In a thrilling back-and-forth contest that more than lived up to the hype, Alabama defeated Clemson, 45-40, on Monday to win the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, the school's fourth national title in seven seasons.
The game featured massive performances from the usual suspects, such as Bama running back Derrick Henry and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. There were also superlative displays from less likely sources, such as Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard and Tigers walk-on freshman Hunter Renfrow.
Fans were also treated to a game that had just one turnover, few penalties and key special teams performances, including the platonic ideal of an onside kick. Alabama and Clemson were mostly operating at the peak of their respective capabilities, much to the delight of a rapt nation.
After such a fantastic testament to the sport of football, there's just so much to take in. Here's a look at the box scores and key team stats for the national title contest.
|Individual Special Teams|
|2 for 21 yards||Penalties||4 for 27 yards|
|30:31||Time of Possession||29:29|
The first thing that might jump out at you is Alabama's passing numbers. Jake Coker trafficked almost exclusively in big plays on Monday, with the most important of them going to Howard. The junior tight end has struggled to take advantage of his excellent athleticism in his college career, but he was in perfect position to make plays in this game.
Both long touchdowns came on busted coverages, and his 63-yard scamper up the sideline led to Henry's third score and put Alabama up two scores late in the contest. Here's a look at that latter play, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
O.J. Howard had 210 receiving yards in 9 SEC games. He's at 208 rec yards tonight on plays like this: https://t.co/hiHKQfFMPI2016-1-12 05:07:34
For his efforts, Howard was named offensive MVP. Not bad for a guy who came into the game with 394 receiving yards on the season and hadn't scored since 2013.
There was but one turnover in a clean contest, and it came courtesy of a second-quarter interception from Alabama safety Eddie Jackson. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why you do the high-point drill, per SEC Network:
SEC Network @SECNetwork
Eddie Jackson will take that! #Interception @AlabamaFTBL » https://t.co/3ZUpIL4iKI https://t.co/HTJ6rnRHQu2016-1-12 02:32:11
Following the pick, Alabama marched to a Henry touchdown to tie the game at 14-14. Jackson was named the game's defensive MVP.
Although Jackson got the better of him on one play, Watson was the game's best overall player for much of the evening. Running into the teeth of a fearsome Alabama front seven, he ground out plenty of key yards. As a passer, Watson was superlative, finding Renfrow on the edges and guys such as Charone Peake and Jordan Leggett up the seams.
ESPN Stats & Info put his huge yardage total into context:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Deshaun Watson's 405 passing yards & 478 total yards are both the most in a National Championship Game (since 1998) https://t.co/layKT2JVii2016-1-12 16:55:05
Deadspin's Tom Ley raved about his performance:
Watson wasn’t just busting up an all-world defense, he was exerting complete control over the game. He escaped blitzes, rifled perfect throws all over the field, and never once wavered, despite the defense and special teams unit repeatedly shooting their own dicks off. Watson was in the zone, and it showed on almost every throw he made.
According to B/R Insights, Watson also became the first FBS player to top 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a single campaign.
In the end, though, the Heisman finalist's team lost to the Heisman winner's side. Henry pounded out 158 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 2,219 and 28 in those categories. The towering running back was quick to compliment his talented teammates after the game.
"I don't want to make this all about me," the 6'3", 242-pound Henry said, per AL.com's Joseph Goodman. "It's my teammates, and I couldn't have done it without them, and they made this possible. That's something I will hold for them forever, and it's so special."
Special thanks should go to his understudy, running back Kenyan Drake, who returned a kick 95 yards to the house in the second half, putting Bama up 38-27 at a time when Watson was doing well to exert his control over the game. Here's the monstrous special teams play, per ESPN:
KENYAN. DRAKE. Take a bow. He took this Clemson kickoff 95 yards to the house: https://t.co/Kurkm725jx2016-1-12 04:49:17
Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd was another player often overshadowed by a famous teammate—in this case, Shaq Lawson—who played out of his mind on Monday. Dodd had three sacks in the game, and his end-of-season string of awesome performances caught the attention of some in the NFL, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman:
Bruce Feldman @BruceFeldmanCFB
Word is, #Clemson DL Kevin Dodd has wowed NFL folks.. Now has 9 TFLs & 5 sacks last Tigers' 11 QTRs AND drawn some holding penalties.2016-1-12 03:48:35
NFL riches likely await several of the players mentioned above, and that doesn't even include guys such as Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Reggie Ragland and A'Shawn Robinson.
When you have two teams stocked with as much pro-caliber talent as Alabama and Clemson, you're pretty much bound to get the type of phenomenal contest we saw on Monday evening. This College Football Playoff thing is working out pretty nicely.