How was Clemson able to do the unthinkable?

Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship will go down as one of the greatest National Championships of all time, rivaling games such as Nebraska vs Miami and USC vs Texas. The Clemson Tigers stopped the Alabama Crimson Tide from defeating them twice in two seasons and becoming back-to-back National Champions by coming back and beating Alabama 35-31.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson tweeted this in 2012:

That was exactly what he did.

Watson finished the game 36-56 for 420 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He also ran for 42 yards and a touchdown. Watson, the biggest reason why Clemson won, had more yards than every single other player in the game combined. That crazy stat shows just how amazing his performance was.

Obviously the result didn’t go as most people expected since Clemson was the underdog, but the game played out mostly as predicted until the end. Alabama’s daunting defense held up for the first three quarters. Going into the fourth quarter, Alabama was leading 24-14. In our preview article for the game, we mentioned how Clemson running back Wayne Gallman would struggle against Alabama’s defensive line and that the offense would need to move through Watson. This ended up coming true as Gallman only had 46 yards on 18 carries.

So how did Clemson pull off the miracle? The Tigers’ offense wore out Alabama’s defense. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney stuck with his game plan and didn’t abandon his offensive scheme when it wasn’t working. Swinney’s offense is a fast high tempo offense that by the fourth quarter the Crimson Tide’s defense was exhausted.

This only worked, however, because Clemson’s defense was able to neutralize Alabama’s offense and keep the Crimson Tide’s offense off the field. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts only went 13/131 for 131 yards, one touchdown, and a 25.2 QBR. The running game of Alabama was successful with 221 total yards on the ground, but it wasn’t enough. Clemson controlled the time of possession throughout the game, having the ball for almost 10 minutes more. The Tigers also limited Alabama’s first downs by only allowing 16.

If Alabama’s offense was slightly more successful or stayed on the field longer, the game could have gone the other way. In the end, the Alabama defense just couldn’t keep up with Watson and the Tigers’ offense in the fourth quarter which to Clemson being able to pull off the unthinkable.