Clemson

Clemson dethrones top-ranked Alabama to win national championship

Clemson dethrones top-ranked Alabama to win national championship

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TAMPA, Fla. -- College football's first national championship rematch was even better than the original, with an incredible twist at the end.

Deshaun Watson and Clemson dethroned the champs and became the first team to beat Nick Saban's Alabama dynasty in a national title game, taking down the top-ranked Crimson Tide 35-31 Monday night in the College Football Playoff.

Watson found Hunter Renfrow for a 2-yard touchdown pass with a second remaining to give the Tigers their first national championship since 1981. A year after Alabama won its fourth title under Saban with a 45-40 classic in Arizona, Clemson closed the deal and denied the Tide an unprecedented fifth championship in eight seasons.

"That has to be one of the greatest games of all time," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

The lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter, but Watson got the ball last. Likely playing in his final college game, the junior quarterback threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns. In two games against Alabama and the most ferocious defense in college football, Watson has thrown for 825 yards and accounted for eight touchdowns. He was sacked four times and took some cringe-inducing shots from All-Americans Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster.

"You know, I never got the sense that he was rattled," Allen said about Watson.

Swinney, the native Alabaman and former Crimson Tide walk-on receiver, has built an elite program at Clemson that was missing only one thing. Now the Tigers can check that box, too.

"Eight years ago we set out to put Clemson back on top," said Swinney, who can turn postgame interviews into a rousing sermon. "We came up a little short last year, but today on top of the mountain, the Clemson flag is flying."

After three quarters of vicious hits and tight defense, Tigers-Tide II ended up looking a lot like the first meeting when the teams combined for 40 points in the fourth quarter.

Clemson took its first lead when Watson found Mike Williams for a 4-yard touchdown a minute into the fourth quarter to make it 24-21.

The Tigers took a 28-24 lead with 4:38 left in the fourth quarter when Wayne Gallman surged in from a yard out.

The Tide's offense, which had gone dormant for most of the second half, came to life with the help of a sweet call from newly promoted offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Receiver ArDarius Stewart took a backward pass from Jalen Hurts and fired a strike to O.J. Howard for 24 yards.

On the next play, Hurts broke free from a collapsing pocket and weaved his way through defenders for a 30-yard touchdown run to make it 31-28 with 2:07 left.

More than enough time for Watson.

"I was calm," Watson said. He said he thought about Vince Young's last-second touchdown for Texas that derailed the Southern California's championship run in the 2005 championship game at the Rose Bowl. He told his team: "Let's go be great."

Watson hooked up with Williams and Jordan Leggett, who made great catches for big gains to get to first-and-goal with 14 seconds left.

A pass interference on Alabama made it first-and-goal at the 2 with six seconds left. Time for one more play to avoid a game-tying kick and potential overtime. Renfrow slipped away from the defense at the goal line with the help of some traffic created by his teammates -- or maybe it was an illegal pick? -- and was alone for an easy toss. It was the walk-on receiver's second TD catch of the night, adding to the two he had last season against Alabama.

When it ended, Clemson's 315-pound defensive lineman Christian Wilkins did a cartwheel and Ben Boulware, one of the toughest linebackers in the country, was in tears.

"Don't call it an upset," Swinney said. "We expected to win this game."

The Tigers had snapped Alabama's 26-game winning streak and beaten a No. 1 team for the first time ever.

"It's been 35 long years!" Boulware screamed. "It's coming home baby! It's coming home!"

Alabama was 4-0 in national championship games under Saban. It was 106-6 in games it led at half and 96-0 when entering the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead as the Tide did Monday night. Clemson overcame all those odds.

The Tide jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind two long touchdown runs by Bo Scarbrough in the first half. The 230-pound sophomore back was pretty much Alabama's whole offense for a while, running for 93 yards on 16 carries while Hurts and the passing game struggle. Scarbrough left in the third quarter with a leg injury, but the Tide finally found some other help. Hurts hooked up with O.J. Howard, one of last year's heroes for `Bama, for a 68-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-14 late in the third quarter.

"Look, there's not one play in the game that makes a difference in a game," Saban said. "We could have done a lot of things a lot better. But I have to say that I was proud of the way our guys competed in the game, and just sorry for all of them that we didn't finish it better."

Last season Alabama met its match in Clemson, but prevailed. This time, Clemson made sure the sequel had a different ending

2017 NFL draft: National Championship Game prospects for the Eagles

2017 NFL draft: National Championship Game prospects for the Eagles

Hard to believe the college football season ends Monday night.

No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 2 Clemson in the CFP National Championship Game at 8 p.m. (ESPN). It's a rematch of last year's championship, which was an all-time great game. 

And just like last season, the game will be littered with NFL talent.

Here are some prospects for Eagles fans to keep an eye on Monday night:

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson, redshirt junior, 6-3/225
I've seen negative reports on Williams recently, citing that he's not the "focal point" of Clemson's offense. That somehow means he's not an elite prospect? That makes little sense to me. He's been plenty productive (90 catches, 1,267 yards, 10 TDs) and is Deshaun Watson's go-to receiver. Corey Davis may be an incredibly close second, but Williams is still the best receiver prospect in this draft. His physicality and ball skills are unmatched. Remember, Williams didn't play against Alabama last year. Could he be the X-factor?

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama, redshirt sophomore, 6-1/196
The matchup of Humphrey vs. Williams should be a lot of fun to watch. Humphrey has the size and physical style to compete with Williams. He also has world-class speed so Williams isn't running by him. Humphrey is one of, if not the top corner in the draft. Could he be available at No. 14 or 15? Not likely but not impossible.

Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson, junior, 6-0/210
I'm out on a limb with my assessment on Gallman but I just love his game. The footwork and quickness jumping in and out of holes are so impressive. His toughness is off the charts. He carries the load for Clemson (497 carries in the last two seasons) and is also a lead blocker for Watson on many running plays. Throw in his 62 catches during his college career and you've got a complete back. If he slips out of the second round, he's a steal. He's going to help an NFL offense.

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama, junior, 6-6/310
You can look at the Eagles' offensive line and consider it a relative strength when compared to some other positions. But all you have to do is look at what the Cowboys have done in building their offensive line to see that the strategy works. Robinson might be the only true "elite" offensive line prospect in this draft. If you keep Jason Peters, you can slide Robinson in at left guard and have him learn from a future HOFer. It may not be the sexiest pick, but it could go a long way in developing Carson Wentz and the offense as a whole.

Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson, senior, 6-1/200
Tankersley isn't the greatest athlete, but he's physical and solid in both man and zone coverage. He also has decent ball skills (nine INTs the last two seasons). He's more likely part of the second tier in the draft, but he should be a decent NFL corner. He's also proven to be a strong leader for Clemson's defense. The matchup between Tankersley and Alabama sophomore receiver Calvin Ridley should be intriguing.

 

Also worth watching

Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson, senior, 6-3/305

With Bennie Logan's contract status uncertain, the Eagles may need to draft his replacement. You could argue that Watkins would be an upgrade with his ability to rush the passer (10½ sacks this season).

Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama, redshirt senior, 6-3/305
See above about Logan. Tomlinson is part of the NFL prospect assembly line along the Crimson Tide's D-line.

Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama, senior, 6-1/236
Can't imagine a scenario where Foster falls all the way down to the Eagles but crazier things have happened. Foster has been compared to Luke Kuechly. And those comparisons are more than fair.

Tyrone Crawford, G, Clemson, redshirt junior, 6-2/340
Crawford is massive and a bully in the run game. Another player that could help bolster the Eagles' line immediately. 

Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson, junior, 5-10/190
It would behoove the Eagles to draft more than one receiver. Scott is more of a slot receiver with versatility. He's a great athlete that Clemson just looks to get the ball to in any way possible.

2017 NFL draft: Fiesta Bowl prospects for the Eagles

2017 NFL draft: Fiesta Bowl prospects for the Eagles

We already took a peak at a few prospects that could help the Eagles during the early game of the College Football Playoff (see story).

But there is plenty of talent during the night game as well between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State.

Here are a few players to watch closely during the second game of the CFP.

Playstation Fiesta Bowl - No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson, 7 p.m., ESPN

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson, redshirt junior, (6-3/225)
Williams is a monster. If he's on the board when the Eagles are drafting, it's a no-brainer. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he has tremendous ball skills. He's the whole package. He's put up 84 catches for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He'd likely already be in the NFL if not for a neck injury he suffered at the beginning of the 2015 season. One aspect of his game I love is the chemistry he's developed with Deshaun Watson on back shoulder throws. We've seen Carson Wentz throw one of those this season and it was one of the prettiest balls he's thrown all season (a 20-yard completion to Jordan Matthews against the Packers). Wentz needs weapons, and Williams fits the bill.

Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson, senior, (6-1/200)
Tankersley could've jumped ship to the NFL after his junior season, but decided to come back for his senior year. He has good size, excels well in man coverage and has decent ball skills. He's also considered a leader on the Clemson defense. What he may not have that guys like Alabama's Marlon Humphrey and Washington's Sidney Jones have, is the makeup speed which separates good corners from great ones. Tankersley is likely a Day 2 pick, but he has the potential to be a productive corner at the next level.

Curtis Samuel, RB/WR, Ohio State, junior, (5-11/197)
The Eagles' offense has been void of explosiveness all season. Samuel is an offensive weapon whether it be as a back or a receiver. For the season, Samuel has 65 catches for 822 yards and 91 carries for 704 yards. He's scored 15 total touchdowns (eight rushing, seven receiving). Ohio State lines him up out of the backfield and split out as a receiver. His route running is a little rough, but he's a playmaker with the ball in his hands. He could be Darren Sproles' heir apparent.

Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State, junior, (6-1/195)
Conley is a great athlete with good size and speed. He also has decent ball skills. The thing that scares me about him is a lack of physicality. He's not strong in the run game and he's just OK when asked to press. He's likely a Day 2 pick, but he has above average coverage skills. It'll be interesting to see how he does against Williams, who's extremely physical.

Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson, junior, (6-0/210)
Gallman is going to fall victim to an excellent running back draft class. Every year, there are players I can't help but to like more than some of the pundits. Gallman is one of those guys for me this year. After posting over 1,500 yards in 2015, Gallman has carried less of the load for Clemson but is still over 1,000 yards. He also has a nose for the end zone with 28 rushing touchdowns combined the last two seasons. One of the knocks on Gallman is that he runs high. It's a fair criticism, but it's a habit you might be able to teach out of him. What you can't teach is his feet. I love his patience and how quickly he can bounce around the line. If there is even the slightest crease, he'll find it. He's also a solid receiver out of the backfield, hauling in 61 catches in his college career.