Whether it was a fluke or a smack of reality, the Clemson Tigers weren’t messing around Monday night. There wasn’t a single team in the country that was going to stop them from taking home the 2019 College Football Playoff national championship trophy. Not even the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide.
What happened at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California was perhaps as shocking as it was vicious. History was on the line to be the first 15-0 team in the modern college football era, and the Tigers snatched it with a 44-16 victory over the Crimson Tide. It didn’t even feel that close.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. After all, Alabama was favored, and head coach Nick Saban had a team built to take down anyone. Yet, it was head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers who got the last laugh, the CFP confetti shower, and ultimate bragging rights for at least the next year, maybe a lifetime.
So how did the Tigers destroy Alabama’s title dreams? Here are the main three reasons.
1. Brent Venables Looked Possessed
From the very first moment the ESPN cameras zoomed in on Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, you knew the Tigers were ready for war. The man is intense, to put it mildly. He also put together one helluva scheme to frustrate Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Those two turnovers, including a 44-yard pick-six by A.J. Terrell on the Crimson Tide’s opening drive, were the biggest key to setting the tone, but the constant pressure the defensive line had all night was nothing short of impressive. Just imagine if Dexter Lawrence had been in there with Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant. My goodness.
Was it the perfect game plan? No. This was a statistically incredible Alabama offense, though, with three star running backs and arguably the best receiver in college football in Jerry Jeudy. The Crimson Tide were able to move the ball, but ended up doing plenty of odd and embarrassing things to themselves, especially in the second half. However, Venables had this team prepared, his obsession with winning shined brightest against a juggernaut, and he got some revenge from last year. For whatever weird reason he doesn’t take a head coaching job is beyond us all, but Clemson is sure glad he’s calling the plays for that nasty defense.
2. Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross Are Bad, Bad Dudes
For a true freshman quarterback playing on the biggest stage, the game plan should have been this: Don’t make any errors, let star running back Travis Etienne do some of the heavy lifting, and take some shots down the field when there’s an opportunity. That would be a solid national championship game for anyone other than quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The 6-foot-5 signal caller from Cartersville, Georgia shredded the Alabama defense all night, going 20-for-32 for 347 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s only 19 years old and already a Tigers legend.
Sure, Lawrence had some help, and there’s no doubt fellow freshman wide receiver Justyn Ross earned himself some NFL money down the road with his six receptions for 153 yards and a 74-yard touchdown. He made some ridiculous plays, including an absurd one-handed catch in the third quarter.
Say all you want about the game, but don’t you dare deny the credit both Lawrence and Ross deserve for helping hang 44 points on Alabama and winning the national title.
3. The Fake Field Goal Stop
With a 44-16 rout, it would be easy to talk about all of the things Clemson did so well. But if you tuned into any postgame coverage, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney already took care of that. So let’s go the opposite direction to close it out.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was a mess. Yes, Tagovailoa’s first interception was all his fault. Yes, he threw another pick and was kind of a mess himself all night. Yes, the defense was a bit lost in trying to cover Clemson’s playmakers on the outside. But what was the legendary head coach thinking in the second half?
More often than not, Alabama is built and ran like an NFL team: Get points when you can and work to get stops. Well, that was all fine until the first drive of the second half.
Trailing 31-16, the Crimson Tide could have kicked a field goal to cut the deficit. Another stop and more points would have made it a one-score game with still a lot of time. Instead, Alabama got greedy in believing it needed a touchdown, and it proved costly. The Tide turned the ball over on downs because someone thought it was a brilliant idea to run a fake field goal, and then Clemson answered back with that 74-yard touchdown from Lawrence to Ross.
Saban’s infatuation for going for it on fourth down the entire second half was definitely bizarre, and those fourth-down stops helped Clemson keep all the momentum for an impressive second-half shutout.
All in all, it was the Tigers’ night, and nobody can take this title game away from them ever.