NCAA National Championship Game on Sling: Clemson Tigers Get a Chance to Avenge Last Year's Loss to Alabama Crimson Tide

Jan 04, 2017 by Scott Ross

#2 Clemson Tigers (13-1) vs #1 Alabama Crimson Tide (14-0)
8pm ET on ESPN

The Clemson Tigers are coming off one of the great defensive performances of the season, while the Alabama Crimson Tide are a win away from the first 15-0 season in college football since the 1897 Penn Quakers. During last year’s National Championship Game, the Clemson Tigers went up 24-21 on the Alabama Crimson Tide late in the 3rd Quarter, only to get outscored 24-16 in the 4th, suffering their first loss of the season at the worst possible time, 45-40. Can they follow in the footsteps of the Cleveland Cavaliers and exact their revenge? Or will the Alabama Crimson Tide claim their fifth title in eight seasons?

All season long, the Clemson Tigers beat up on unranked teams, outscoring foes by 26.7 points while going 9-1, but doing just enough against ranked opponents, with an average margin of victory of just 5.3 in three games. But in the Fiesta Bowl last week, against the then #2 Ohio State Buckeyes, probably the best team they’ve played all season, Clemson finally delivered a big win against a big team, throwing a 31-0 shutout. Deshaun Watson was not in peak form, connecting on 23 of 36 for 259, 1 TD and 2 interceptions, while picking up 57 yards on the ground, but he came up big in enough spots to tilt the game in Clemson’s favor. Shortly after an amazing run on 2nd-and-12, during which he went sideline to sideline through the Buckeye D to pick up 33 yards, Watson found CJ Fuller, who lept over the coverage to make a spectacular catch in the left-front corner of the end zone, for a 30-yard pass late in the first half to make it 17-0. But the MVP of the game for Clemson may have been defensive coordinator Brent Venables, whose unit had held opponents to 17 points and 307 yards per game throughout the season, both figures in the top eight nationally, before positively strangling the Buckeyes, who managed just 215 total yards for zero points, after averaging 459.2 and 39.4 in their previous 12 games. OSU got inside the Clemson 30 just twice, the first time JT Barrett threw an interception, the second time Mike Weber got tackled for a loss of 2 on 4th-and-1. Clelin Ferrell may have been the actual MVP on defense, however, as he had just 4 tackles, but all were for a loss of yardage, including a sack of Barrett that set OSU back 12 yards.

After each team opened the Peach Bowl by going 3-and-out, the Washington Huskies capped a 64-yard drive with a beautiful 16-yard over-the-shoulder pass from Jake Browning to Dante Pettis in the back right corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead over the Alabama Crimson Tide. That proved to be the Huskies’ lone highlight of the day, as the Tide proceeded to score the next 24 points en route to a 24-7 victory and a shot at the national title. After completing 4 of 5 for 58 yards and a TD on the second drive of the game, Browning was held in check, completing 16 of 33 for 96 yards and 2 interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Ryan Anderson near the end of the first half, and Browning was sacked 5 times. The Tide’s defense was just as tough on the Huskies’ running game, which came into the game averaging 210 yards per game, but was held to just 44. The Tide needed for the defense to step, as starting QB Jalen Hurts was just as ineffective as Browning, connecting on just 7 of 14 for 57 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 sacks, while gaining 50 yards on 19 carries. Fortunately, Bo Scarbrough, who’d been ‘Bama’s #3 rusher behind Damien Harris (141 carries for 1,013 yards, 2 TDs) and Hurts (181 carries for 891 yards, 12 TDs), had the game of his life, rushing 19 times for 180 yards, and 2 TDs, including a 68-yarder early in the 4th that essentially iced the game. One possible hitch for the Tide is that the team on Monday parted ways with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Kiffin had agreed in December to take over as head coach at Florida Atlantic, but stayed with the Tide for the remainder of the season. Kiffin and Alabama coach Nick Saban don’t quite agree on what brought about the timing of Kiffin’s departure, but it appears the ultimate issue was that he was no longer an employee of the school.

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All stats courtesy ESPN and SRCFB.

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