New Orleans, LA – Vegas was right, and most predictions were wrong – including yours truly. Alabama outplayed and outcoached Clemson in every aspect of the game, and played with the fire that comes from the bitter taste of defeat. Needless to say, the Empire erased all questions about losing their status as kings of the hill.
The saga of the first half was reminiscent of the first half from last year’s national championship. Alabama controlled the game defensively while Clemson struggled on offense.
Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos’ 33-yard field goal attempt to end the half was blocked but negated due to a false start penalty, and he missed his second chance 38-yard field goal by hitting the upright.
Kendall Joseph forced a Jalen Hurts fumble on the first play of the second half to give Clemson the ball just inside the red zone. The Tigers lost five yards on the disappointing drive, and Alex Spence salvaged the drive with a 44-yard field goal that were the Tigers’ final points.
In every football game, momentum swings back and forth hinging on a few key plays. If a few plays go wrong fast, close games become blowouts fast, which is what happened in the Super Dome.
Clemson was on Alabama’s 35 after the Tide’s three and out, charging to take the lead in this defensive battle. Kelly Bryant threw an ugly pass straight to the Tide’s freakish defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne, whom ran the ball back 21 yards. To make matters worse, a horse collar call on Tremayne Anchrum gave Alabama the ball with 27 yards left to score.
Shortly after Damien Harris’ 4-yard run on fourth-and-1, Da’Ron Payne caught a Hurts pass as a jumbo tight end to extend the lead to 17-6.
Mack Wilson returned Kelly Bryant’s interception 18 yards for a pick six to start Clemson’s drive, and all momentum was deflated as the Tide extended their lead 24-6 with 5:27 in the third quarter.
The rest of the half was filled with six drives that ended in punts until Clemson failed to score a touchdown on 4th and goal in garbage time, leaving the final score at 24-6.
Unlike close losses where the bad calls or mistakes keep one up at night, Alabama dominated Clemson in every possible way due to a strong second half.
The offense failed to establish the run as Kelly Bryant carried the ball 19 times, while the top three running backs combined for 13 carries. Kelly missed most of the key throws he was asked to make, and the play calling did him no favors.
The designed runs were few, the pass protection was porous against the Tide’s impressive defensive line, and the passing game couldn’t keep the defense honest.
The defense performed valiantly in the sense that they held Alabama to 17 points and came up with several key stops. On the other hand, Jalen Hurts had all of the time in the world to extend the play and either run or find his open man due to the pass rushing struggles. The Tigers allowed under four yards a rush, but in this game it simply wasn’t enough.
While some players and units struggled more than others, there is no one aspect of the game, position group, or side of the ball that is to blame. All of the issues are interwoven with each other, and Clemson didn’t help themselves in any manner.
Despite the sour taste in the mouths of Clemson fans, this “rebuilding year” defied the naysayers and there is a bright future for the Tigers in 2018 and beyond.