It’s always said that the sequel is not as good as the original. That was the situation facing Clemson and Alabama as they matched up once again in the National Title game. Just a year ago, Clemson hung in there with Alabama before eventually falling to the Crimson Tide 45-40. Deshaun Watson was outstanding in that game and many were looking to see if he could repeat that type of performance again. And while he started a little slow in that area, the talented Clemson quarterback began to show what he could do to the Alabama secondary. And while facing a double-digit deficit against Alabama in the fourth quarter, he began to show what makes him one of the most special players in college football. He picked apart the Alabama secondary with his tight end and wide receivers and clawed them back in the game. And after a score by Alabama put the Crimson Tide up with 2:07 left to play, Watson took the Tigers on a magical drive down the field, complete with a two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow to take the lead for good. Clemson got back to the National Title game and beat Alabama this time 35-31. And while Clemson won the game and made it happen, there were a few things that hampered Alabama in this one.
Defensively, the defensive back play was not up to par for the Crimson Tide. Everyone is talking about the pick or rub play the Clemson Tigers were running. Should or could it have been called offensive pass interference? Sure it could have. But Alabama could have played it better and because they did not, it cost them 14 points. Here is a replay of the game-winning touchdown:
While many talk about the pick play, not many are talking about the alignment of the defensive backs on that play. Notice that both defensive backs were almost lined up right beside each other covering their receivers. The way you defeat pick plays when playing man-to-man defense is you have the defensive backs line up on different levels. That eliminates the picks and allows both to see the action from different levels. And it also makes it harder for wide receivers to even pick people. Because of that alignment issue, the Crimson Tide were taken advantage of for two touchdowns. Of course, plenty will say that the play was illegal. But pick plays have been going on for years and have or have not been called. The onus is on the defense to figure it out and not depend on the referees to throw a flag. But other than the pick plays, the Alabama secondary was taken advantage of more and more as the game went on. As most of you noticed, there were Alabama defensive backs running into each other because of assignment issues. For example, on Renfrow’s first touchdown of the game, he ran a crossing pattern and was wide open. The reason he was wide open was because the safety for Alabama came down and ran right into the defensive back that was playing man-to-man coverage versus Renfrow. The result was a touchdown on that play. That happened a few different times with the Alabama defensive backs Monday night and honestly, they were exposed more as the game went on.
But the issues that Alabama had were not only on the defensive side of the ball. Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts and crew had their share of issues as well. The Alabama offense was physical with the Clemson defense earlier in the game. But even though they were physical, they were still not able to catch any type of rhythm all game. And a part of catching rhythm is being able to sustain drives. While Clemson was 7-18 on third downs, Alabama was not so fortunate. After going 2/2 on third downs earlier in the game, the Crimson Tide went 0/13 for the rest of the game. When you have that bad a percentage of completions on third downs, you aren’t giving yourself a very good chance to win. And eventually the lack on continuity hurt the Crimson Tide. Along with the lack of conversions on third down, the other big hit to Alabama was the running game. Although the going was tough earlier in the game, the Crimson Tide was ripping off a few runs that were damaging to the Tigers. And the running back that was having a huge effect on Clemson was Bo Scarbrough. The Derrick Henry clone ran for two touchdowns within the first twenty-five minutes of action and was wearing on the Tigers defense. But when Scarbrough went down with an injury after a run in the second half, the Alabama running game went with him essentially. Jalen Hurts made some runs and the Tide made some other plays to keep them in the game, but that physical running presence they usually use to close out games was not present nor accounted for. And that missing ingredient proved to make a bad mix for the Crimson Tide offense.
The Clemson Tigers did what many thought was improbable when they beat Alabama Monday night. And with that, they have earned the title of National Champion. But along with what they did to win, Alabama did not help themselves either. And with that, the Tigers go riding off into the sunset of college football season while the Crimson Tide are left to pick of the pieces of how it happened. All in all, it was a very entertaining game that brought an exciting ending to the season. But even though it was exciting, it was one that Alabama and Alabama fans wish would have had a better outcome.
The General Mike Patton is an up-and-coming writer from Nashville, TN who brings a fresh and non-biased opinion about sports. From his radio experience in Nashville to his time as a sports writer for Free’s World, the website for radio personality and former co-host of BET’s 106 and Park Free (www.freesworld.com), The General is definitely one you want to get to know in the sports world. You can catch his work on SPORTSAWAKENING.COM. Mike grew up rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bulls, and Chicago Cubs and remains a passionate sports fan who expresses intelligent opinions.