Clemson isn’t just a program that had a once-in-a-generation type talent in Deshaun Watson lift them to temporary new heights that were unsustainable.
The Tigers are every bit an equal giant to Alabama in the college football world, and they don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Clemson is back atop the college football world for the second time in three years behind a new cast of characters after dominating the Crimson Tide 44-16 Monday night at Levi’s Stadium.
The Tigers are the first 15-0 team in major college football history. They controlled the game and were never challenged in the second half on the way to their third football national title in school history.
“I felt like we had the better team. I felt like our leadership, our will to win, I could just sense it,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Our guys made plays. We came in with the mindset that we were going to attack and we did the whole night.”
Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the blowout victory, finding his favorite target on the evening Justyn Ross six times for 153 yards and a score.
Lawrence and Ross put on a show in the third quarter as Lawrence made big time throw after big time throw to the Alabama native Ross, who hauled in circus catches with defenders draped all over him.
Ross had four catches for 129 yards in the third quarter alone, including a pair of one-handed catches for big gains.
“The moment we recruited him, we knew he’d be a tough match up not just for Alabama, for anybody we played. But what a night,” Swinney said. “These last five games he has been unbelievable. The catches that you saw him make tonight, those are routine for him. I mean, it’s just amazing. I told Trevor, I said, could you quit throwing crappy balls so he don’t have to show off like that and make some of those crazy catches? But that’s what he can do.”
Clemson’s defense pitched a shutout in the second half and allowed only three points after the first quarter.
The Tigers’ much maligned secondary recorded a pair of interceptions with A.J. Terrell and Trayvon Mullen each coming up with big plays.
Terrell got the scoring started with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown on Alabama’s first series of the game, while Mullen’s interception came in the second quarter.
“Our secondary, we’ve been good all year, all season. We had a couple games where we gave up a lot. It comes in a game. As long as we get the win we knew we could always come back,” Terrell said. “This week Alabama had some good receivers. They balled out... Offensively they had a really good game. We just did our part and stayed disciplined and trusted our system and made our plays.
Clemson’s defensive front, led by Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell, harassed Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa all night.
The Heisman finalist and All-American was 22-for-34 passing for 295 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of picks.
“It’s just special man, everybody on this team, all the work we put in, this coaching staff,” Wilkins said. “We’re 15-0 and nobody’s taking that away from us.”
Tigers star running back Travis Etienne, who missed much of last year’s game with an injury, had 14 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a touchdown reception. Tee Higgins added three catches for 81 yards and a score.
“I’ve got to congratulate Clemson,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They did a very, very good job. Their quarterback’s really good. Their skill players are really good.”
CLE: Terrell 44 interception return (Huegel kick), 13:20
BAMA: Jeudy 62 pass from Tagovailoa (Bulovas kick), 12:05
CLE: Etienne 17 run (Huegel kick), 10:35
BAMA: Hentges 1 pass from Tagovailoa (kick failed), 6:23
BAMA: FG Bulovas 25, 14:18
CLE: Etienne 1 run (Huegel kick), 11:38
CLE: Etienne 5 pass from T.Lawrence (Huegel kick), 4:38
CLE: FG Huegel 36, :45
CLE: Ross 74 pass from T.Lawrence (kick failed), 8:26
CLE: Higgins 5 pass from T.Lawrence (Huegel kick), :21
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Clemson, Etienne 14-86, T.Lawrence 6-27, Choice 7-12, Feaster 3-11, Brice 1-(minus 1). Alabama, N.Harris 9-59, D.Harris 11-57, Jacobs 11-47, Pierschbacher 0-0, Ma.Jones 1-(minus 2), Hurts 1-(minus 4), Tagovailoa 4-(minus 9).
PASSING: Clemson, T.Lawrence 20-32-0-347. Alabama, Tagovailoa 22-34-2-295, Hurts 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING: Clemson, Ross 6-153, Higgins 3-81, Rodgers 2-30, Feaster 2-29, T.Thompson 2-27, H.Renfrow 2-10, Overton 1-12, Etienne 1-5, Chase 1-0. Alabama, D.Smith 6-65, Jeudy 5-139, I.Smith 4-43, Waddle 2-25, D.Harris 2-3, Jacobs 1-16, Ruggs 1-3, Hentges 1-1.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: None.