Alabama Falls to Clemson in Title Game After Historic Season

Alabama and Nick Saban ran off 14 consecutive wins, including an SEC championship and an Orange Bowl victory, before falling to Clemson in the most un-Saban-like fashion in the national championship game. Clemson reeled off 30 straight points, starting in the second quarter, to win 44-16 and deny the Crimson Tide a 15-0 season for the second time in three years.

The 28-point loss was the largest defeat Saban has suffered at Alabama, and the largest defeat by the six-time national championship coach since a 45-16 loss to Georgia when he was coaching LSU in 2004.

It appeared during Clemson’s opening drive that the Crimson Tide was in championship form, as the Alabama defense forced the Tigers into a three-and-out. After a first down on the ensuing drive, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa did something he had yet to do his entire ven college career – throw a pick six, giving Clemson a 7-0 lead.

Even after the costly turnover, it appeared that the Tide would be fine, as Tagovailoa hit Jerry Jeudy in stride for a 62-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 12:05 left in the first quarter. On the next Clemson drive, the Tigers started to find their rhythm on offense, as true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence drove Clemson down the field and ACC offensive player-of-the-year Travis Etienne found the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

Tagovailoa found Hale Hentges for a 1-yard touchdown pass on the next Alabama drive, but that was when the Tide’s special teams woes reared their ugly head, as Joseph Bulovas missed the extra point, leaving Bama down 14-13. The Crimson Tide defense forced a punt on the next possession and Alabama looked to be driving for another score when a false start penalty and two unsuccessful plays forced a 25-yard Bulovas field-goal to put the Tide ahead 16-13.

That was the last time Alabama would lead, or score, in the game, as Clemson tacked on two more touchdowns and a field goal before taking a 31-16 halftime lead. Alabama was down 21-16 when Tagovailoa was looking for a big play and tossed his second interception of the night. The Tigers promptly took advantage of the takeaway and scored to go ahead 28-16. Alabama then had to punt on their next possession and the Tide appeared to make a game-saving stop, forcing Clemson to settle for a field goal in the red zone.

While most Alabama fans had hoped to enjoy the Imagine Dragons’ performance during half-time, they were sitting on pins and needles wondering if Saban and the Tide would have answers. While frontman Dan Reynolds belted out the lyrics to ‘Whatever It Takes’, Alabama fans were hoping their team would have whatever it takes in the second half.

The Crimson Tide were marching down the field on their first drive of the second half when Clemson halted the drive at their 24-yard line. It was then that Alabama did the explicable, calling a fake field goal on 4th-and-6 where kicker Joseph Bulovas took a running start as a lead blocker for third-string quarterback Mac Jones. Stating that Jones is not known for his running would be an understatement, but having the kicker block for him with Clemson set up in a prevent defense, expecting a fake, baffled most Tide fans. The broadcast then showed an animated dialogue between Saban and special teams coach Jeff Banks, which gave viewers the notion that there was confusion and the play went nowhere near as planned.

Nothing would go as planned the rest of the night for Alabama. The Tide had forced the Clemson offense into a third-and-long on the ensuing drive, until cornerback Savion Smith was jammed and fell down on the play, allowing Phenix City native Justyn Ross to easily catch a pass and take it 74-yards for a touchdown with no safeties in position to make a play. Smith was injured on the play and carted off, to add insult to injury, or injury to insult – however you want to phrase it – for the Tide.

Clemson then led 38-16 and the Tide seemed to be down to just a prayer, however, Alabama was forced into two more turnovers-on-downs and were never able to reach the end zone again, falling 44-16. While Alabama was looking to cement the title of ‘greatest college football team ever’ just a month earlier, the Tide sat shocked, after the Tigers had robbed them of a 15-0 season for the second time.

Trevor Lawrence finished the game 20-for-32 passing for 347 yards and three touchdown, but the most surprising stat was that the Alabama defense was unable to sack him once. The closest the true freshman came to making a mistake was when he had two passes knocked down by senior linebacker Christian Miller.

Tagovailoa finished the game with 295 yards on 22-of-34 passing and two touchdowns, but it was the sophomore’s two interceptions that proved costly for Alabama, as the Tide offense tried to match the Tigers’ firepower in the first-half.

I had a friend who attended the game, and requested anonymity, talk about the difference between the 2017 loss to Clemson and the 2019 loss.

“It just feels different now,” said the Alabama fan. “The 2016 title game loss felt like we came up short. This one and the aftermath that’s followed feels like the train has derailed.”

The aftermath being referred to is the poaching of the Alabama coaching staff. It was know that offensive coordinator Mike Locksley accepted the head coach position at Maryland before the playoffs and taking intern and former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones with him. It was also known that offensive line coach Brent Key accepted the same position at Georgia Tech. However, what Alabama fans were not ready for were the departures that followed the championship game loss.

The Tide then lost wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator Josh Gattis to Michigan, followed by recently promoted offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who left for the same position at Miami under Manny Diaz.

Alabama also lost underclassmen Quinnen Williams, Joshua Jacobs, Irv Smith Jr., Jonah Williams, Savion Smith, Deionte Thompson, and Mack Wilson to the NFL draft. Each of these losses will be impactful, but as the Tide have what experts say could be the best recruiting class of all-time, Alabama will look to reload, as usual, and make another run at an 18th national championship.

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