of-34 with a pair of touchdowns and two more interceptions, the second time in his career with more than one interception.
The other interception fell in the hands of Mullen, who finished the game with six tackles, an 11-yard sack, a forced fumble and a pick.
Tagovailoa overthrew his receiver on a deep pass to the end zone and Mullen played receiver returning the interception from the seven-yard line to the 47-yard line, setting up a touchdown pass to Travis Etienne giving the Tigers a 28-16 lead with 4:38 to play in the first half.
Mullen too was motivated by the media talk and it gave him an edge to go out and dominate against a talented Alabama team.
“It means a lot to us because we prepare well, going into that game we don’t fear anyone,” he said. “We went in with an edge and knew if we played physical and smart, we’d come away with a win,” Mullen said.