TAMPA, Fla.– The yelling from strength coach Scott Cochran, the discipline from coach Nick Saban and the intensity from defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt all push toward one thing: excellence in the fourth quarter.
A quarter that usually belongs to Alabama, or at least that’s what we thought before Monday night.
Terms like dominant, fierce and stellar were used all year to describe the Crimson Tide’s defense, but when the game was on the line—it cracked. For a unit that allowed 11.8 points a contest, quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers scored 21 points in the final period. A mental mistake from defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne (personal foul) and a rough time covering receivers down the stretch, ultimately doomed Saban and company in the second half. After not playing last season, both Mike Williams and Deon Cain stepped up.
Both receivers totaled 94 yards each for the Tigers, while Williams secured his 11th touchdown reception of the season. Winning jump ball opportunities, creating space against zone coverages and drawing penalties all were a culmination to helping Watson’s targets get in rhythm. Former walk-on receiver Hunter Renfrow will go down in Clemson folklore, as he burns Alabama for a second straight national title game. The sophomore grabbed 10 passes for 92 and two scores, while giving junior defensive back Tony Brown all kinds of problems.
During its final series, Watson was able to connect with both Williams and tight end Jordan Leggett to get Clemson inside the Tide’s 10-yard line. A pass interference foul against Anthony Averett would set up a first and goal with two yards to go, cuing Renfrow’s biggest moment. He snagged a two-yard pass from Watson, to give Clemson a 35-31 lead with six second left in regulation. Despite struggles early on, Watson finished the game with 420 passing yards and four total touchdowns (one rushing). Saban bites the dust for the first time six tries in a national championship game, and it was the usual tenacious defense that simply failed to deliver.