Perfection: Tigers blowout Bama for first 15-0 season in modern era


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Travis Etienne helps propel Clemson to the national title
Travis Etienne helps propel Clemson to the national title

SANTA CLARA, CA – Perfection.

No. 2 Clemson played lights out on offense and made critical stops on defense in routing No. 1 Alabama 44-16 Monday night at Levi's Stadium, the program's second football National Championship in the last three seasons and third overall (1981). With the win, Clemson improves to 15-0 and becomes the first team in college football history to go 15-0 in a season. No major college football team has won 15 games since the 19th century, when Penn posted a 15-0 mark in 1897.

Alabama had never lost a game by more than 14 points under Nick Saban, but the Tigers outscored Alabama 30-3 over the second and third quarters in running away with the win. It was the largest margin of loss since Florida won 44-15 in 2001 when Saban was at LSU.

The Tigers were forced into a 3-and-out on the opening kickoff and following a punt, the Crimson Tide picked up a quick first down on two plays. The third play was all Clemson. Tagovailoa’s pass into the flat was intercepted by AJ Terrell, who returned it 44 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The interception was just the fifth for Tagovailoa this season, and Terrell’s third of the year. It was just the 2nd turnover by the Alabama offensive unit in 415 snaps in title games under Nick Saban.

That marked the first defensive touchdown scored in a national championship game since the 2010 BCS Championship Game (2009 season) when Alabama's Marcell Dareus returned an interception for a score against Texas.

It took Alabama just three plays to respond, with Tagovailoa hitting Jerry Jeudy in stride for a 62-yard touchdown strike, and with 12:05 to play in the first quarter the score was tied at 7-7.

The Tigers took just 90 seconds to respond. A personal foul penalty pinned the Tigers deep, but Lawrence hit a wide-open Tee Higgins over the middle for a 62-yard gain that reached the Bama 17-yard line. Travis Etienne took care of the rest with a 17-yard scoring run and Clemson led 14-7 with 10:35 to play in the first quarter.

The Crimson Tide put together another solid drive and scored on a one-yard pass to Hale Hentges. The extra point clanged off the goal post, however, and Clemson led 14-13 with 6:23 to play in the first quarter. The missed point after was the ninth of the season for Bama.

The Tigers were forced into another 3-and-out and Alabama got a 25-yard field goal to lead 16-14 with 14:18 to play in the half.

Alabama’s kickoff went out of bounds, and a quick pass interference penalty put the ball at midfield for the Tigers. The second play was a 26-yard screen pass to Tavien Feaster, and two plays later Lawrence hit Higgins on a 14-yard gain to the 5-yard line. Two plays later Etienne bullied his way into the end zone from the one and Clemson was back in front. With 11:38 to play in the half Clemson held a 21-16 lead.

That rushing touchdown was the 49th of the season for Clemson, the most by any team in ACC history.

Bama put together another strong drive, but it ended with another interception. Tagovailoa overthrew his receiver and Trayvon Mullen played the ball like a centerfielder, catching the ball over his shoulder and returning it 46 yards to the Alabama 47.

Clemson put together an eight-play drive, including a 26-yard pass to Amari Rodgers to the Alabama five-yard line. Two plays later Lawrence tossed a shovel pass to Etienne for the five-yard score and Clemson led 28-16 with 4:38 to play in the half.

Clemson’s defense held the Tide again – this time a corner blitz on third down forced a Bama punt – and the Tigers called timeout to try and score points before the half. Clemson took over deep in its own territory but put together an eight-play drive that ended with a 36-yard Greg Huegel field goal. With 45 seconds left in the half, Clemson led 31-16.

Alabama took the opening drive of the second half to the Clemson 22, but a third-down incompletion put Bama in a 4th-and-6 at the 22. The Tide ran out the field goal unit, but instead of kicking it the Tide ran a fake that was snuffed out for a two-yard loss and Clemson took over at its own 24 with 9:47 to play in the third quarter.

Facing a 3rd-and-8 at their own 26, the Tigers needed a big play and got it. Alabama brought a blitz that forced Lawrence to throw off his back foot. The defender on the right boundary slipped, and Lawrence’s throw sailed into the hands of the Alabama native Ross, who sprinted 74 yards into the end zone for the score. The extra point was missed and Clemson held a 37-16 lead. The pass play was the longest in Clemson bowl history – the previous mark was 68 yards in the 1959 Bluebonnet Bowl.

The Crimson Tide needed a score in the worst way and marched straight down the field. Facing a 4th-and-4 at the Clemson 14, the Tide elected to go for the first down instead of the field goal. Tagovailoa dropped back to pass and was flushed from the pocket. He made a desperate attempt for the first down but fell a yard short and the Tigers took over at their own 11.

Lawrence and Ross then started to put on a show. Lawrence hit Ross on a 37-yarder that the freshman tipped to himself, then caught another with one hand as he fell out of bounds that covered 17 yards. A few plays later, Lawrence hit Higgins on a five-yard strike and the Tigers led 44-16 late in the third quarter. The drive covered 12 plays and 89 yards.

The Tide once again rolled down the field and had it 1st-and-goal. However, Clemson’s defense stiffened and the Tide faced a 4th-and-goal from the two. The Alabama coaches ran Tagovailoa out to the left and he was wrapped up by Clelin Ferrell for a 7-yard loss.



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