Alabama dominated Clemson with a defensive clinic to get back to the national title for the third year in a row. Here are five things that matter.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama 24, Clemson 6
5. The revenge of Jalen Hurts
So much was made about how Jalen Hurts took it all in after Alabama lost the national title to Clemson last year, using it as motivation for the season.
This was his change to exact some measure of revenge, and he got it.
It wasn’t a perfect game, but he didn’t turn the ball over, he completed 16-of-24 passes for 120 yards and two scores, and he ran for 40 yards.
The offensive line owned the game for the Tide O, but Hurts played well enough to take care of what he needed to do. And now he’s back with another shot at the national championship.
4. Clemson was missing its guys
Kelly Bryant isn’t Deshaun Watson.
The running game wasn’t there, the lines struggled, and yeah, not having Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett and Artavis Scott this time around really, really mattered.
RB Travis Etienne got banged up early, and finished with just 22 yards on four carries. Kelly couldn’t pick up the slack, and none of the offensive playmakers were able to overcome what Alabama brought.
For the first time all season long, not having the main men mattered for the Tigers. Nothing worked, the players couldn’t rise up and keep the chains moving, and this got ugly, fast.
3. Da’Ron Payne
Hurts was good, the defensive line was amazing, and the offensive front killed the Clemson D line, but all everyone will remember is Payne and his big plays.
He caught a tipped pass for a pick, taking it 21 yards to get in scoring range. And then he came up with a one-yard touchdown catch to all but put the game away.
And he came up with two tackles, too.
With five sacks, nine tackles for loss, and stop after stop, this was the Alabama defense again.
2. Kelly Bryant
It wasn’t Bryant’s fault that Clemson didn’t win, but he needed to be fantastic. And he wasn’t.
He completed 18-of-36 passes for 124 yards, threw two picks, and was bottled up for just 19 rushing yards on 19 carries.
Under pressure all game long, he struggled as the game went on to find any sort of rhythm, He didn’t push the ball deep, he barely moved the chains, and he wasn’t able to do much more than get the ball to Deon Cain, who caught six passes for 75 yards.
Again, it’s not his fault, but just like Hurts used last year as motivation for this season, this might be Bryant’s moment to come back roaring.
1. Can Alabama do this again?
The Alabama team that showed up against Clemson didn’t make an appearance this season against anyone who was any good.
Considering how sluggish the Tide were against the better teams on the slate, and how they played in the loss to Auburn, this was different. This was a healthier, more energized team that had it fire and fight back.
But as head coach Nick Saban had said over the last two seasons, his teams were better and stronger with a month off, and then had a hard time getting its groove back with a week off.
But the offense didn’t move much with just 141 yards, there weren’t enough downfield passing plays, and it was hardly a perfect effort.
If this Tide team shows up in Atlanta, it’ll get its second College Football Playoff national championship in the last three seasons.