SANTA CLARA, CA (Gray News) - We thought it would be a shootout, but as the old cliché goes, defense wins championships.
Clemson’s defense locked down Alabama in the second half and helped carry the No. 2 Tigers to a 44-16 win in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. It’s Clemson’s third claimed national title and its first since 2016, which also came against Alabama.
At 15-0, the Tigers are the first undefeated squad to win the championship since the playoff system began.
A back-and-forth opening quarter ended with Clemson leading 14-13. Bama opened the second quarter with a 25-yard field goal.
Those three points were the last the Tide managed to put up. Clemson, however, strung together 31 unanswered.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence had an outstanding game. He completed 20-of-32 passes for 347 yards. He tossed three touchdowns to Travis Etienne on a gain of five, Justyn Ross on a gain of 74 and Tee Higgens on a gain of five.
Clemson's A.J. Terrell intercepts a pass for a touchdown during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (AP)
Etienne led the Tigers in rushing with 86 yards on 14 carries and scored twice on runs of one and 17 yards.
The Tiger defense got the scoring started when A.J. Terrell intercepted Tua Tagovailoa’s pass in the flats and returned it 44-yards for the first score of the game.
The lead didn’t last long. In fact, The Tide tied the game at 7 just 75 seconds later. Tagovailoa hit Jerry Jeudy deep for a 62-yard score.
All of that was within the first five minutes of the game. At that point, the game looked like it would be a shootout.
We should’ve expected a high-scoring affair. Clemson averaged 45.7 points per game this season and Bama averaged 49.
The interceptions are uncharacteristic of Tagovailoa, who threw just four all season. He finished with 295 yards in the air and completed 22-of-34 passes. But he took so many sacks, he finished with negative nine yards rushing.
Alabama's Najee Harris reaches for the end zone during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Clemson, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (AP)
Jeudy caught five passes and racked up a team-high 139 yards.
As a team, Alabama totaled 148 yards on the ground. Najee Harris led the way with 59 on nine carries. Damien Harris finished just behind him with 57 yards on 11 carries.
Josh Jacobs ran for 47 yards on 11 carries.
Historically, Alabama has dominated its rivalry with Clemson. The Tigers won the first three meetings more than a century ago, but the Tide strung together 13 straight wins over the Tigers after the 1905 meeting.
But Monday’s 28-point loss was Alabama’s largest margin of defeat in Nick Saban’s tenure.
The Crimson Tide will open the season on Aug. 31 in Atlanta against the Duke Blue Devils.
The champs will open the season at home against Georgia Tech on Aug. 29.
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