The Associated Press
Ralph D. Russo
SANTA CLARA, Calif.–Dabo Swinney kissed the championship trophy and proclaimed this Clemson team the greatest of all time.
He’s got a case.
With stunning ease and a freshman quarterback, Clemson toppled college football’s greatest dynasty again to become the first perfect playoff champion.
Trevor Lawrence passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns as the second-ranked Tigers dumped No. 1 Alabama 44-16 last night in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
In the fourth-consecutive playoff meeting between the Tigers and Tide, Clemson evened the series and beat ‘Bama for the national championship for the second time in three years.
Clemson is the first college football team to finish 15-0 since the 1800s and the first since the playoff started five seasons ago to get through a season unscathed.
“I mean, our guys had the eye of the tiger but I’m so proud,” Swinney said.
“And then for our seniors to be able to go out 15-0 and truly be the best ever–there was a lot of talk about best ever all year long,” Swinney added, talking about Alabama.
“We were never in that conversation,” he noted. “But tonight, there’s no doubt.
“First 15-0 team, to beat Notre Dame and to beat Alabama to do it,” Swinney remarked. “This team won 13 games by 20 points or more and led by an unbelievable group of seniors, amazing group.
“I’m just thankful to be a part of it.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban and the Tide (14-1) were looking for a sixth national championship in 10 years, trying to add to an already-unprecedented run in the sport.
Instead, Clemson crushed Alabama–becoming the first opponent to beat the Tide by more than 14 points since Saban became coach in 2007.
Swinney’s Tigers sealed their status as a superpower; no longer just 1A to Alabama’s 1.
“We’re 15-0, we beat the best team ever, nobody’s taking that away from us,” said Clemson All-American defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
Two seasons ago, it was Deshaun Watson dethroning the Tide with a last-second touchdown pass.
Clemson’s new star quarterback didn’t need the late-game heroics. The long-haired Lawrence cut though Alabama’s defence with the help of another fabulous freshman.
Justyn Ross made a juggling grab, a one-handed snare, and broke a 74-yard touchdown about midway through the third quarter that made it 37-16 and had Swinney high-stepping down the sidelines.
Ross, who scored two touchdowns in the semi-final rout of Notre Dame, had six catches for 153 yards against his home-state team.
Swinney takes a different approach than Saban, running a more fun-loving program than Alabama’s all-business organization. But the results have been every bit as good.
And last night at Levi’s Stadium, in a championship game played more than 2,000 miles away from Clemson’s South Carolina campus, the Tigers were way too much for an Alabama team that had spent the season mauling its opposition.
The Tide won their first 14 games by an average of 31 points.
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa threw two crucial interceptions in the first half, the first returned 44 yards for a touchdown by A.J. Terrell to put Clemson up 7-0.
The Tide came in scoring 48 points per game but were shut out over the final 44 minutes by an opportunistic Clemson defence.
Saban lamented numerous mistakes: blown coverages on third down (Clemson was 10-for-15), stall outs in the red zone, and special teams mishaps, including a fake field goal that flopped on the first possession of the second half.
He laid the blame on himself. The Alabama program has set a championship-or-bust standard under Saban but he didn’t want this season looked at as a failure.
“One game doesn’t define who you are,” Saban stressed. “But I also told the players that sometimes we learn more when things don’t go well, when we lose.”
Tagovailoa, the sophomore who came off the bench to win the championship game last year for the Tide, went 22-for-34 for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
“We had a great season but five words: good is not good enough,” he remarked. “We didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish.
“We didn’t do the things we needed to do to execute and be successful in this game, and that’s all it is.”