Clemson has its second national championship in three seasons.
Unlike in 2017, when a touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow with one second left was necessary to secure a victory over Alabama, Clemson’s win Monday night over Alabama was over not long after the fourth quarter began in a 44-16 blowout win over the Crimson Tide.
It’s the first time an Alabama team coached by Nick Saban has lost by more than 14 points. And it’s the first time in major college football history that a team has finished a season 15-0.
Clemson’s performance was powered by dynamic plays from its two freshmen offensive stars. And in a second-half defensive performance that will go down in Clemson lore. Alabama (14-1) turned the ball over on downs three times inside the Clemson 25-yard-line.
Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns. One of those scores went to Justyn Ross, who caught a short pass from Lawrence and took it 74 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to extend the Tigers’ lead to 37-16. The score came three plays after Alabama made the odd decision to go for a fake field goal when Clemson’s defense was waiting for it.
Alabama drove down the field after Ross’ touchdown but got stifled in the red zone again. Clemson’s defense held as the Tide approached the end zone and Tua Tagovailoa’s scramble towards the sticks was stopped a yard short by a cavalcade of Clemson defenders.
Ross went HAM after that. The freshman made two crazy catches on third downs on Clemson’s next drive. The drive ended when Lawrence tossed his third touchdown of the evening, a five-yard score to Tee Higgins. Ross finished the game with 153 yards receiving.
Lawrence was named the game’s offensive MVP. He’s the first freshman quarterback to start for a national champion since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985.
Tagovailoa throws two interceptions
Perhaps Alabama’s opening possession was a sign. Tagovailoa threw a pick-six on the Tide’s first possession of the game as a pass meant for Jerry Jeudy was caught by A.J. Terrell and returned for a touchdown.
Tagovailoa bounced back on the next drive and found Jeudy for a long touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. But he threw his second interception of the day in the second quarter and with the Tide trailing 21-16.
Trayvon Mullen’s pick set up a short field for Clemson, who took advantage and went up 28-16 on a pass from Lawrence to running back Travis Etienne. The possession that ended with Tagovailoa’s second interception was the last time Alabama would be within a single score for the rest of the night.
The Tide did have one last gasp after Higgins’ touchdown and Tagovailoa led Alabama down the field in short order. But just like it had on the previous two drives, Clemson’s defense came up huge and Tagovailoa was sacked for a loss on fourth and goal.
Tagovailoa was replaced on Alabama’s next drive by Jalen Hurts. He finished the game 22-of-34 passing for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
Clemson ties Alabama for most playoff titles
The national championship is the third in Clemson history and ties the Tigers with Alabama for the most titles in the College Football Playoff era. Only Ohio State, who won the inaugural playoff after the 2014 season, has also won a playoff title.
The Clemson win keeps Saban tied with Bear Bryant for the most national championships by a college football coach and cements the Tigers and coach Dabo Swinney as Saban’s biggest foil. Especially when you consider how Monday night’s game played out. Thee were no last-second touchdowns or fluke plays needed in this one. Clemson straight-up beat Alabama in every facet of the game.
Alabama went scoreless in the second half
It’s the worst blowout of Saban’s career at Alabama and it’s not even close. Until Monday night, a 31-17 loss in the 2009 Sugar Bowl to Utah, a 35-21 loss to South Carolina in 2010 and a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl stood as the largest losses of Saban’s Alabama tenure.
It’s also the first scoreless half for an Alabama team since Nov. 5, 2016, when Alabama and LSU went into halftime of their matchup at 0-0. Alabama won that game 10-0.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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