Jan. 31, 2017
How Clemson Knocked Off the Evil Empire of College Football
Down goes Goliath a.k.a., the Alabama Crimson Tide. The evil empire of college football takes their first "L" since September of 2015. This Alabama team was an undefeated, SEC champion, looking to win their fifth national title in the last eight years, and a team with a historically dominant and scoring defense that accounted for eleven scores and held its opponents to slightly over 13 points per game. Oh, and lets not forget that Alabama is being coached by Nick Saban who could be considered the greatest head coach in the history of college football (I think so, at least). This Alabama team was still the defending champion of college football and was looking for their second repeat championship in as little as four years. This is the definition of the ultimate collegiate sports juggernaut and no matter who they had to play, they would be easy ten point favorites. But last night, the team with 80% of their roster being four or five star recruits, fell one second short of another national championship in a game that was eerily similar to the 2006 Rose Bowl. That Rose Bowl game featured another college football Goliath named USC who won the previous two national titles, produced the previous two Heisman Trophy winners (who played in said Rose Bowl as well), and were dethroned by a duel threat quarterback (Vince Young) who fearlessly put the fate of his team on his shoulders to pull the shocking championship game upset.
But last night, Clemson didn't have Vince Young. Clemson had better. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson played the game of his great collegiate career. He threw for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns against a defense with NFL talent all over the field as well for running for an additional 43 yards and a touchdown. The stats were eye popping but the late game heroics will be what we all remember and what will be replayed on college football highlight reels for decades to come. It started after Freshman QB Jalen Hurts scampered for a 30 yard touchdown run with 2:07 left in the game. Two minutes left, against one of the greatest defenses the sport has ever seen, and starting at his own 32 yard line, Deshaun Watson had his chance to play himself into college football immortality. In this final drive, Watson picked apart the Alabama defense by completing 6/8 passes for 67 yards and the last second touchdown to receiver Hunter Renfroe, his second of the game. What we saw from Watson last night was the best quarterback performance in the history of the college football title game. Before last night, the general consensus would be that Vince Young had the greatest national title QB performance of all time, so lets compare the two games. Deshaun Watson accounted for 463 yards of total offense while Vince Young accounted for 467 (200 of those coming on the ground). Deshaun scored 4 total touchdowns while VY scored 3. The numbers are similar and they produced big time national championship game upsets, but Watson's performance was the greatest given that he dethroned Nick Saban and, for now, has ended Alabama's reign of dominance of the college football landscape by tearing up an all time elite defense.
But for Alabama, how did this happen? Yes, Deshaun Watson went all Vince Young on you and the strength of your team got lit up for 35 points and could not get a defensive score, but there were little things on offense that ultimately cost the Tide. The offense dominated the run game, outrunning the Tigers on the ground 221yards to 91 and Bo Scarbrough channeled his inner Derrick Henry by scoring two touchdowns and running for 98 yards on only 16 carries, that is, until he suffered a leg fracture in the third quarter. The Scarbrough injury was a crucial blow but with the depth and athleticism this team had on offense, they should still be able to move the ball at will. The biggest problem for Alabama in this game, and the fatal flaw that ultimately did them in, was the same achilles heel their offense had all year long, bad quarterback play. Jalen Hurts had a very good freshman season and made many plays throughout the course of their run, but when it comes to being a reliable pocket passer, Hurts was inadequate. He only completed 13/31 passes and 52% of the passing yards in the game came on a 68 yard touchdown pass to O.J. Howard. Alabama has two excellent, all SEC receivers in ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley. Both receivers have NFL potential and speed but were sorely underutilized last night. To give you an idea of how they were, Stewart nearly threw for more yards on one trick play than he had receiving yards for the whole game (24 passing, 12 receiving). Calvin Ridley was held to only 36 yards of receiving and was a total non factor throughout the game. Even though Alabama was able to score 31 points, the offense was handcuffed by Jalen Hurts inability to get the ball to their best athletes once Scarbrough went down with a leg injury. The offensive gameplay was fine, the execution in the passing game was not and it turned the Alabama offense into a one trick pony leaning on its running game.
Congrats to Clemson, Dabo Swinney, and the rest of that Clemson team for beating Urban Meyer and Nick Saban in back to back games and for dethroning college football's greatest dynasty in an all time epic fashion. For more on the National Championship game, listen to the Long 2 podcast on soundcloud.