Trevor Lawrence and a standout defensive line led the way in Clemson's victory
Clemson is back on top of college football for the second time in three years, as the Tigers knocked off Alabama 44-16 on Monday night in Santa Clara. The win over the Crimson Tide was an all-around dominant effort for coach Dabo Swinney’s team. Clemson's defense allowed some yards to the Crimson Tide offense but held in the red zone and forced two key turnovers. The Tigers picked apart Alabama's secondary thanks to a strong performance from quarterback Trevor Lawrence, while the offensive line held its own against a standout defensive front. And thanks to the victory, Clemson became the first major team since 1897 to finish a season with a 15-0 record.
Clemson went three-and-out on its first possession, but the defense responded by returning an interception for a touchdown to jump out to a 7-0 lead. The Crimson Tide answered with a score on their next drive, but the Tigers always had an answer. With quarterback Trevor Lawrence throwing lasers to a deep and talented receiving corps, Clemson jumped out to a 31-16 lead at halftime.
The second half started with Alabama driving into Clemson territory, but the Tigers came up big on defense once again. With two high-powered offenses leading the way in this matchup, timely stops on third/fourth down and inside of the red zone were crucial to deciding this game in Clemson’s favor.
With a standout defensive line leading the way, Clemson held Alabama scoreless in the second half and stopped three drives inside of the 25-yard line over the final two quarters. The Crimson Tide had a yardage edge for most of the night, but the Tigers eventually eclipsed them in the fourth quarter (482 to 443). Alabama had no trouble moving the ball, averaging 6.1 yards per play and punting only one prior to the fourth quarter. However, the combination of Clemson’s stops inside the red zone, along with a bizarre fake field goal call helped to widen the gap on the scoreboard.
In addition to Clemson’s defensive line, the lethal precision of Lawrence and big-time catches by Justyn Ross was simply too much for Alabama’s defense to handle. Lawrence completed 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards and three scores, with Ross catching six of those for 153 yards and a touchdown. Ross’ 74-yard touchdown reception in the second half was Clemson’s longest pass play of the 2018 season.
Clemson’s offensive line also deserves a ton of credit for the win on Monday night. Alabama’s defensive front did not record a sack, and running back Travis Etienne managed 86 yards on the ground. The matchup between the Tigers’ front five against the Crimson Tide defensive line was a question mark for Swinney’s team. However, Clemson’s starting five certainly held its own (and then some) in the victory.
Offensive Player of the Game: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The switch from Kelly Bryant to Lawrence played a big role in Clemson’s run to the national championship this season. The Tigers struggled to stretch the field in last year’s loss to Alabama but torched this defense for 347 passing yards. Lawrence averaged 17.4 yards per completion and did not throw an interception.
Defensive Player of the Game: Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
Mullen stuffed the stat sheet for Clemson’s defense. He recorded six tackles (one for a loss), forced a fumble, recorded a sack and one interception.