Here are some quick thoughts on Alabama’s 45-40 win against Clemson on Monday night to win the national championship:
What it means: Nick Saban has done it again. A fourth national championship since taking over the Crimson Tide program back in 2007 should cement his place alongside Bear Bryant as an Alabama legend. We knew this was the best team in the country for most of the season, it just had to play itself out on the field. As for Clemson, we learned that Dabo Swinney truly has this program playing at an elite level. The Tigers played with the Crimson Tide blow-for-blow the entire night.
What I liked:
- The Heisman Trophy showdown between Alabama RB Derrick Henry and Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. It not only lived up to the billing of being two of the three best players in college football, but it was truly exciting to watch. Each turned in tremendous performances.
- Former Alabama RB Mark Ingram and former Clemson RB C.J. Spiller serving as pregame captains. It was nice to see guys that were such a big part of their programs, who now serve as ambassadors for those programs as teammates with the New Orleans Saints, coming together for a nice moment.
- Derrick Henry’s 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Not only did it punch the Tigers in the mouth, but it also extended the Heisman winner’s streak to 20 consecutive games with a touchdown run. That’s an SEC record that will be hard to break.
- Speaking of records, Henry also set the Alabama all-time rushing record in the third quarter of the game, surpassing Crimson Tide great Shaun Alexander (3,565 yards).
- D.J. Pettway found a way to get his fingers on a 44-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half, stopping its momentum just enough for the ball to fall short and preserve a 14-14 tie.
- Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin received an opportunity to “call his shot” in this one, throwing his hands up celebrating a called touchdown pass prior to the play being finished on TE O.J. Howard’s 53-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
- DB Ronnie Harrison made a fantastic play on a perfect third-quarter throw by Deshaun Watson, breaking up a touchdown connection by getting his hand on the football on a third-down pass to Artavis Scott in the end zone. It forced the Tigers to instead attempt a field goal, keeping the Crimson Tide in front at the time.
- Jake Coker dropped a perfect throw to Ar’Darius Stewart on a third-and-11 early in the fourth quarter, connecting for a beautiful 38-yard reception. It set up a field goal that tied the game at 24-24 with 10:34 remaining.
- Following a successful 33-yard field goal to tie the game with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the game, Alabama K Adam Griffith executed a perfect onside kick, which caught Clemson by complete surprise and was recovered by Marlon Humphrey. The Crimson Tide took the lead as a result of the play, with Jake Coker finding O.J. Howard for a big touchdown pass just a few plays later.
- Facing a third-and-3 with the game on the line, Jake Coker tucked and went head first for a first down with just over two minutes left in the game to help secure the win on Derrick Henry’s third touchdown of the game.
What I didn’t like:
- The two first-quarter touchdown catches made by Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow. The former walk-on really worked the vaunted Alabama secondary, specifically five-star recruit Minkah Fitzpatrick.
- It favored Alabama, but the way the clock was handled at the end of the first half was disappointing. The clock was supposed to stop after Clemson gained a first down, but it appeared to keep running even though the chains were not set, causing Dabo Swinney to use his final timeout and kick a field goal with nine seconds remaining. Clemson should have been able to run one more play.
- Jake Coker was not very proficient at getting rid of the football in the early going. Nick Saban complained about the negative plays his quarterback was taking during his interview going into the half, saying his quarterback needed to do a better job of checking down and avoiding negative plays.
- Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander left the game in the first half due to his left hamstring injury and was unable to return. He had hamstring issues coming into the game, and the hope was that we’d get to see one of the nation’s elite cover corners take on Calvin Ridley for the duration of the game.
- Alabama was unable to consistently stop Deshaun Watson on the ground. He was able to extend drives with his feet, and the quick pace at which he was able to work kept the Crimson Tide defense on its heels for much of the night.
Who’s the man: Alabama TE O.J. Howard. He entered the game without a touchdown catch on the season, but he picked the perfect time to have a breakout performance. The junior had five catches for 208 yards and two critical touchdowns. Both came in the second half, both were more than 50 yards and both put the Crimson Tide in the lead.
Key play: Following a Clemson field goal that brought the Tigers within four points in the fourth quarter at 31-27, Alabama RB Kenyan Drake returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. The return extended the Crimson Tide lead to 38-27 with 7:31 remaining in the game. It wasn’t the last score of the game, but stretching that lead to 11 points was crucial.
What’s next: Celebration in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide is back on top of the college football world with its first national title since the 2012 season and the fourth under Nick Saban’s direction. The SEC as a whole has reason to celebrate as well, using a 9-2 bowl season that was capped with a national championship to reinforce that it is still the elite conference in college football. Alabama opens the 2016 season against USC at AT&T Stadium in Texas. We can’t wait.