SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Clemson players said all week in the lead up to the 2019 National Championship Game that in order for the them to be the best, they would have to beat the best.
Top ranked and undefeated Alabama, as the defending champion, certainly qualified as that.
The Tigers not only beat the Tide, they beat them down and then some on Monday night, dominating from the opening snap of a 44-16 rout at Levi’s Stadium to secure the program’s third national title and second in three seasons.
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence started off a little anxious but eventually looked right at home as the game wore on — and very much like somebody who will be playing in more NFL stadiums in just a few years. He tossed a 62-yard bomb to Tee Higgins to get the team in the red zone in the first quarter and wound up with an impressive 347 yards and a trio of touchdown passes.
While Lawrence looked nothing like a true freshman under center, tailback Travis Etienne also proved to be a great compliment in the backfield. The sophomore had a touchdown reception off a shuffle pass and scored twice on the ground with some terrific bursts of speed while recording 86 yards rushing.
Oh, and wide receiver Justyn Ross was basically a man among boys as a pass catcher with a handful of one-handers on his way to 153 yards and a touchdown. Just down the road from where Jerry Rice made his name, the young wideout (he’s a freshman too…) from Alabama certainly haunted the home state team he nearly signed with coming out of high school.
It was safe to say that last year’s title game hero was nowhere near the same kind of quarterback on the same stage in 2019. Tua Tagovailoa was actually one of the early front-runners for MVP in the contest… for both sides.
After his defense forced a three-and-out to open the game, Clemson corner A.J. Terrell jumped a short pass in the flat and had nobody anywhere close to him as he ran it back 44 yards to delight the orange and purple fans for a pick-six on the seventh play of the game.
The Hawaiian signal-caller bounced back on the next series to toss a beautiful 62-yard bomb right into the waiting hands of Jerry Jeudy but never could get the offense into the end zone enough to make things interesting as things wore on. Tagovailoa finished the up-and-down outing with a respectable 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns (to the Tide) but did throw another interception and was eventually replaced in the fourth quarter by SEC Championship Game star Jalen Hurts.
It’s been rare to see the Crimson Tide get run off the field by anybody since Nick Sabantook over and it’s downright galling to see it be done on this stage. It’s not just the worst loss — by several multiples — in the Saban era but also the first time since he arrived in Tuscaloosa that the team has been beaten by more than three scores.
While one can sometimes say it’s just not your night in big games like this, that would be doing a big disservice to the dominance that Clemson displayed form their early pick-six all the way through to the final minutes. Dabo Swinney has not only built an equal to one of college football’s great dynasties but he’s proven that he’s got one too.
The Tigers became the first modern college football team at the FBS level to go 15-0 in the process to cap off the 2018 season. They not only won the national title, they left no doubt about who is atop the mountain now too.