SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - Dabo Swinney kissed the championship trophy and proclaimed this Clemson team the greatest of all time.
He’s got a case.
With stunning ease — and a freshman quarterback — Clemson toppled college football’s greatest dynasty again to become the first perfect playoff champion.
Trevor Lawrence passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns and the second-ranked Tigers beat No. 1 Alabama 44-16 on Monday night in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
In the fourth consecutive playoff meeting between the Tigers and Tide, Clemson evened the series and beat ‘Bama for the national championship for the second time in three years. Clemson is the first college football team to finish 15-0 since the 1800s, and the first team since the playoff started five seasons ago to get through a season unscathed.
“I mean, our guys had the eye of the tiger, but I’m so proud, and then for our seniors to be able to go out 15-0 and truly be the best ever — there was a lot of talk about best ever all year long,” Swinney said, talking about Alabama.
“We were never in that conversation. But tonight, there’s no doubt. First 15-0 team, to beat Notre Dame and to beat Alabama to do it, this team won 13 games by 20 points or more and led by an unbelievable group of seniors, amazing group. I’m just thankful to be a part of it.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban and the Tide (14-1) were looking for a sixth national championship in 10 years, trying to add to an already unprecedented run in the sport. Instead, Clemson crushed Alabama, becoming the first opponent to beat the Tide by more than 14 points since Saban became coach in 2007.
Swinney’s Tigers sealed their status as a superpower, no longer just 1A to Alabama’s 1.
“We’re 15-0, we beat the best team ever, nobody’s taking that away from us,” Clemson All-American defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said.
Two seasons ago it was Deshaun Watson dethroning the Tide with a last-second touchdown pass. Clemson’s new star quarterback didn’t need the late-game heroics. The long-haired Lawrence cut though Alabama’s defense with the help of another fabulous freshman. Justyn Ross made a juggling grab, a one-handed snare and broke a 74-yard touchdown about midway through the third quarter that made it 37-16 and had Swinney high-stepping down the sidelines.
Ross, who scored two touchdowns in the semifinal rout of Notre Dame, had six catches for 153 yards against his home-state team.
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa threw two crucial interceptions in the first half, the first returned 44 yards for a touchdown by A.J. Terrell to put Clemson up 7-0. The Tide came in scoring 48 points per game, but was shut out over the final 44 minutes by an opportunistic Clemson defense.
After the game, Saban was asked about his team’s mistakes and its lack of execution on offense.
He responded by saying, “Well, you know, first of all, you’ve got to give Clemson a little bit of credit. They have a really good team. I think the responsibility for us not playing well really starts with me. You know, we obviously didn’t go out there and they did do some things that we weren’t prepared for, but you always expect that — a couple bunch passes that Oklahoma ran and some other people that we had to make adjustment to at halftime.
“But I thought the players prepared well for this game, and I think that they just got out-performed. It wasn’t like we just didn’t cover a guy. I mean, we tried to cover No. 8 (Ross). He caught the ball, made a big play. We were in three-deep zone when No. 5 (Tee Higgins) catches a ball and runs 50 yards, 60 yards for a touchdown, guy doesn’t play the deep third properly. So you know, those responsibilities start with me, our staff and all the coaches who try to get these guys ready, and when we don’t play well, I feel like that’s a reflection on the job that we did, the job that I did.”
Saban went on: “You know, but Clemson did a really, really good job. I know the score. There’s a lot of good things that our team did out there today, especially on offense, and we did stop the run on defense, but we couldn’t get off the field on third down. I mean, sometimes we just didn’t get them covered. A couple times we made some errors on things that they did that we had not practiced that were difficult, and they’re pretty good.”