In a game billed as a contest between Clemson’s high-powered offense and Alabama’s stalwart defense including notables such as Heisman winner RB Derrick Henry and Heisman nominee QB Deshaun Watson, it was “the other guys,” namely TE O.J. Howard, RB Kenyan Drake, and K Adam Griffith that powered Alabama to their fourth national championship in seven years.
O.J. Howard, a junior, tallied five receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns, his first scoring plays since 2013. Howard scored on two broken coverages by the Clemson defense, in which the safety failed to drop back into coverage and nearly caused ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to have an aneurysm, as well as logging a crucial catch and run in the fourth quarter that set up Alabama’s final touchdown of the game to go up 45-33.
Alabama scored 24 points in the fourth quarter compared to 16 by Clemson to erase a three-point deficit, continuing their dominance of the final period; Alabama outscored their opponents 114-64 in the fourth quarter throughout the regular season. Alabama’s ability to control the quarter came in large part due to two special teams plays.
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After tying Clemson 24-24 with 10:34 to go in the game, Alabama decided to attempt an onside kick rather than relying on their defense, recovering the kick and scoring a touchdown to go up 31-24. The second play occurred after Clemson scored a field goal and appeared to take momentum back, as Kenyan Drake returned the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to go up 38-27.
“Special teams may have been the difference,” Alabama coach Nick Saban announced during the trophy presentation, according to Reuters. Although Kicker Adam Griffith and Kenyan Drake made mistakes throughout the game, Griffith missed an early field goal and Drake committed several negative plays, their efforts in the fourth quarter proved vital in Alabama’s victory.
Alabama QB Jake Coker went 16-of-25 for 335 yards and the two scores to Howard. Clemson’s defensive line pressured Coker all night, sacking him five times, but he was able to make clutch deep throws, including a miraculous 38-yard heave to ArDarius Stewart off his back foot on third down, eventually setting up a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Derrick Henry finished with 36 carries for 158 yards and three touchdowns, but most of Henry’s yardage came on a 50-yard touchdown run early in the game. Without this run, Henry averaged barely over three yards per carry, as Clemson’s defensive recorded several tackles for a loss. However, he did pass Shaun Alexander’s career record for most rushing yards at the University of Alabama.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson played well in the loss throwing for 405 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception as well as rushing for 73 yards. He served as Clemson’s leading rusher, as Alabama’s front seven bottled up RB Wayne Gallman, limiting him to 42 rushing yards, most of which game on one play. Other stellar Clemson performances came from walk-on receiver Hunter Renfrow, who caught two touchdown passes, and Kevin Dodd, who sacked Coker three times and harassed him throughout the night.
This is Nick Saban’s fourth national championship at Alabama, making him two shies of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s six titles for most in Alabama history and giving him five for his career (he previously won a title at LSU). Both Alabama and Clemson have top ten recruiting classes for the upcoming season as well as returning talent, meaning they will be among the front-runners to compete for a title in the 2016 college football season.