College football writer Lindsey Prather details Clemson’s decisive 44-16 victory in the CFC.
The Clemson Tigers topped off a perfect season with a complete shellacking of the Alabama Crimson Tide, winning 44-16 late Jan. 7th, in the process handing Nick Saban the worst loss he has experienced in his nearly 12 years at Alabama.
Clemson played a nearly-perfect game, with freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence throwing 20/32 for 347 yards and 3 TD, with no interceptions. Meanwhile, the Clemson defense terrorized Heisman-runner up Tua Tagovailoa and his comrades from the very beginning with an early pick-six, a later interception that eventually led to a touchdown, and numerous close calls and three-and-outs.
This was an absolutely humiliating game for Alabama. Clemson controlled nearly every aspect of the game; they punished every mistake made by the Tide, and by doing so managed to bury the team that was ranked #1 for the entirety of the 2018 season. The baffling part was how absolutely clueless Alabama looked, despite having played Clemson in two of the previous three national championship games.
Nick Saban’s team rarely, if ever, has games as bad as this one. It would be completely foolish to say that Alabama would have won if a few plays would have gone differently. Tagovailoa’s two interceptions were a result of great plays by a great defense, but they were also terrible throws and reads on his part. Tagovailoa still finished with 295 yards passing, though he was replaced in the fourth quarter by his backup and previous starter Jalen Hurts after his focus and poise was shattered by the Clemson defense.
Of course, Alabama’s horrible performance is not only on Tua. Alabama was uncharacteristically sloppy with ball security (two fumbles, losing none) and penalties (six penalties for 60 yards). Additionally, another factor was Alabama’s typical kicking woes that paired unfavorably with some unusually peculiar decisions by Nick Saban. Saban decided to fake a field goal attempt, all while using his kicker as a lead blocker. This game seemed out-of-control for the Tide from the very beginning. Saban-coached teams are rarely outmatched, and it is even rarer that they are out-coached. Both of these things happened in the National Championship.
What’s next for both of these teams?
Alabama is going to remain dominant. This game is a minor bump in the road for a program that consistently attracts top-tier talent and continues to have some of the best coaches in college football. However, perhaps this game will serve as a lesson for the Crimson Tide. Alabama rarely has any challenges during the regular season; the Tide is notorious for an unbelievably easy out-of-conference schedule, as well as a relatively easy division. Although it facilitates their high rankings during the regular season, a team that is complacent and reassured of their own greatness every week is going to be vulnerable to games against better teams in the postseason. A prime example of this is their game against Clemson.
For Clemson, Trevor Lawrence has given himself some big shoes to fill. Ideally, he can replicate the successes he has had this season and continue to develop. Lawrence has proven himself to be more than capable, and the only question remaining is whether he can consistently be successful independent of his supporting cast. If Clemson can continue its defensive domination, it could very easily find itself in the College Football Playoff again next year under the leadership of Trevor Lawrence.