Sometimes, the sign of a truly great team is the ability to win football games in many different ways. To that end, the College Football Playoff National Championship game didn't look like a normal Alabama game on Monday night. While there was plenty of hitting from both teams, there was very little defensive resistance being put up on either side. Eventually, Alabama was able to take control of the back and forth affair in the fourth quarter, winning their fourth national title in seven years, 45-40 over the Clemson Tigers.
In a game marked by huge chunk plays offensively (Alabama had three touchdowns on offense of greater than 50 yards apiece), it was two special teams plays that allowed the Crimson Tide to seize control of the game. First, after having just tied the game at 24 on a field goal, Alabama head coach Nick Saban rolled the dice with an onside kick that the Crimson Tide recovered easily around midfield. Two plays later, Tide QB Jacob Coker hit tight end O.J. Howard on a 51 yard touchdown pass to put Alabama up 31-24, a lead they'd never relinquish.
Then, following a Clemson field goal that cut the Alabama lead to 31-27, Kenyan Drake returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for touchdown that gave Alabama its first double digit lead of the night, 38-27. From there, Alabama was able to hold Clemson at bay, with the Tigers never getting closer than five points the rest of the way.
The evening was a huge win for several in the Alabama camp:
With his fourth national title as the Crimson Tide's head coach and fifth overall, Saban now trails only Bear Bryant for total national championships won by a head coach. If you want an idea of the rarified air in which Saban finds himself, just know that the other three coaches in the graphic ESPN showed outlining most titles won, Saban was the only one not wearing a an old style fedora hat while coaching in his picture. Point being, he is truly embedded in the multigenerational "all time greatest coach" conversation.
Henry got the scoring started with a 50 yard TD gallop in the first quarter. On the evening, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner finished with 158 tough yards, three touchdowns, and became only the fifth Heisman winning running back to add a national title to his resume. It will be interesting to see how scouts at the next level view Henry's running style. He's been very much a "man among boys" brute at the collegiate level. That doesn't always translate so well to NFL success.
Prior to Monday night's game, Howard had 210 receiving yards in nine SEC games. On Monday night, thanks in part to a great set of skills and in part to narcolepsy in the Clemson secondary, Howard finished with 208 yards on five catches and two long touchdowns. Howard made himself some money on Monday night.
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In some ways, the stats show just how easy some of the throws were for Coker on Monday night. 16 of 25 for 335 yards and two touchdowns, both to Howard. I mean, you don't average over 20 yards a completion without some cooperation from the defense. However, after some early jitters, Coker settled down nicely and made the plays he needed to in order to win the game, including a huge scramble on a third down in the final few minutes to set up Henry's final touchdown. In the two playoff games, Coker was a combined 41 of 55 for 621 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. When Cardale Jones did something similar last year, everyone called him a dark horse first round pick. Coker does it and he's still rated four rounds behind Connor Cook.
For Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney, the loss was their first and only loss of the season, having entered the game as the only undefeated team in college football for the 2015 season. This was Clemson's first shot at a national title since 1981, and the ACC's second appearance in a title game in three years.
And just like that, the college football season is over. Only 236 days until September 3, Houston versus Oklahoma at NRG Stadium. I don't think I can wait.
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