Deshaun Watson’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with 1 second remaining gave Clemson a wild 35-31 win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
Watson completed 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards and three scores in his last college game, as the Tigers (14-1) got their first national title since 1981.
Renfrow caught two scoring passes for Clemson, which rallied from a 14-0 deficit and snapped Alabama’s 26-game winning streak.
Bo Scarbrough ran for two touchdowns for Alabama (14-1), which failed in its quest to be the first 15-win major college team since Penn in 1897. Scarbrough left the game with a leg injury in the second half.
Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 last season in the title game. This sequel was as thrilling as the original.
Clemson put up 511 yards on Alabama’s defense, held the ball for nearly 35 minutes and scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Clemson then recovered an onside kick, and fittingly that gave Watson a chance to kneel down for the game’s final play – then streamed onto the field in celebration.
SCORE ALERT: Alabama 31, Clemson 28.
Jalen Hurts’ 30-yard touchdown run with 2:07 left has given Alabama the lead right back in this national championship game.
And it came with the Tide’s title hopes essentially down to one play moments earlier.
Damien Harris delivered a 5-yard run on fourth-and-2 with 3 minutes left to keep the drive going. Then a backward pass – Hurts to ArDarius Stewart, who then threw it to O.J. Howard, got Alabama down to the 30.
Hurts did the rest, coming through with the TD run to put the Tide back on top.
SCORE ALERT: Clemson 28, Alabama 24.
Clemson has taken the lead in the national championship game with 4:38 remaining.
Wayne Gallman’s 1-yard plunge gave the Tigers a 28-24 lead over Alabama, the first time all night that Clemson – which trailed 14-0 early on – has been on top. The Tigers are up to 451 yards of offense, and has Alabama’s 26-game winning streak in serious jeopardy.
A 17-yard pass to Mike Williams got the ball down to the Alabama 31, and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Crimson Tide tacked on to the end of that play got the Tigers down to the 16.
Watson went around the right side and dove for the pylon on the next play, getting stopped inside the 1. And then Gallman scored, sending the Clemson faithful into delight – sensing the Tigers now being on the brink of their first national title since 1981.
It’s Alabama’s first fourth-quarter deficit of the season.
Midway through the fourth quarter, it seems like everyone in Raymond James Stadium is standing.
Clemson still trails Alabama 24-21, and just punted the ball away to the Crimson Tide. But virtually all of Alabama’s offense in this half has come on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts to O.J. Horward, a blown coverage by the Tigers.
Alabama lost top rusher Bo Scarbrough to a lower right leg injury earlier this half. He’s officially questionable to return, but since he’s not on the field with the title at stake that would suggest his night is over.
SCORE ALERT: Alabama 24, Clemson 21.
Here we go again.
Clemson and Alabama played an epic national championship game with a fantastic finish last year, and this one is setting up to be the same way.
Clemson has sliced into Alabama’s lead again, Deshaun Watson’s second touchdown pass of the night going to Mike Williams and getting the Tigers within 24-21 with 14 minutes left to play in regulation. Watson’s 4-yard TD pass has him up to 294 yards passing for the Tigers, who have outgained Alabama 367-281.
SCORE ALERT: Alabama 24, Clemson 14.
Jalen Hurts completed 9 of his first 23 passes for 49 yards.
His 24th attempt was better than all that put together.
O.J. Howard was left all alone on the left sideline, and he and Hurts connected on a 68-yard touchdown pass with 1:53 left in the third quarter. That gave Alabama a 10-point lead again, not long after running back Bo Scarbrough was shaken up and walked slowly to the sideline.
But Hurts came through with the big play that Alabama desperately needed. And it was the longest completion Clemson allowed this season.
SCORE ALERT: Alabama 17, Clemson 14.
Deshaun Watson’s 24-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow has Clemson now within 17-14 of Alabama in the national title game with 7:10 left in the third quarter.
The throw capped a four-play, 42-yard drive that took just 1:03, and was set up when Alabama shanked a punt to give Clemson the short field.
Clemson is now finding its offensive groove, having outgained Alabama 287-202. Watson is now 19 for 32 for 228 yards.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson just became a punter.
Facing fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 43 midway through the third quarter, Clemson didn’t go for a conversion. Instead, Watson took a snap in the shotgun and pooched a kick toward the end zone. It was downed at the Alabama 5.
Clemson was stopped on fourth-and-1 at virtually the same spot in the first quarter.
Alabama still leads 17-7.
SCORE ALERT: Alabama 17, Clemson 7.
Adam Griffith’s 27-yard field goal with 12:25 left in the third quarter has given Alabama a 10-point lead in the national title game.
And Clemson is lucky the deficit isn’t bigger.
Ryan Anderson’s second fumble recovery of the night set up the scoring drive. Anderson stripped Clemson’s Wayne Gallman a minute into the third quarter, then recovered the ball and returned it 12 yards to the Clemson 16.
Alabama only got seven yards in three plays after the fumble, settling for the field goal.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney gave a televised interview before heading into the locker room for halftime, and made the second-half plan very clear.
“We’ve got to make this quarterback throw the ball,” Swinney said to ESPN.
Here’s why: Alabama has rushed 21 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns. But when freshman Jalen Hurts passes, the Tide have gotten 40 yards on 16 attempts – at least three of those throws getting batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Halftime has arrived in Tampa, and it’s Alabama leading Clemson 14-7 at the break.
And a title game that was an offensive showcase a year ago – when the Crimson Tide prevailed 45-40 – has been a defensive slugfest of sorts so far in the rematch. Clemson outgained Alabama 203-183 in the half.
Clemson has had some success passing the ball. Deshaun Watson is 13 for 23 for 153 yards, and four different Tigers receivers have one catch that went for at least 19 yards. He also has Clemson’s lone TD on an 8-yard run.
Alabama’s strength, as expected, has been on the ground. Bo Scarbrough has 12 carries for 76 yards and both Crimson Tide scores, and quarterback Jalen Hurts is a mere 7 for 16 for 40 yards.
Clemson will have the ball to open the second half.
SCORE ALERT: Alabama 14, Clemson 7.
The Tigers are finally on the scoreboard in this College Football Playoff national title game.
Deshaun Watson’s 8-yard rush with 6:09 left in the half has Clemson on the scoreboard, and the Tigers are within 14-7 of Alabama.
Clemson went 87 yards in seven plays, and it only took 1:33.
The 14-0 deficit was the largest Clemson faced to start a game since October 2013.
SCORE ALERT: Alabama 14, Clemson 0.
It’s Bo Scarbrough again, this time on a 37-yard run as Alabama has taken a 14-0 lead over Clemson with 10:42 left in the first half of the College Football Playoff national championship game.
Scarbrough’s jaunt down the left sideline put Clemson in its biggest hole all season. The Tigers never trailed in any of their first 14 games by more than eight points.
Alabama leads 155-63 in total yards, and Scarbrough has eight carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns already.
The big plays through one quarter of the national championship game have mostly been made by Alabama.
A stop on fourth-and-1, emerging from a scrum with a fumble after Deshaun Watson couldn’t handle a snap cleanly, and downing a punt at the 1-yard line are among the first-quarter highlights for the Crimson Tide, who lead Clemson after the first 15 minutes of the College Football Playoff title game 7-0,
Bo Scarbrough’s 25-yard run is the lone touchdown so far.
Alabama outgained Clemson 81-46 in the opening quarter.
A turnover on a bad snap is bad news for Clemson.
Alabama’s Ryan Anderson emerged with the football after Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson couldn’t handle a snap on third down, and the Crimson Tide takes over on the Clemson 35 late in the first quarter.
It was the first turnover of the game, not counting Clemson getting stopped on downs early in the game.
Clemson hasn’t faced a double-digit deficit all season – and for now, it still hasn’t.
Alabama still leads 7-0, and was driving before a holding penalty and Jalen Hurts’ second batted-down pass of the night forced the Crimson Tide to punt.
Making matters worse for Alabama is this – the punt was partially blocked by Tanner Muse, and Clemson is taking over at its own 37 with 2:30 left in the opening quarter.
SCORE ALERT: Alabama 7, Clemson 0.
Bo Scarbrough’s 25-yard touchdown run with 9:23 left in the first quarter has given Alabama a 7-0 lead in the national championship game.
It capped a three-play, 59-yard drive that took less than a minute – and came after the first big play of the title game was made by Alabama’s defense.
Clemson faced fourth-and-1 from the Alabama 41, and called time to figure out what it wanted to do. But Alabama’s defense snuffed out the toss to Wayne Gallman, who stumbled to a stop short of the first-down marker, and the Crimson Tide took over in a scoreless game.
Alabama scored three snaps later.
It’s game time.
Clemson won the toss and deferred, kicking to Alabama to start the title game – with Steve Spurrier, who isn’t exactly revered by either fan base, getting booed when he took part in the festivities.
And the first play called by new Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was a pass, which was batted down.
Former Tide coordinator Lane Kiffin called passes on the first play of each of the last 10 games of his Alabama career.
The experience edge in the quarterback matchup for this College Football Playoff national championship game between Alabama and Clemson overwhelmingly favors the Tigers’ Deshaun Watson.
Alabama’s Jalen Hurts should not be deterred.
Of the last seven quarterbacks to lead their team to a national championship, six did so in their first season as a full-fledged starter. Greg McElroy did it for Alabama in 2009, Cam Newton for Auburn in 2010, A.J. McCarron for Alabama in 2011, Jameis Winston for Florida State in 2013, J.T. Barrett for Ohio State in 2014 and Jake Coker for Alabama last season.
The only year in that stretch where a first-timer didn’t win the title was 2012 – when McCarron helped the Crimson Tide win back-to-back titles.
Then again, it bears noting that none of those other first-timers were exactly in Hurts’ position. He’s looking to become the first true freshman starting quarterback to win a national title since Jamelle Holieway for Oklahoma in 1985.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney played for a team that won an AP national championship in 1992, when he was a receiver for Alabama.
He’s now got another chance to coach a team that would win the AP crown.
Only Bud Wilkinson – a player on the Minnesota team in 1936 and a coach of three title teams at Oklahoma in the 1950s – has the distinction of both playing and coaching a team that finished a season as AP national champions.
Swinney, whose Tigers have a College Football Playoff national title rematch against Alabama on Monday night, could be the second.
There are other coaches who helped their schools win national championships as a player and then captured crowns as coaches – Bear Bryant, Jimmy Johnson and Frank Leahy among them – but either the AP poll had not started or their title was not recognized by the AP.
Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn’t always win championships.
It only seems that way.
Alabama is playing in Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship game against Clemson, and Saban is taking a nine-game title-at-stake winning streak into the contest.
Since 2009, he’s 5-0 in SEC title games and 4-0 in national championship games. His last loss in a “championship” game was in 2008, when Florida beat the Tide for the SEC crown.
Alabama could be the first college football team in the modern era to finish 15-0.
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened before.
When this College Football Playoff championship game kicks off later Monday night, these Alabama and Clemson squads will become only the seventh and eighth teams to play 15 games since the NCAA was formed in the 1930s. The others are BYU in 1996, Kansas State in 2003, Ohio State and Oregon in 2014, and Alabama and Clemson last season.
And of those, none finished 15-0.
Alabama has the chance in this title game; Clemson had the same chance last year in the championship game, before getting beaten by the Crimson Tide.
Yale won 15 games in 1889 and 16 games in 1894. Penn won 15 games in both 1892 and 1897. So even if Alabama isn’t going into truly uncharted territory, it’s aiming to reach some pretty rare air.
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