Alabama's Defense Gets Torched By Clemson In National Championship Game (Video Inside!)

Alabama's defense had an uncharacteristically poor performance in the national championship game rout against Clemson.

     
 

With its high-octane offense, Alabama could afford to field a strong but less-than-overwhelming defense this season; a unit that ranked 10th in the nation in yards per game given up and fourth in opponents’ points.

What the Crimson Tide couldn’t afford in the national championship game against Clemson was this:

♦ 44 points allowed, their second-highest total ever under coach Nick Saban.

♦ Clemson passes of 62 and 74 yards, after Alabama yielded only one completion of at least 60 yards all season.

♦ Virtually no pressure on quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who finished with a rating of 184.5 in becoming just the second true freshman QB to claim a victory in a national title game.

Alabama could point to plenty of reasons for its spectacular pratfall in a 44-16 loss to the Tigers in Monday’s College Football Playoff championship game, including an inexplicable disappearance in the final three quarters by its once-formidable offense, which scored three points in that span.

But the guys in charge of keeping the opponents out of the end zone deserves a fair amount of the blame as well.

An average effort by the Crimson Tide defenders — yielding 295 yards and about 15 points — certainly would have put them in position to claim the school’s sixth national title in a decade.

Instead, Clemson racked up 482 yards and Lawrence earned offensive player of the game honors by going 20-for-32 for 347 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions.

Even more telling, the Tigers went 10-for-15 in third-down conversions, in addition to cashing in on their one fourth-down try.

“We didn’t play well enough on defense to win, because if you can’t get off the field on third down, you’re going to have a hard time when you’re playing against a good team,’’ Saban said.

With Outland Trophy winner Quinnen Williams anchoring a line that also features defensive end Isaiah Buggs (team-high 9 ½ sacks), the Tide were expected to pressure and try to rattle Lawrence, one of the nation’s top recruits last year but a freshman nonetheless.

And indeed, Lawrence misfired on five of his seven first-quarter passes, though the Tigers still led 14-13 after the opening 15 minutes. Then they took over with 17 second-quarter points, as Lawrence started finding the range. In the final three quarters, he completed 18 of his 25 attempts for 277 yards and three TDs.

Lawrence’s life was made considerably easier by the Tide’s inability to get to him. They failed to record a sack — or a turnover — and barely laid a finger on him.

“He was very comfortable in the pocket, had time to throw,’’ Saban said, “and we didn’t get him covered very well in the back end at times.’’

Strangely, Williams was not all that impressed with Lawrence, whose blondish, shoulder-length mane makes him look better suited for riding waves than taming the Tide.

“He was good, but I felt like the receivers made him better. The receivers made all the plays,’’ Williams said, arguing that the defensive line did harass Lawrence. “We put a lot pressure on him but he did what he was supposed to do. He made plays and the receivers made plays.’’

The Clemson receivers certainly were outstanding, especially Justyn Ross. The 6-foot-4 freshman from Phenix City, Alabama, had a breakout performance in the 30-3 victory over Notre Dame in the CFP semifinal, catching six passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns.

He had nearly identical numbers on Monday, time and again burning Alabama defenders with six receptions for 153 yards and a score.


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A year after the Tua Tagovailoa legend was born in an epic title win over Georgia, the Alabama QB showed he was mortal in a humbling loss to Clemson.

     
 

When it was over, he remained frozen in place for a long while. During the final moments of a stunning blowout, Tua Tagovailoa had been sitting on the bench at the back of the sidelines, his head covered by a black and gold towel — “College Football Playoff National Championship,” it read — and now he held the pose for a few more moments.

A confetti cannon fired once, and then again, paper strips in Clemson’s orange and purple hurled into the air, then fluttering down. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama’s sophomore receiver, patted his quarterback’s head once, and then again, before heading toward the locker room. Senior running back Damien Harris approached and put his hands on Tagovailoa’s shoulder, then knelt and leaned in close.

“Keep your head up,” Harris told the quarterback. “One game doesn’t define you.”

But it definitely tweaked the legend of Tua.

If Clemson’s 44-16 beatdown of Alabama was hard for most of college football to comprehend, it was even harder for the shell-shocked players who’ve been part of the dynasty — “It’s all just a blur,” said senior center Ross Pierschbacher — and it seemed even more so for Tagovailoa. The sophomore’s season had been spectacular: All of those touchdowns, transforming Alabama’s offense into something unprecedented. Nick Saban’s best quarterback turning his latest team into perhaps his greatest team. Or so went the storylines.

And then Monday night, it all got rewritten.

Clemson’s freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence shredded Alabama’s defense. But an anticipated quarterback duel sputtered early. The Tide was unable to keep up, in large part because Tagovailoa was, well, mortal. He threw two costly interceptions, including a pick six on the Tide’s first possession that sent a shocking bolt through the stadium.

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PICK-SIX! A.J. Terrell takes it 42 yards to the house for a 7-0 Clemson lead.

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“We kept believing, kept believing,” Alabama tight end Hale Hentges said, “but there came a point in time when even Tua and all his heroics couldn’t save us.”

There were plenty of reasons for Alabama’s meltdown and offensive struggles. But Tagovailoa might have tried to be too heroic. It’s not hard to understand why he’d have believed he could.

Consider how he burst onto the scene a year ago, a freshman entering the national championship game in relief of starter Jalen Hurts when Alabama trailed Georgia 13-0, then producing an uneven but occasionally spectacular performance that finished with that 41-yard touchdown pass to win in overtime. “Second-and-26” was immediately woven into a prominent place in Alabama’s football tapestry. Its author became an instant legend.

And it only got better this season, as Tagovailoa became the catalyst for an offensive surge that seemed to make Alabama unbeatable. He was named the winner of the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards, given to the nation’s best player. When he didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, instead finishing second behind Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, many Alabama fans and several of his teammates, too, were indignant — they believed an ankle injury suffered against Georgia in the SEC championship gamerobbed him of winning that award, too — even as Tagovailoa handled it all with grace.

“He played his heart out all year,” Harris said. “The things that he was able to help us accomplish as a team, as an offense, he’ll go down in history forever. This game doesn’t really define him.

“It doesn’t end the way we wanted it to, but he’s got the world. The world is his, and he just has to take it over.”

Of course, we thought Tagovailoa already had.

Early in the fourth quarter, trailing by four touchdowns, Tagovailoa was pulled for Hurts (the junior backup wasn’t effective, either). He spent the remainder of the game waiting quietly for the final gun. And a few moments after he finally hauled himself up from the bench and left the field, Tagovailoa succinctly summed up a horrific and stunning performance:

“We had a great season,” he said, “but five words: ‘Good is not good enough.’ We didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish.”

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Alabama's Nick Saban, Tua Tagovailoa postgame press conference [FUL...  ESPN

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