The narrative for the third College Football Playoff National Championship Game has been Rematch. The term has been applied by every fan and media pundit not located inside the Mal Moore Athletic Complex on the campus of the University of Alabama.
Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 to earn its 16th National Championship in last year’s game played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. For the guys who play on the defensive side of the ball for Alabama aren’t very impressed with the 45 points scored by the ‘Tide. They are more embarrassed and motivated to make up for the 40 points allowed to quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Tigers offense.
The Clemson offense had 30 first downs to Alabama’s 18, granted when Alabama made a big a play, they made it fast and made it count for six. The Tigers also racked up 550 total yards on the night. Deshaun Watson and the hurry-up offense did exactly what Alabama fans feared the hurry-up offense can do to their aggressive defense — it neutralized it and forced the ‘Tide to play on its heals in hopes of keeping Watson from running up and down the field. That amount of hesitation from the ‘Tide defense was enough to open up the flood gates for Clemson to put together long and debilitating drives. It was the debilitated defense, however, that led Nick Saban to call for the onside kick in the fourth quarter, completely changing the direction of the game in the favor of Alabama.
Deshaun Watson was 30-of-47 for 405 yards with 4 touchdowns and one interception. He also added 73 yards rushing on 20 carries to keep Alabama’s defense winded and frustrated.
Clemson’s performance was every bit as impressive as any against Alabama, including Ole Miss’ wins over Alabama in 2014 and 2015. The Tigers won every category that should have placed them on the celebration podium to receive the CFP trophy from John Saunders. Alabama won the categories that make champions.
The ‘Tide only forced one turnover on defense, but they turned that turnover into seven points and the offense had zero fumbles and zero interceptions. Alabama also had three big plays (two for touchdowns) to then-junior tight end stud O.J. Howard that still have Clemson fans throwing their 1981 commemorative Coca-Cola glass bottles against the wall. Howard finished with a career-best five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. The two touchdowns went for 53 and 51 yards respectively with the second coming two plays after the onside kick. He then added a 63-yard catch and run that set up the clinching touchdown where he looked more like USC O.J. Simpson than an underutilized tight end.
Oh, yeah. Just to make sure all those coke bottles are broken, Kenyan Drake returned a kick 95 yards for a touchdown with 7:31 to play in the game to keep Clemson playing from two scores behind.
So, when you hear the term rematch thrown around leading up to Monday night’s National Championship Game, keep in mind that Deshaun Watson and Clemson are not the only players looking to erase the bad taste of last year’s game from their mouths.