Reporting from Clemson, SC –
For so long, Alabama was regarded as a machine. Drawing comparisons to and beyond Belichick, Saban’s Process dominated college football. Every machine dies and every dynasty is dethroned – tonight Clemson dethroned Alabama as the current premier program of college football with their 44-16 win.
Heisman finalist Tua Tagavolia didn’t see it coming – he thought he saw man coverage. AJ Terrell was playing trap coverage and intercepted Tua’s pass for a 44-yard pick six to go up 7-0.
Just like one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, he put the play behind him and pulled a brilliant maneuver of his own in the form of a 61-yard bomb to a single-covered Jerry Jeudy to tie up the game just over a minute later.
Not to be outdone, Trevor Lawrence made a 62-yard throw to Tee Higgins down the seam when Alabama deviated from their normal coverage scheme. As if it were a scripted routine, Travis Etienne ran the final 17 yards to score and put the Tigers up 14-7.
Alabama’s ten play drive was a balanced mix of Tua’s quick-intermediate passes and Najee Harris rushes. Harris was ruled down at the half yard line on an impressive second effort run, so Saban played his next card. The Tide ran a play-action rollout to the left that had the entire defense fooled – Tua flipped the one yard pass to backup tight end Hale Hentges for their responding touchdown.
Joseph Bulovas missed his ninth extra point of the year, a trademark of inconsistent kicking that previous Alabama teams could get away with – but not this time.
After quickly dispatching of Clemson’s offense, Alabama slogged out a 45-yard, eleven play drive to end the first quarter.
Just six yards from taking a seven-point lead, Alabama’s offensive lineman Willis was flagged for a false start penalty that cost the Tide four points.
Bulovas’ 25-yard field goal barely stayed in the uprights, giving the Tide a two point 16-14 lead early in the second quarter.
Outgained 224 to 86 and holding onto a 14-13 lead, Clemson survived the notorious first quarter onslaught that buried previous opponents.
Now it was their turn dominate in their notoriously deadly second quarters – Clemson gained 138 yards and scored 17 points in the second quarter while holding the Tide to three points and 42 yards.
A pass interference penalty on Savion Smith and a 26-yard Tavien Feaster reception set up Etienne’s one-yard touchdown run that was the go-ahead score for the Tigers.
Clemson’s second touchdown drive of the quarter was jumpstarted by Trayvon Mullens’ 47-yard interception return on a Tua overthrow; then Amari Rodgers’ 26-yard catch set up Etienne’s five-yard shovel reception touchdown to go up 28-16 late in the second quarter.
Clemson scored another field goal to end the half up 31-16 – and the seemingly invulnerable Tide resembled A Dying Machine. One Imagine Dragons halftime show later, the mood remained the same.
Alabama’s thirteen play, 51-yard drive appeared to be the catharsis the doctor ordered – a slow and consistent march up the field to restart the process. Then a glitch occurred, a moment of desperation – Alabama ran a fake field goal just outside the red zone that failed.
In the manner that Alabama had capitalized off of the fear-filled mistakes of their opponents so many times, Clemson capitalized off of the call – quickly.
Trevor Lawrence threw a 74-yard touchdown to fellow freshman Justyn Ross to go up 37-16 in the middle of the third quarter. Huegel missed the extra point, but the consequence was less drastic.
The lore was that a true freshman quarterback could not beat Nick Saban. Jake Fromm almost did last year, and Trevor Lawrence did it this year. Freshman Justyn Ross was from Alabama – he spurned both major in state programs to go to Clemson.
Alabama’s next drive was more of the same. The 59-yard drive ended inside the red zone – the Tide gained three yards when they needed four on fourth down.
Clemson marched again towards a seemingly inevitable touchdown looming. Twelve plays and eighty-nine yards later, Trevor Lawrence threw his third touchdown pass of the night to Tee Higgins on a slant route near the end of the third quarter.
The last team to beat Alabama by more than 16 points? LSU – with Nick Saban at the helm. The last time Nick Saban lost a game by more than 14 points was when he was an NFL Head Coach – the Bills defeated his Dolphins in December of 2006. He left the Dolphins just weeks later to become the Head Coach at Alabama and build the dynasty. Saban’s Tide were now staring at a 28-point deficit at the end of three quarters.
In a repeat of Groundhog Day, Alabama’s next drive consisted of marching down the field (including an impressive 48-yard pass to Jeudy), struggling in the red zone (this time, stuffed twice at the one), and capped off by a failed fourth down conversion.
It is rare in sports that two dynasties continually meet for year on end in interesting and heated battles. Rarer still, is watching one dynasty make the other look like a dying machine as it slowly replaces the other.
Players that would historically have played for Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama were donning the Tiger paw and leading the Tigers to their next national championship.
The senior class ends their career at 55-4 with two national championships and four conference championships. What makes this a dethroning of the dynasty is not just this team – but what is in store for the years to come. Lawrence and Ross are freshmen, Etienne and Higgins are sophomores – the list goes on and on.
The 2018 Tigers will be regarded among the best college football teams in history, and the Tigers have dethroned Alabama. After enjoying the win, the next task is to remain as the premier dynasty in college football. Enjoy the feeling.