Clemson Defeats No. 1 Alabama to Win Second National Championship in Three Years

Alabama has been synonymous with college football in the last decade and the Crimson Tide’s five national championships since 2009 puts it on the short list of the most dominant dynasties in recent memory across all sports. But on Monday night, No. 2 Clemson handed No. 1 Alabama the school’s most lopsided loss, 44-16, since Nick Saban became the Crimson Tide’s head coach in 2007 as the Tigers now reign supreme in the college football.

Clemson became the first FBS team to go 15-0 in a season in the modern era of college football, winning its second national championship in the last three seasons as it defeated Alabama in the final game both times.

The scariest part for the rest of the country is that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who won offensive MVP honors after throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns, is a true freshman, and the Tigers’ top skill position players – namely running back Travis Etienne and wide receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are also underclassmen. Clemson headlines our way-too-early top 25 rankings for 2019.

There have been two dominant forces – Alabama and Clemson – in college football during the College Football Playoff era.

The Crimson Tide have qualified for every four-team playoff.

The Tigers have punched their ticket all but once.

One of the two schools has earned the No. 1 seed in all five years of the playoff and they have combined to earn the No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff rankings in 26 of the 31 weeks since the playoff started.

But Clemson bullied Alabama in the national championship the way it bullied No. 3 Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff Semifinal and most of the ACC throughout the regular season.

The Tigers picked off Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa twice, including a pick-six by defensive MVP Trayvon Mullen on Alabama’s first possession, after Tagovailoa had only thrown four interceptions in his previous 14 games.

Clemson held Alabama to just 4-of-13 on third down conversion attempts and 3-of-6 on fourth down, including three fourth down stops inside of Clemson’s 25-yard line.

The Tigers sniffed out a fake field goal in the middle of the third quarter, which left the Crimson Tide scoreless after a 13-play drive as Alabama tried to sneak third-string quarterback Mac Jones six yards through Clemson’s defense on fourth down.

Clemson chased down Tagovailoa twice on fourth down in the red zone, including a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.

While Alabama had a response for each of Clemson’s touchdowns in the first quarter, which saw four total touchdowns in the game’s action-packed opening nine minutes, the Tigers found a higher gear that the Crimson Tide simply couldn’t match. Clemson scored on five consecutive possessions, while Alabama’s drives in that span resulted in an interception, a punt, the end of the first half and two turnovers on downs.

The cracks showed early in Alabama’s apparent invincibility, starting with Tagovailoa’s pick-six as he misread Clemson’s man coverage.

Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas’ PAT hit the right upright after Tagovailoa found Hale Hentges from one-yard out on a play-action pass. Bulovas later had a kickoff land out of bounds, giving Clemson the ball at its 35-yard line to start a six-play, 65-yard scoring drive.

Trailing by one in the first quarter, Alabama’s Jedrick Willis Jr. got called for a false start on on 2nd & Goal at Clemson’s 1-yard line, which backed the Crimson Tide back to the 6-yard line.

Alabama ultimately settled for a field goal.

Mental and physical errors proved costly for Alabama while Clemson came up with big play after big play.

Freshman wide receiver Justyn Ross had a standout performance with six catches for 153 receiving yards and a touchdown, including a 74-yard catch-and-run on 3rd down in which he sped past Alabama safety Deionte Thompson and later he made a highlight-reel, juggling catch down the sideline on 3rd & 12.

And a one-handed, full extension grad along the sideline may have been the most impressive play of the game.

Alabama’s deep and versatile cast of receivers, headlined by Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, received acclaim throughout the season and heading into the College Football Playoff National Championship but Ross and Tee Higgins were every bit their equals, if not better.

On 3rd & Goal at Alabama’s 5-yard line, Lawrence found Higgins in the end zone by floating the ball over a linebacker and defensive back into the outstretched arms of Higgins.

Clemson had everything that also allowed Alabama to go undefeated en route to the national championship game: a wunderkind quarterback, a young but extremely talented wide receiver corps, a rotation of running backs and a defensive line that can put pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Except the Tigers appeared to be better across the board with their own true freshman quarterback leading them to a national championship and an extremely bright future, like Tagovailoa did for Alabama last season.

While the last two national championship games between Alabama and Clemson were competitive, back-and-forth affairs, the Tigers ran away with this season’s national title and never looked back.

At the very least, Monday’s result indicates there are two powers in college football today but at most, it could signal the shift of power atop the sport with two more seasons of Lawrence suiting up for Clemson.