Clemson was led by its star quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who threw for 420 yards despite facing a defense heralded as one of the best ever.
With two minutes left, trailing by 3 points, Watson got the ball at his own 32 and started a drive. Nine plays and 68 yards later, with 1 second on the clock, Hunter Renfrow caught a 2-yard touchdown to win the game.
The drive included six completed passes, notably a 24-yarder to Watson’s favorite target, Mike Williams, and a goal line pass interference call.
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“I’m speechless right now man,” Watson said after the game. “We worked so hard for it; we fell short last year. This game is not just for me, it’s for all the alumni, the fans, my family in Gainesville.”
It was the second big title game in a row for Watson, who threw for 405 yards in a loss in this game against Alabama last season. He is likely to go in the top 5 of the N.F.L. draft this year.
Watson’s Achilles’ heel during the regular season was the interception, but he threw none in this game.
Alabama for its part kept the ball mostly on the ground. Its freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts was 13-31 for only 131 yards.
Alabama had raced to a 14-0 lead on two touchdowns by Bo Scarbrough. Watson cut the lead to 14-7 with a long drive that ended with his touchdown run.
A game that started as a defensive struggle opened up in the second half.
More Watson passing pulled Clemson to within 17-14 on a 24-yard touchdown to Renfrow.
Hurts finally broke through with a 68-yard touchdown to a wide-open O.J. Howard, making it 24-14 Alabama.
Another long Clemson drive concluded with a 4-yard pass from Watson to Williams, and Clemson was back within 3, 24-21.
Clemson seized its first lead in the game, 28-24, as Wayne Gallman punched in a 1-yard touchdown run. The key play in the drive was a 26-yard pass to Williams, boosted by an unsportsmanlike conduct call against Alabama.
Alabama answered like champions with a quick drive. Hurts completed several passes, including a 24-yarder to O.J. Howard. Then he turned to his other strength, running, and barreled past defenders for a 30-yard score.
But that only set up Watson for his two minutes of heroics.
Here’s how Clemson won the championship:
1st Quarter: Bo Scarbrough Gives Crimson Tide 7-0 Lead
Alabama was 25 percent of the way to another national championship, leading Clemson, 7-0, after one quarter in Tampa.
The early stages of the game were mostly dominated by defense, with the exception a lightning quick sequence of five plays that including a 20-yard scramble by quarterback Jalen Hurts and a 25-yard touchdown by Bo Scarbrough to put Alabama in front.
Alabama, led by the freshman quarterback Hurts, mostly moved the ball on the ground. Hurts completed just 2 of 8 passes, for 10 yards. He looked especially ineffective going deep.
Clemson had limited offensive success against the vaunted Alabama defense — quarterback Deshaun Watson was 5-of-7 for 23 yards. It never threatened to score. The Tigers were also hurt by an uninspired failed plunge on fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 41.
The Clemson highlight was probably a partially blocked punt that took an Alabama roll anyway.
Turnovers were expected to be critical in the game, and Clemson had the only one of the quarter, a bobbled snap by quarterback Deshaun Watson that gifted Alabama the ball in Clemson territory with 1:50 left in the period.
2nd Quarter: Deshaun Watson Dents Alabama’s Armor
Alabama held a 14-7 lead at halftime of the College Football Playoff Championship in Tampa.
The game looked as good as won when favored Alabama went up by 14-0 in the second quarter. Alabama was breaking runs and its defense was swamping Clemson’s star quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Alabama did it on the ground, rushing for 143 yards. The freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts was 7-for-16 for only 40 yards.
Watson woke up with a 87-yard drive through the previously impenetrable Alabama defense with six minutes left. He capped it by taking the ball into the end zone himself.
He finished the half 13-23 for 153 yards.
The game was dominated by the defenses, which frustrated most of the game’s drives on both sides.
Watson avoided throwing an interception, which he was often guilty of during the season. Clemson did lose one fumble.
3rd Quarter: Scoring Starts to Heat Up on Both Sides
A poor Alabama punt gave Clemson the ball at Alabama’s 42 and Deshaun Watson took advantage with a quick drive culminating in a 24-yard touchdown to Hunter Renfrow. Watson was up to 228 yards passing.
That drive notwithstanding, defense was generally trumping offense in the second half.
The best drive before the touchdown came from Clemson as Watson led the Tigers from their own 16 to Alabama’s 43. The drive might have gone farther, but a catch for a first down was overruled on review, leaving Clemson with a fourth and short. Watson stayed on the field, and it seemed the Tigers might go for it, but it was a bluff, and Watson punted the ball.
Jalen Hurts of Alabama had barely registered in the first three quarters of the national championship. He was 9-23 for only 49 yards. And Alabama, after racing to a 14-0 lead, was up only 17-14.
Then O.J. Howard badly beat Clemson’s Van Smith, and raced down the sidelines for a 68-yard touchdown. Just like that Hurts more than doubled his yardage for the game and Alabama widened its lead to 24-14 as the third quarter drew to a close.
It was a huge play for Alabama, which had been struggling on offense.
4th Quarter: All Hell Breaks Loose
Watson Takes Over: A mostly defensive game opened up as the third quarter turned into the fourth, with both teams scoring.
After Alabama went up by 24-14 on a 68-yard pass play, Clemson answered with a 72-yard drive consisting mostly of shortish passes from Watson. It finished with a 4-yard pass from Watson to his favorite target all year, Mike Williams.
Watson was up to 294 yards passing, but Alabama still led, 24-21 with 14 minutes left to play.
Gallman Gives Clemson the Lead: T Clemson seized its first lead in the national championship, 28-24, as Wayne Gallman punched in a 1-yard touchdown run.
The key play in the drive was a 26-yard pass to Williams, boosted by an unsportsmanlike conduct call against Alabama.
Watson continued to solve the toughest defense in the country and increased his passing numbers to 30-49 for 360 yards.
Alabama Retakes Lead: Alabama, behind for the first time in the game, answered like champions with a quick drive. Jared Hurts, whose passing had been vastly overshadowed by Deshaun Watson of Clemson, completed several, including a 24-yarder to O.J. Howard.
Then for the touchdown he turned to his other strength, running, and barreled past defenders for a 30-yard score
Alabama led 31-28, but Watson still had an opportunity for a two-minute drill. We all know how that ended.
|Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow caught the winning touchdown with one second remaining against Alabama. Credit John David Mercer/USA Today Sports, via Reuters|
Clemson gets revenge vs. Alabama to win national championship
TAMPA — Breaking down Clemson’s come-from-behind 35-31 win over Alabama in Monday’s national championship game at Raymond James Stadium:
THE BIG PICTURE: Clemson was the better team — on both sides of the ball. And while they say defense wins championship, having arguably the best quarterback in college football on your side helps, too. Over and over, Deshaun Watson put Clemson on his back and willed his team to stay in this game. Watson was battered, bruised and exhausted by the game’s final whistle, but it was all worth it. A year after falling just short of a national championship to this very opponent, Watson got to be the one covered in confetti with a trophy to raise.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Whether Alabama fans can blame this loss on Lane Kiffin. We’ll never know what would have happened if Kiffin called the game, and if that might have magically turned true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts into a great passer. But Nick Saban’s big gamble — firing Kiffin and bringing in Steve Sarkisian as the offensive coordinator a week before the title game — didn’t pay off. Alabama’s offense was unimpressive, which it’s been multiple times this season without mattering — due to that terrific defense. But against a team as potent as Clemson, you’ve got to have enough weapons to win a shootout.
STAR POWER: Watson said he wanted to win the trophy nobody votes on — and he did everything he possibly could to put Clemson in position to win it. And it worked. Watson finished with a heck of a stat line — 36-of-56 for 420 yards and three touchdowns, plus 43 yards rushing — in the most important game of his career.
STAR POWER II: How about Hunter Renfrow? Two touchdown catches on the day, including the game winner with one second left in the game. The former walk-on teamed with Watson to pick apart one of the best defenses in college football history.
KEY INJURY: Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough, who scored two first-half touchdowns to give Alabama the early lead, was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with a lower leg injury. He finished with 93 rushing yards. Scarbrough was the key factor for the Tide in the win against Washington in the semifinals.
KEY STAT: Nick Saban is now 12-2 in title games, which include five national championships. His only loss before Monday? The 2008 SEC title game.
Alabama vs. Clemson final score, highlights: Tigers win 2017 national championship
Deshaun Watson never won the Heisman Trophy but consistently told everyone who would listen he believed he was the best player in college football.
After leading Clemson back from a two-touchdown deficit and taking down the kings of college football to deliver the Tigers their first national title since 1981, no one is going to argue with him. Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 on Monday night in a game for the ages, and it was Watson's 420 passing yards, 43 rushing yards and four total touchdowns (three passing) that ensured the Tigers won the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship.
One year after putting up 478 yards on Alabama in a five-point loss, Watson calmly led the Tigers back and wore Alabama down with a performance that will cement his legacy as one of the greatest individual players in college football history. It was Deshaun and Dabo who handed Nick Saban his first loss in a national championship game and first loss in any type of title game (SEC, BCS or CFP) since the 2008 SEC Championship Game.
The biggest plays for Alabama came on defense, mostly early in the game, as Ryan Anderson, Da'Ron Payne and Reuben Foster showed incredible instincts, closing speed and hard hitting in the open field to keep Watson contained. It didn't last for long as, after a slow start, Watson connected on 11 of his first 15 throws in the second half, including touchdowns to Hunter Renfrow and Mike Williams.
The field position battle, which Clemson lost decisively before halftime, became the name of the game as Alabama's offense spun its wheels through a tense final act. Quarterback Jalen Hurts made some bad reads, Alabama wide receivers had some bad drops, and instead of wilting as the game progressed, the Clemson defensive front only got stronger and more stout against the Tide's downhill rushing attack.
There were also several examples of game number 15 taking its toll on these two physical teams, especially in a contest that dragged into the early hours of Tuesday. In the big picture these minor injuries would seem less impactful, but losing Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell and Alabama star running back Bo Scarbrough from the contest no doubt played a huge role in the outcome. The final quarter was a test of conditioning and team strength, both physical and mental, with lots of hands on hips and slow recoveries after hard hits.
As the defenses wore down, the game was put in the hands of the quarterbacks. While Hurts struggled to connect on downfield pass attempts, ]Watson reminded everyone why there's been no one better during the last two seasons. He picked apart Alabama on the edges, ran away from the Tide pass rushers -- often spinning out from a would-be sack but still ending plays on the ground after letting a pass go -- and gave Clemson its first lead of the game at the 4:38 mark in the fourth quarter.
Alabama responded with a touchdown drive powered by a trick play, a wide receiver pass from ArDarius Stewart to O.J. Howard, and a long Hurts touchdown run. For Hurts, who finished the game completing just 13-of-31 passes 131 yards, it seemed like a redemption moment on the ground in a game where the Tide's passing attack was lacking both intimidation and effectiveness.
Watson finished the game by hitting 36-of-56 passes without tossing a single interception. For those keeping score, in his two games against Alabama's defense -- widely considered the best in the sport -- Watson totaled 898 yards of offense. This time, it resulted in a national championship.