Alabama is heading to its sixth national championship game in the past eight seasons.
The Tide easily handled Clemson 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night. It was the third-straight playoff meeting between the two teams (Alabama now leads the series 2-1) and sets up an all-SEC National Championship Game between the Crimson Tide and Georgia, who beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
Here are five key moments from Alabama’s win over Clemson
5. Clemson’s first field goal
Alabama jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first half after forcing punts on the Tigers’ first two possessions. Clemson desperately needed to score to keep Alabama from going up two touchdowns or, at worst, three scores in the first half.
Clemson was able to get on the board with 10 minutes to go in the second quarter, but it was a slog to do so. And also a sign of how tough things would be against Alabama’s defense.
Alex Spence’s 44-yard field goal to make the game 10-3 came after a 13-play drive that covered just 54 yards. That yardage total also ended up being more than a quarter of what the Tigers accumulated all game too. Clemson ended the game with just 188 yards of offense.
4. Alabama’s fumble to start the second half
Alabama had a chance to go up 13-3 at halftime, but Andy Pappanastos’ field goal at the end of the half hit the left upright. But the Tide got the ball to start the second half while leading 10-3 and had a great chance to increase the margin to double digits again right after halftime.
That didn’t happen as planned. Alabama’s first offensive play of the half was a miscommunication on a handoff between quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Damien Harris. The dropped ball was recovered by Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph and the Tigers converted the field position and possession into a field goal.
3. DaRon Payne’s interception
Things were going Clemson’s way after that field goal. Trailing 10-6, the Tigers forced Alabama to punt and made their way to the Alabama 35. A field goal would make it a one-point game and a touchdown would put the Tigers in the lead.
Neither of those things came close to happening. As Kelly Bryant went to pass he was hit and the ball fluttered out of his hands and into the arms of Alabama defensive lineman DaRon Payne.
Payne rumbled to the Clemson 42 and the Tide took over at the Clemson 27 after a horsecollar penalty on the tackle.
2. Payne’s touchdown
Seven plays after Payne’s pick, he entered the game as a running back on a second and goal play from the Clemson one. After motioning to the right side of the formation, Payne got a little help from a good block (or pick if you’re a Clemson fan) from fellow defensive lineman Quinnen Williams and caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Hurts to give the Tide a 17-6 lead.
1. Mack Wilson’s interception
Clemson still had plenty of time to mount a comeback after Payne’s touchdown, which came with 5:40 to go in the third quarter. The Tigers took over on their own 13 after a poor kickoff return by Travis Etienne and Bryant dropped back to pass on the first play.
The pass was deflected up into the air and picked off by Alabama defensive back Mack Wilson, who ran 18 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly that three-score deficit the Tigers had been staving off all evening was a reality.
And Clemson never recovered.
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