Alabama fans will be drinking a lot of orange juice this week.
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin usually has the Crimson Tide’s offense revolved around running back Derrick Henry and wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but a special player emerged Monday against Clemson at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Tight end O.J. Howard was a huge sign for Alabama in its 2013 recruiting class. At 6-foot-6, 242 pounds, the Prattville (Ala.) native has the ability to create highlight plays but he was saved for a special moment. He entered the national title game with 33 receptions for 394 yards, but left Arizona on a career-high performance and a solid NFL Draft if he declares.
Clemson’s concern for Ridley and ArDarius Stewart put Howard in attack mode. He showcased reliable hands and incredible speed, averaging a monstrous 41.6 yards per catch.
Quarterback Jacob Coker found Howard on five of his 16 completions, resulting in 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Both of his scores happened in the second half, courtesy of Coker finding him on throws of 53 and 51 yards.
"It felt like a dream. When I got to the sideline I told everyone to wake me up because I didn't think it was real." pic.twitter.com/SCJGwt92Th
— College Football Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) January 12, 2016
The Crimson Tide would regain the lead on both plays.
AJ McCarron was the last quarterback to find Howard for a score prior to Monday night. He caught a 10-yard slant pattern and out ran LSU’s defense for a 52-yard touchdown in 2013. He returned this week with the strongest outing of his career. Postseason action has given Howard his swagger back.
The junior chimed in with eight catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games. He propelled Alabama to its fourth national championship under Saban and was awarded with most valuable player honors on offense. Saban’s 2013 recruiting class pulls through for a national title and Howard was its catalyst against Clemson.