CLEMSON ROLLS ALABAMA
Tigers clearly Tide’s equal
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The moment you knew that Nick Saban knew what was happening to his team arrived with the subtlety of a crystal football being smashed by a sledgehammer. It stunned with the force of an electrical storm, and it shook a sport that he has owned for a decade to its core.
The greatest college football coach of all time, the man leads a program that has never given up on a big game and pulled out so many that once seemed to be slipping away, finally panicked. He ran out of answers. He admitted that Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers were not only going to rout Alabama for the national championship but that they had essentially hacked the machine.
Alabama’s hopeless fake field goal to end its opening drive of the third quarter wasn’t the biggest play in Clemson’s surgical 44-16 victory Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium, but it was the most telling. For once, Saban knew he didn’t have the better football team. He didn’t have the better coaching staff. And unlike any game he had ever coached since bringing Alabama back to superpower status, he didn’t have a prayer without a few tricks.
But Clemson wasn’t fooled. And now college football officially has a double dynasty.
The College Football Playoff has turned 5 years old. The national championship count in this new era is now Alabama 2, Clemson 2. It doesn’t erase what Saban did before the playoff and the five overall titles he has won with the Crimson Tide. But it does illustrate that the torch, if not passed, is now shared.
There’s so many great coaches who are so deserving of a moment like this and never get to experience it,” Swinney said. “We beat Notre Dame and Alabama, we left no doubt and we walk off this field as the first 15-0 team in history.”
Clemson is the program that deserves all of the mystique and every bit of the benefit of the doubt. It took a bunch of freshman playmakers and made Alabama’s defense look silly at every turn. It lost its best defensive lineman before the playoff and still made quarterback Tua Tagovailoa a gaffe machine.
“We’re all laying it on the line for each other,” said Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. “It’s easier when everyone is giving 100 percent.”
The numbers are going to be dissected for months. From the 31 points Clemson put up in the first half to the massive lead in the second half that the Tigers kept building and building, there were all kinds of unwanted firsts for a Saban team.
But the most important point that will carry into the offseason is that this performance wasn’t a fluke, nor is Clemson a oneoff. When Alabama lost to the Tigers in 2016, the national takeaway was that Deshaun Watson’s one-of-a-kind brilliance was responsible for closing the gap and couldn’t be replicated as long as Saban was still around.
But now, that argument is done forever. Clemson, as of today, is the more complete program. And that isn’t just about players like Lawrence, who made elite third-down throws while avoiding the mistakes that Tagovailoa made. It was a maligned Clemson offensive line that simply manhandled the vaunted Alabama defensive front. It was Clemson’s receivers leaving Alabama defenders in the dust.
Alabama can still win championships as long as Saban coaches, but the earth moved underneath his feet. Swinney is the new king of college football.
Clemson running back Travis Etienne celebrates one of his three touchdowns in the national title game with defensive lineman Christian Wilkins.