Clemson won its second national championship in three seasons and did it in style, handing Nick Saban his worst loss at Alabama as the Tigers dethroned the Crimson Tide 44-16 on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell scored on a 44-yard interception return on the game’s opening possession, running back Travis Etienne scored three first-half touchdowns, true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence passed for 347 yards, and Justyn Ross put on a show with 153 receiving yards.
Lawrence, who took over as the starter in the fifth game of the season, was unflappable en route to becoming the second true freshman quarterback to lead his team to the national title, joining Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985.
He humbled Alabama’s all-star defense, completing 20 of 32 passes with three touchdowns, including a precision 5-yard pass into the end zone to Tee Higgins to push the lead to 44-16 late in the third quarter.
Clemson won its third national title and the second under coach Dabo Swinney, whose team eked out a last-second victory over Alabama in the 2016 title game. This time, the margin of victory was nearly unthinkable.
The Crimson Tide had never lost by more than 14 points during the 12-year tenure of Saban, who was going for a record seventh national championship to break a tie with Tide legend Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted twice in the first half after being picked off just four times on 321 passes entering the game.
Clemson’s domination was such that it turned away Alabama three times on fourth down in the second half, including on a fake field goal and after the Tide had second-and-goal at the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
This was the fourth meeting in the College Football Playoff in four seasons between Alabama and Clemson, with each team winning twice. The Tigers are 2-1 in title matchups, with the Tide also winning a semifinal game last season.
With this game billed as a heavyweight rematch in the tradition of Ali-Frazier, the knockout blows might have been a 1-2 combination: Lawrence connected with Ross on a 74-yard scoring pass for a 37-16 lead in the third quarter three plays after Clemson easily sniffed out Alabama’s fake field goal attempt on fourth-and-6 from the 22.
Etienne ran for 86 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts, also catching a 5-yard TD pass.
Each team came out throwing haymakers, with Clemson landing first with Terrell’s 44-yard interception return for a touchdown just 1:40 into the game.
Alabama gained 224 yards in the first quarter but just 42 in the second as Clemson took control on both sides. The Tigers scored the final 17 points of the half, led 31-16 at the break, then shut out Alabama in the second half.
–Field Level Media