The Crimson Tide, playing in its second consecutive national championship game and third College Football Playoff in as many years, battled to the last second in a contest where the lead changed hands three times in the last four minutes and 38 seconds of the game.
For Alabama, senior linebacker Reuben Foster led the defense with 12 tackles, including six solo stops and a sack. Senior linebacker Ryan Anderson caused a fumble and recovered two fumbles on the night while also accounting for seven tackles.
Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts was 13-of-31 for 131 yards and a touchdown throwing the ball. He also added 63 rushing yards, including a 30-yard rushing touchdown with 2:07 left in the game. Sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries before leaving the game midway through the third period with an injury. Senior tight end O.J. Howard led all receivers with 106 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.
For Clemson, quarterback Deshaun Watson was 36-of-56 passing for 420 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Wayne Gallman led the Tigers in rushing with 46 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts while tight end Jordan Leggett led Clemson’s receiving corps with seven catches for 95 yards. Three other Tiger players tallied more than 90 receiving yards on the night.
Clemson won the opening coin toss, but elected to defer its choice to the second half. Alabama took the football while Clemson kicked off defending the north goal. The Crimson Tide opened the game on offense but, after a 12-yard kickoff return by Ar’Darius Stewart, Alabama managed two yards on three plays before punter JK Scott boomed a 55-yard punt that Gallman returned 12 yards to the Tigers' 22-yard line
The Tigers started their first offensive possession with a 12-yard run by Gallman to the Tiger 34. After a four-yard sack of Watson by Tide nose guard Da'Ron Payne and defensive end Jonathan Allen at the 30, Clemson got that yardage back and more when Watson found Leggett for a five-yard pass to the Tigers' 35. An unnecessary roughness penalty on the Tide gave Clemson 15 more yards and a first down at the 50. On the next play, Watson tossed the ball to wide receiver Artavis Scott for one yard followed by a five-yard run by Gallman. A Watson to wide receiver Mike Williams pass gained three yards and set up a fourth and one at the Alabama 41. The Tigers went for it and came up short when Tide safety Tony Brown stopped Gallman for no gain, turning the ball over on downs.
Getting the ball on its own 41, Alabama marched down the field on a series of runs to score the first points of the game. On the first play, Hurts broke loose on a scramble and streaked 20 yards to the Clemson 39-yard line. After Scarbrough rumbled for four more yards and the Clemson 35, a roughing the passer penalty on the next play moved the ball to the Clemson 20. An illegal shift penalty by Alabama moved the ball back five yards to the CU 25. After an incomplete pass, Scarbrough got to the outside, as he raced through a hole created by a big block by tight end O.J. Howard and used some shifty running inside the 10 to carry would-be tacklers into the end zone on a 25-yard touchdown run. Place kicker Adam Griffith kicked the extra point to put the score 7-0 in Alabama’s favor.
Scott returned the ensuing kickoff 34 yards to the Clemson 44 before a 15-yard personal foul on the return backed the Tigers up to their 29. Passes from Watson to Leggett for eight yards and Williams for six yards gave the Tigers a first down at their 43. Gallman and Watson ran for three yards each on consecutive rushes, reaching the 49 before an incomplete pass brought up fourth down and the Clemson punting unit.
Starting at its own 16 after the punt, Alabama went to Scarborough on three straight plays, picking up 12 yards on two rushes and a pass reception, earning a first down. After two incomplete passes, Alabama earned another first down when running back Josh Jacobs raced for 13 yards up the middle to the Alabama 41. A holding penalty, followed by an incomplete pass, brought out Scott and the punt team.
Scott's punt was partially blocked by Clemson's Tanner Muse, but the kick traveled forward for 25 yards to the Tiger 37. Three plays later, on a third-and-five at the Clemson 42, an errant center snap by Clemson bounced off Watson's knee to create a fumble. Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson picked it up and advanced it two yards to the Clemson 35. The Tide failed to capitalize on the turn over, going three-and-out. Scott’s punt was downed by Alabama's Levi Wallace at the one-yard line, pinning the Tigers deep.
After a three-yard rush by Scarbrough reached the Clemson 46, Hurts passed to wide receiver Calvin Ridley for eight yards and a first down at the 38. After another completion to Ridley picked up a yard to the 37, Scarbrough again picked up key blocks downfield, running through a great clearing block by tackle Cam Robinson, racing 37 yards into the end zone. Griffith's extra point was true to give Alabama a 14-0 lead with 10:42 left in the half.
A nine-yard pass by Watson to receiver Hunter Renfrow on its first play of the drive was the only yardage Clemson would gain on its next possession, going three-and-out.
Taking over on its own 35-yard line after the punt, Alabama picked up a first down with a nine-yard Hurts to Ridley completion before a one-yard gain by running back Damien Harris was followed by back-to-back incompletions. That brought out Scott for a 40-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Clemson 13.
Clemson opened the drive with a five-yard rush by Gallman before Watson hit Deon Cain for 43 yards on a short pass that broke open. A pair of incompletions followed before Watson found Leggett for 26 more yards to the Alabama 13-yard line. Watson passed to Williams for five more yards to the eight. Watson then bounced to the outside on the next play and raced to the pylon, getting the touchdown on an eight-yard run and putting the Tigers on the board. Greg Huegel made the extra point to cut Alabama’s lead to 14-7 with 6:09 left in the first half.
Alabama earned a first down on its next possession when Hurts found Ridley for a 15-yard reception before stalling at the Clemson 44. Clemson answered by picking up one first down on its next possession, a 20-yard Watson to Williams reception. Three plays later, Clemson punted the ball back to Alabama after a 33-yard punt to the Alabama 38.
After a three-and-out by Alabama, a 57-yard punt by Scott was downed at the Tiger 5. A four-yard Gallman rush followed by a 19-yard Watson to Renfrow throw and catch got Clemson to its 28-yard line. Clemson’s drive came to halt at that point, forcing a punt with 19 seconds left in the half. A Hurts to Stewart pass lost three yards and brought the half to an end.
Hurts completed seven passes on 16 attempts for 40 yards in the first half. Scarbrough tallied 76 yards and two touchdowns on 12 rushing attempts. Ridley had five receptions for 36 yards. Watson was 13-of-23 in the first half for 153 yards. Gallman had gained 49 yards on 12 rushing attempts. Cain led the Tigers in receiving with one catch for 43 yards.
Clemson opened the second half with the ball, and picked up a quick first down on a three-yard run by Gallman followed by an eight-yard Watson to Renfrow pass. An incomplete pass was followed by Alabama's Ryan Anderson stripping Watson of the ball, forcing and recovering the fumble, before returning it 12 yards to the Clemson 16.
After the turnover, Alabama was moved back five yards to the Clemson 21 on a false start penalty. Scarbrough gained three of those yards back on the ground before Howard caught a nine-yard pass from Hurts, getting the ball to the Clemson nine-yard line and bring up fourth down. Griffith came out at that point and knocked it through the uprights on a 27-yard field goal attempt, extending Alabama’s lead to 17-7 with 12:25 left in the third quarter.
After running for five yards to open Clemson’s next drive, putting the Tigers on their own 21, Watson completed a 14-yard pass to Cain and a nine-yard pass to Renfrow to get the ball to the Clemson 44. After Watson scrambled for four more yards and a first down to the Clemson 49. Running back C.J. Fuller then ran for three more yards before Watson hit Williams for a six-yard pickup. An incomplete pass brought up fourth down. The Tigers’ offense came to the line with Watson in the backfield. Clemson’s quarterback took the snap and pooch kicked the ball 38-yards to the Alabama five-yard line.
That flip of field position turned out to be a critical point in the game.
Alabama went three-and-out on its next possession, giving Clemson the ball back on the Tide 42. The Tigers took advantage of the good field position, scoring in four plays, traveling 42 yards, closing with a 24-yard Watson to Renfrow touchdown pass with 7:10 left in the third quarter. Huegel’s extra point attempt was good, putting the score at 17-14, with Alabama in the lead
The Tide went three-and-out followed by a five-play drive by Clemson before the Tigers were forced to punt. On the following Alabama drive, Scarbrough picked up a first down to the Tide 27. After an incomplete pass and a timeout, Hurts found a wide-open Howard for a 68-yard touchdown pass in an echo of last year’s championship game. Griffith made the extra point and Alabama’s lead went to 24-14.
Starting on its 28 for its next drive, Clemson moved the ball quickly as the quarter came to a close. A pass interference call on first down, moved the ball 15 yards to the Clemson 43. Watson then connected with Cain for pickups of 11 and 12 yards. Watson followed that by hitting Leggett for a 17 yard catch before throwing to Scott for nine yards to the Alabama eight-yard line to bring the third quarter to a close.
Watson opened the fourth quarter with a four-yard rush before finding Williams for a four-yard touchdown pass. Huegel made the point after attempt, to pull Clemson with three, with Alabama leading 24-21.
Alabama started its first drive of the fourth quarter with a 13-yard run by Damien Harris before Scott came out three plays later and punted the ball 51 yards for a touchback. Clemson and Alabama traded three-and-outs on the next two drives. Clemson managed a first down on its next drive before having to punt, which was followed by Alabama going three-and-out again.
On the next drive, Watson mixed three complete passes for 52 yards with 20 yards rushing before handing the ball off to Gallman, who plunged in from one-yard out for a touchdown and a 28-24 Clemson lead following Huegel’s extra point.
Alabama responded quickly, with Stewart catching a 15-yard pass from Hurts on a crucial third-and-16 play. The fourth-and-one play that followed was converted to a first down on a run by Harris. Stewart took a lateral pass from Hurts on the next play and threw it 24 yards to Howard at the Clemson 30-yard line. On the next play, Hurts raced up the middle for 30 yards and a touchdown. Following Griffith’s extra point, Alabama was back on top, 31-28, with 2:01 on clock.
With the tension at its highest, Clemson opened the next drive with three-straight completions that gained a combined 25 yards to the Alabama 43. After rushing for a yard, Watson threw to Renfrow for a six-yard pickup and Leggett for a 17-yard completion to the Alabama nine-yard line. A pass interference penalty on the Tide put Clemson first-and-goal on the two-yard line with nine seconds on the clock. Watson then hit Renfrow for a two-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining. Huegel’s point after attempt was good and Clemson led, 35-31.
The Tigers onside kicked on the ensuing kickoff and recovered the ball, sealing the game and earning Clemson's second national championship in its history and its first since 1981.
Alabama's 26-game winning streak ended with the Tide an excruciating one second away from becoming the first team in college football since 1897 (Penn) to win 15 games in a season.
Courtesy UA Media Relations