It was seen as Alabama power vs. Clemson speed. It turned out to be so much more than that. Clemson proved why they were #1 in all six committee rankings, and Alabama proved why they were seen as the favorite. What we got was a rarity, with two great teams who each played great when it mattered the most.
The Alabama Crimson Tide won their 11th official National Championship, 16th overall, by defeating the Clemson Tigers in a 45-40 thriller in the second College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T, Monday night in Glendale, Arizona. It is the fifth championship for Coach Nick Saban, and the fourth at Alabama in the last seven years.
But what made this game was the case of Clemson being better than we thought. It was in no way overpowered by Alabama, and perhaps faster. The only exception in power perhaps was with Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and the only exception in speed was maybe Kenyan Drake. More on them in a moment. The real difference in this game was on the sideline.
With the game tied at 24 in the third quarter, and Clemson dictating play especially when they had the ball, Saban made a fateful decision. Just as New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton had done at the start of the second half of Super Bowl XLIV against the Colts, Saban called for a surprise onside kick. Adam Griffith’s pooch kick landed softly in the arms of Marlon Humphrey. Two plays later quarterback Jake Coker hit tight end O.J. Howard over the middle for a 51-yard score that put the Tide ahead for good. The resilient Tigers scratched forth a field goal to cut the margin to four, and then Drake returned Clemson’s one returnable kick of the night to the house. As for Henry, he put his stamp on this game early on. Used primarily as a decoy in the Cotton Bowl semifinal win over Michigan State, he was the focal point of the offense against Clemson. On Alabama’s second possession, he burst through the line for a 50-yard touchdown right through the heart of the Tigers defense for the first score of the night. In the second quarter, he provided a tying touchdown, leaping over from the one following the game’s only turnover, an Eddie Jackson interception of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Henry bulled his way in from the one again to provide the final margin of victory. On the night he rushed for 158 yards on 36 carries, with three touchdowns.
Deshaun Watson however, was the best player on the field. He constantly dazzled with his athletic ability and running prowess, often setting up big plays downfield. For the night, Watson passed for 405 yards while rushing for 73 more, with his 478 total yards providing a new record for a national championship game. But his heroics were not enough. Nothing anyone on the field in orange could have been it seems with Saban on the other side.
Coker lived a dream, always wanting exactly what he got, to be the Alabama quarterback and delivering a title. Though he struggled early, holding the ball too long and being too indecisive, Coker passed for 335 yards. Howard caught all five passes he was targeted on, for 208 yards, and two scores in capturing offensive MVP honors. It was the first two touchdowns for Howard since 2013, and they will long be remembered. Jackson with his interception won defensive MVP.