For the second year in a row, college football’s national championship game produced a thriller and a title game that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. However, this year’s version produced a new champion, as Clemson knocked off Alabama 35-31 to claim the program’s first national title since 1981. The epic battle between the Tigers and Crimson Tide is arguably one of the best championship games since the start of the BCS era, rivaling the Texas-USC showdown in the Rose Bowl after the 2005 season.
Clemson entered this game as a touchdown underdog and looked to be in trouble early after Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough scored twice to give the Crimson Tide a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. However, the Tigers battled back behind quarterback Deshaun Watson. An 87-yard drive midway through the second quarter produced a touchdown run by Watson, cutting the lead to 14-7 before halftime. These two teams went back-and-forth in the third quarter, which included a 68-yard strike from Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to tight end O.J. Howard to give coach Nick Saban’s team a 24-14 lead going into the final 15 minutes.
Despite the 14-point deficit and a suffocating defense on the other side, Clemson continued to chip away behind Watson. A four-yard strike to Mike Williams cut the lead to 24-21 with 14 minutes remaining and another drive later in the quarter resulted in a Wayne Gallman one-yard plunge to give the Tigers a 28-24 lead. The final four minutes produced plenty of back-and-forth drama. A stagnant Alabama offense went 68 yards on six plays, with Hurts scoring on a 30-yard run to take a 31-28 lead with just over two minutes remaining.
However, while Alabama’s defense was the best in the nation in 2016, it just didn’t have enough at the end to slow down Watson or Williams in the clutch. The Tigers quickly moved 68 yards over nine plays, as Watson connected with Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining to give Clemson a 35-31 edge and the national championship.
After falling just short in Glendale, Ariz. last year, Dabo Swinney’s team had the right answers this time around. Clemson gashed the nation’s best defense for 511 overall yards and 99 snaps took a toll on the Crimson Tide’s depth on defense. Additionally, the Tigers went 4-for-4 on red zone trips, converted 7 of 18 third downs, allowed only three points off two turnovers and put the clamps on Alabama’s rushing attack after a rough start.
Clemson didn’t need a national championship to solidify its place among the nation’s best programs in recent years. However, this win only adds to the impressive resume Swinney has pieced together since taking over the job in 2008. The Tigers have won 28 games over the last two years and are bringing the title trophy back to Clemson after a victory in Tampa on Monday night.
What went wrong for Alabama? For a good chunk of the first half, everything was going in favor of the Crimson Tide. The ground attack was hitting on all cylinders behind Bo Scarbrough, and the defense wasn’t giving up big plays to Clemson’s offense. However, Alabama’s offense struggled to find consistency for most of the night, and the defense was simply too tired at the end after facing 99 plays. The Crimson Tide are in great shape to win it all in 2017, but this team was just a stop away from going back-to-back and claiming the program’s fifth national title under Saban.
CFB National Championship Awards
Offensive MVP: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Is there really any doubt? For the second year in a row, Watson was the best player on the field in the national championship game. The junior completed 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards and three scores and added 43 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
Defensive MVP: Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
A couple of Clemson defenders deserve a mention here, but let’s give the nod to Boulware. The senior is the emotional leader for the defense and was critical in getting the defense in the right position to make plays against Alabama’s offense on Monday night. Boulware ended the game with six tackles (two for a loss) and one pass breakup.
Unsung Hero: Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson
It’s hard to call Renfrow an unsung hero since the sophomore caught the game-winning touchdown pass. However, in addition to his 10 catches for 92 yards and two touchdown catches, Renfrow tackled Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson after a fumble recovery, likely preventing another touchdown by the Crimson Tide defense.