Alabama DBs were huge question mark. Clemson had every answer
The quarterback was surgical, finding the right receivers at the right times. The offensive line kept that quarterback clean all night. The receivers gained a ton of yards after the catch.
It was another impressive offensive showing in an Alabama game.
But this time the Crimson Tide’s secondary, not the opposition’s, took the worst of it.
Clemson’s 44-16 victory over Alabama on Monday night in the College Football Playoff Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif., exposed the Crimson Tide secondary in a way that many Alabama fans had feared all season. Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence outdueled heralded Alabama counterpart Tua Tagovailoa, who was intercepted twice, including one Clemson returned for a touchdown and the game’s first points.
The funny thing is, certain stat lines from Monday would indicate a game in which Alabama got exactly what it wanted. The Crimson Tide held the ball for 31:37, out-rushed the Tigers 148-135 and had 23 first downs to 21 for Clemson.
So what was the difference? Two true freshmen wearing white and orange were the difference.
Lawrence was 20-of-32 for 347 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. And he might not even have been the freshman who made the Crimson Tide look bad the most often. Wide receiver Justyn Ross — a native of Phenix City, Ala. — had 6 catches for 153 yards including a 74-yard touchdown.
153 receiving yards is the most Alabama has allowed to one player this season 👀 pic.twitter.com/k82m22uM3H
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) January 8, 2019
The touchdown wasn’t even the most mind-boggling play Ross made. Ross beat freshman cornerback Josh Jobe for a juggling one-handed catch, then did it again. Ross got just ahead of Jobe on both patterns near the sideline.
On 3rd-and-8 in the third quarter, with Clemson leading 31-16, Ross outraced safeties Deionte Thompson and Jared Mayden to the end zone after a short catch. The worst part for Alabama was that Saivion Smith, initially covering Ross on the play, crumpled in a heap as Ross took off toward the end zone. Smith, a junior cornerback, was carted off with a leg injury.
One of the most critical and telling stats of the game was Clemson’s success on third down. The Tigers converted 10-of-15 opportunities, and it wasn’t just that they converted them but when and how.
A 62-yard completion to Tee Higgins on 3rd-and-14 in the first quarter. A 14-yard throw to Higgins on 3rd-and-5 early in the second quarter. A 5-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow on 3rd-and-2. On the same drive, a 26-yarder to Amari Rogers on 3rd-and-7, leading to a 5-yard TD pass to Travis Etienne two plays later.
And that was just in the first half. The long touchdown from Lawrence to Ross in the third quarter was the dagger for the Alabama secondary. The Tigers converted three more third downs on their final TD drive, with the last one a 5-yard TD pass to Higgins on which the receiver beat two defenders and Lawrence perfectly lobbed the ball over linebacker Mack Wilson.
This game was as bad as Alabama’s secondary has been beaten in a long time. Lawrence became just the 13th quarterback to throw for 300 yards and 3 TDs in the same game against a Saban team. The biggest question mark for the team’s defense all season, indeed the biggest question on the whole team except the kicking game, was in the defensive backfield.
On Monday, Clemson answered those questions emphatically, making the Crimson Tide pay on the sport’s biggest stage.