Clemson handing Alabama its worse defeat under Head Coach Nick Saban was something no one saw coming. It started out just like any other Alabama game we have seen. They win the coin toss, defer to the second half.
It was the same stuff, different day. But just when I thought we were trapped in the same old narrative, something different happened. A plot twist. An interception thrown by Tagovialoa returned all the way for a touchdown by Clemson. A rare mistake by Alabama that was like a shot of adrenaline to my heart. It made me excited for what was about to transpire.
What happened after that interception was something I did not expect. Clemson handled Alabama, and by the end of the game scored 30 unanswered points. They shut out a powerful offense in the second half, making Bama look vulnerable. It was reminiscent of when Rocky cut Ivan Drago in Rocky 4 to prove to the world he is not a machine.
Now on Tuesday, in the wake of the National Championship, I think the sports world is wondering what happened. How did Clemson shut down the Crimson machine? Here are some of my thoughts on how Clemson pulled it off.
I had a coach once tell me that you can learn a lot more about yourself in defeat. It’s the losses, not victories that are full of life lessons that can make you better and motivated. It just takes a special person to harness those lessons and make you better because of it.
Dabo Sweeney and that Clemson Tiger Senior class are those above mentioned special people. They took their last loss, the 2017 College Football Playoff Semifinal to Alabama, and turned it into a learning moment. That moment catapulted them to this year’s College Football Playoff, and eventually to their second title in three years.
It was obvious that playing this game meant a lot more to the Tigers than to Bama. They played motivated and with passion. The Tigers dictated the tone and pace of this game. Most importantly, they didn’t back down. There was a moment where I thought Alabama was about to gain back the momentum in the second quarter when they went up 16-14. The go-ahead touchdown as a stiff jab by Saban and the Crimson Tide. One they have thrown many times before, and one that usually sets up the combination that leads to the crushing blow.
The difference this time was that Clemson had been in that same exact spot before. Instead of backing down, giving in to the power and mystic, Trevor Lawerence and that offense answered to make it 21-16. They took the jab, threw one back and landed their own combination on Alabama that sent them reeling. That answer was the beginning of their 30 unanswered points.
It just proves that if you stand up to the bully, they are certain to cave in.
CLEMSON’S DEFENSE OUT CLASSED ALABAMA
Along with Clemson’s offense being able to answer at that moment, Clemson’s defense developed a bend but not break attitude, outclassing the Crimson Tide on the biggest stage.
Though Alabama only scored 16 points last night, they were still able to drive on the Tigers defense. The issue was that they just couldn’t capitalize and finish. They couldn’t figure out how to score, and it was obvious it bothered Nick Saban. It bothered him so much that he decided to take the ball out of his Heisman trophy finalist hands and into the hands of a third-string quarterback on an ill-fated fake field goal attempt.
That fake field goal was the exclamation point on the Tides’ red zone issues. Alabama turned the ball over three times on downs within Clemson’s 25. Whenever Alabama came anywhere near the goal line, Clemson tightened down and played lights out. Nick Saban had zero answers. Clemson was ready for everything Alabama threw at them like they knew it was coming.
Clemson’s resiliency in the area that matters the most, the red zone, really threw Alabama off their game. When star’s like Tua and Jerry Juedy needed to step up, it was Clemson’s stars who did so instead. Players like Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell showed who was ready for the bright lights of the national stage, making the plays that mattered the most.
Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables had the plan in place, and the Tigers executed it to perfection.
ALABAMA’S DEFENSE LET DOWN THE OFFENSE
Many of us who have watched Alabama’s offense play know they are a more pro-style offense that likes to run the football and let it create the big pass down the field. They typically produce long, tiring drives that control possession, and then set up the play-action pass for Tua.
We saw that for the most part last night. Clemson had issues stopping Alabama’s running game. Allowing big holes for the likes of Najee Harris, Damion Harris and Josh Jacobs to run right through for big chunks at a time. Najee averaged 6.6 yards a carry on nine attempts, while Damion averaged 5.2 on eleven carries.
It was exactly what Bama loves to do. Smash mouth, downfield run game that controlled the tempo. It seemed though it fell right into Clemson’s plan of attack. Though Alabama ran it well, they could not capitalize on it and turn it into a big play downfield. The Tigers focused on not getting beat by the big play, instead allowing Alabama to run it.
With Alabama’s offense not clicking in a way that resulted in points, their normal dependable stout defense was challenged with the task of keeping them in the game. A task that usually comes easily to the Alabama defense proved impossible. Clemson made the best of the 28 minutes they had on offense, capitalizing on Alabama’s miscues to continue putting points on the board. Alabama looked confused on defense, on their heels and lost at times. They took bad angles, got pushed off the ball and could not dictate the pace of the game like usual. Clemson exploited Bama’s size with speed and made them look like they were running in cement.
One or two stalled drives by Clemson could of been the spark Alabama needed on offense. Instead, it put the pressure on Tua and the offense to win it, and they couldn’t answer the call.
NICK SABAN WAS OUTCOACHED
With everything I pointed out, it all comes down to the fact that Nick Saban and his staff were surprisingly outcoached.
Saban was not able to figure out how to get the upper hand on the Tigers. The normal attack that Alabama won 14 games with was not working, nor were the adjustments that were made. On the defensive side of the ball, it seemed like no matter what Alabama threw at Clemson, the Tide were never in the right place. Both sides of the ball just seemed ill-prepared and flat. At times I felt they were near emotionless.
When a team comes out without life, blame tends to be geared towards the coach. I cannot believe I am saying this, but Nick Saban just seemed not prepared. He seemed to be content on doing what they always do to beat Clemson.
I am confident in saying that everyone saw the fake field goal coming. Saban went for it on fourth down two times before that moment. One time on his own end of the field, the other closer to midfield. Sending in the field goal unit at that time, deep in Clemson territory, down by 15 points smelled fishy. Clemson got a whiff of it and played it safe. Clemson was literally lined up in preparation. Even with Clemson ready for it, Saban decided to pull the trigger and RUN for it on 4th and 6. It seemed his staff didn’t know the distance and that the play before it was actually a fumble that resulted in a loss of three yards.
It was like Saban told himself, “okay, we ran a special teams trick against them before and won, let’s do it again.” Seemed to me that Nick Saban developed his game plan around the Clemson teams he played and beat in the past, not the team he saw last night.