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Alabama Edges Clemson in 45-40 Thriller to Win College Football's National Championship

Alabama Crimson Tide title celebration

Alabama Crimson Tide title celebration

Alabama earned its fourth national championship in seven seasons under Nick Saban, edging Clemson 45-40 in a back-and-forth, entertaining battle in Glendale, Ariz. on Monday night. After several blowouts in bowl season and in the New Year’s Six matchups, the national title game for the 2015 season lived up to the hype and was one of the best matchups of the year. The Crimson Tide and Tigers exchanged punches and scores throughout all four quarters, with the two teams combining for 1,023 overall yards in the game and 40 points in the fourth quarter.

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Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry opened the scoring with a 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and eventually sealed the victory for the Crimson Tide with a one-yard plunge with just over a minute remaining. The second half was 30 minutes of momentum swings for both teams. Clemson led 24-21 late in the third quarter and had Alabama on its heels after stopping the Crimson Tide’s offense on the next drive. However, Alabama’s defense held the Tigers’ explosive attack and a timely onside kick call early in the fourth quarter eventually moved the momentum and lead on the scoreboard for good in favor of the Crimson Tide.

Five Takeaways from Alabama’s CFB National Championship Win

1. Alabama’s Special Teams Were…Special

The best coaching decision of the night belongs to Alabama’s Nick Saban. After tying the game at 24 with just over 10 minutes left, Saban called for an onside kick. The call was executed perfectly by kicker Adam Griffith and defensive back Marlon Humphrey caught the short kick, allowing the Crimson Tide to gain a possession on Clemson. The following possession? A touchdown gave the Crimson Tide the lead (for good) at 31-24. Punter JK Scott averaged 42.4 yards per punt return and his height on kicks limited Clemson to just 22 punt return yards. Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, extending Alabama’s lead to 38-27. Special teams are often overlooked, but the Crimson Tide’s played a huge role in this game.

2. Big Plays by QB Jake Coker and TE O.J. Howard

Alabama tight end O.J. Howard has all of the physical gifts to be a prominent force in the passing game for the Crimson Tide. However, Howard entered Monday night’s matchup with just 33 catches for 394 yards. The junior took advantage of a few critical breakdowns in the Clemson secondary and hauled in five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Coker’s final stat line (16 of 25 for 335 yards) was solid, but the senior had an uneven performance. However, Coker connected with Howard on three passing plays of at least 50 yards and made a key 38-yard completion to ArDarius Stewart.

3. Solid Performance for the Heisman Trophy Winner

Another game, another workmanlike effort for Alabama running back Derrick Henry. The Heisman Trophy winner recorded 158 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries, including a 50-yard score in the first quarter. Henry also reached paydirt on a one-yard run with less than two minutes remaining, which extended Alabama’s lead to 45-33 and essentially clinched the national title for this team.

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4. The Best Player on Monday Night was QB Deshaun Watson

Alabama won the national championship, but Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had the top individual performance. The Heisman Trophy finalist provided plenty of headaches for the Crimson Tide defense, completing 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns and added 73 yards on the ground. Some of Watson’s best plays weren’t recorded in the stat column. When pressure collapsed the pocket, Watson was able to create just enough room for throwing lanes and avoid sacks. He should be the favorite to win the Heisman in 2016.

5. Clemson More Than Held its Own in the Trenches

The battle in the trenches was a key focal point headed into Monday night’s game. Alabama’s defensive line was the best in the nation during the regular season, and the offensive line improved over the second half. However, it was Clemson’s defensive line that won the battle on Monday night. The Tigers sacked quarterback Jake Coker five times and limited running back Derrick Henry to 4.4 yards per carry. End Kevin Dodd wreaked havoc all night around the line of scrimmage, recording seven tackles (five for a loss) and three sacks.

CFB National Championship Awards

Offensive MVP: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama

Even though Clemson came up short on the scoreboard, a strong case could be made quarterback Deshaun Watson deserves this award. However, let’s hand the hardware to Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who caught five passes for 208 yards and three scores. Howard also delivered a clutch catch for the Crimson Tide, taking a short pass and rumbling 63 yards on 2nd and 12 with just over five minutes to go.

Defensive MVP: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Eddie Jackson was the official pick at the game, but let’s give a tip of the cap to Evans as the Athlon Sports Defensive MVP of the national championship. The sophomore recorded three tackles (two for a loss) and two sacks. Evans’ two sacks were the only ones recorded by Alabama against Clemson’s high-powered attack.

Special Teams MVP: Kenyan Drake, RB/Adam Griffith, K, Alabama

Alabama’s special teams played a huge role in the victory over the Tigers. Punter JK Scott averaged 42.4 yards per punt, but it’s Drake and Griffith splitting this award after delivering clutch plays in the second half. Griffith perfectly executed an onside kick in the fourth quarter, allowing the Crimson Tide to take a 31-24 lead with just over 10 minutes to go in the final period. Drake also followed with a clutch play in the fourth quarter, returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, edging Alabama’s lead to 38-27. Drake finished with 196 yards on five kickoff returns.