TAMPA — Alabama failed in its bid to win a fifth national championship in eight seasons, losing a 35-31 thriller to Clemson.
A Crimson Tide team that historically doesn’t blow leads under coach Nick Saban did exactly that, as Deshaun Watson hit Hunter Renfrow on a 2-yard touchdown pass with 1 second left in regulation to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Rarely do rematches live up to the hype, especially in the game of college football, but this one did and more. Avenging a 45-40 loss to ‘Bama in last year’s CFP title game, Clemson won its second ring in school history and first since 1981. Watson was nothing short of sensational with 420 yards passing and 4 total touchdowns.
With three lead changes in the last five minutes, a record crowd of 74,512 at Raymond James Stadium certainly got its money’s worth. There were hereos all over the field for both teams, but in the end Watson stood out above all.
So close to winning their 27th consecutive game and yet another trophy, the Tide (14-1) now face the offseason knowing they let this one get away.
WHAT IT MEANS
Alabama was on the verge of potentially breaking the game of college football as we know it. So many national championships in so short a period of time would have been unprecedented, yet it wasn’t meant to be. The Crimson Tide have more four- and five-star talent than any team in the country. However, they didn’t have Watson in this one. Quarterback is the game’s most important position for a reason.
WHAT I LIKED
Despite the final stat line for Watson, it’s not like the Alabama defense played poorly. Reuben Foster was a man possessed. Ryan Anderson made a handful of big plays for the second consecutive game. Rashaan Evans was another standout for the Crimson Tide. They simply got beat down the stretch by Watson, who was helped by a couple of brilliant catches by Mike Williams. Much of what Clemson did offensively, there’s no way to defend it.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Jalen Hurts clearly hit some sort of freshman wall throwing the football once the regular season came to an end. He was shaky at best in the SEC Championship Game against Florida, in the Peach Bowl against Washington and again in the CFP final against Clemson. The conference’s Offensive Player of the Year was just 13-of-31 for 131 yards through the air, and the one touchdown he threw to O.J. Howard came on a busted coverage.
Key play: On Alabama’s go-ahead touchdown drive, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian rolled the dice and called a double pass. After catching a lateral from Hurts, ArDarius Stewart delivered a strike to Howard for a 24-yard gain. On the very next snap, Hurts evaded the Clemson pass rush and scrambled 30 yards for what we thought was the deciding score. Sarkisian’s trick play caught the entire building off guard.
Who’s the man: For Alabama, Bo Scarbrough bounced off a few tacklers to go 25 yards for the game’s initial score. A few drives later, he made it 14-0 with an equally impressive 37-yard TD dash. Injured for so much of his football career and relegated to third-string duty earlier this season, Scarbrough ran for 93 yards on 16 carries before leaving with yet another health issue. Imagine if he were ever 100 percent.
What’s next: Saban will soak in this loss for about 24 hours. After that, he’ll start “The Process” for the 2017 campaign. The man has admitted that he takes very little pleasure in winning. He hates to lose, though. There wasn’t much to hate in his life until today, but now he’s angry. Other coaches won’t like him when he’s angry. Every five-star kid across the land watched this one. Saban will surely be visiting them soon.