LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – So it’s true. There was one dominant team in college football this season. It’s just not the team most people thought.
It was Clemson, not Crimson. Coach Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers handed Nick Saban his worst loss as Alabama coach, riding a dominant defense and a true freshman quarterback to a resounding 44-16 victory before a crowd of 74,814 in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
All season, Swinney had played up Clemson’s underdog status, at least where Alabama is concerned. If Alabama was driving the bus in college football, he said, he harked back to his playing days when he rode the “ROY” bus as a player at Alabama – with “ROY” standing for “Rest of ‘Yall.” It was the bus reserved for reserved.
On Monday night in Santa Clara, Clemson got behind the wheel of college football. With its second College Football Playoff championship in three years, Clemson ascends to the role of primary power in the college game. Though Alabama is never far away.
“I know we’re not supposed to be here,” Swinney told ESPN after the game. “We’re just little ol’ Clemson. . . . We rode the ROY bus to wherever the heck California we are. . . . We’re proud members of the ROY bus. And all these other teams, I hope you get a little hope from us, a little inspiration. You can’t write a Hollywood script like this. Only God could write it. . . . If we can do this, anyone can.”
Clemson true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was flawless, throwing for three touchdowns without an interception. He completed 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards, hitting nine different receivers, six of them multiple times, and freshman receiver Justyn Ross – an Alabama native – six times for 153 yards.
The Tigers reeled off multiple big plays – Lawrence had completions of 74 and 62 yards, and A.J. Terrell intercepted Alabama on its third play from scrimmage and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown to open the game’s scoring.
The game was close early. An Alabama field goal in the opening minute of the second quarter put the Tide up 16-14. But Alabama would not score again. Clemson scored 31 straight points, starting with a pair of Travis Etienne touchdown runs. Etienne carried 14 times for 86 yards, an average of 6.1 yards per carry against the highly-rated Alabama defense.
Clemson led 31-16 at the half. Attempting to start a comeback early in the second half, Alabama faked a field goal on fourth and six, running the ball with the kicker on a play that had little chance. And after that, Alabama had little chance.
“Alabama is Alabama,” Swinney said. “But I felt like we had the better team. And these young men just kept getting after it. They never stopped.”
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, who came on in relief in the title game a year ago to lead the Tide to the victory, competed 22 of 34 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns, but the two interceptions he threw led to 14 Clemson points, and helped spark the Tiger blowout.
An Alabama team that was unruffled all season came unraveled against Clemson, and its talented defense. Clemson put pressure on defense with big offensive plays, and applied the clamps defensively, when it smelled desperation from the Tide.
Clemson went 10 of 15 on third down, Alabama just 4 of 13. In the end, the Tigers had too much big-play ability – on both sides of the ball.
And now, a program that for years was known for finding a way to lose big games, now is the top big-game program in America. And it may not be finished.
“We’re going to enjoy this win tonight,” Swinney said. “But on Friday we’re going to have a team meeting, and we’re going to talk about how we can do this next year.”
With Lawrence and many offensive playmakers coming back, the Tigers will have a lot to talk about.
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