The 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game featured the Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry and a Heisman Trophy finalist in Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Naturally, a tight end who didn’t find the end zone during the entire regular season earned Offensive Player of the Game honors.
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard racked up 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches during the Crimson Tide’s 45-40 victory over the Tigers on Monday night.
His first touchdown was from 53 yards out and opened the scoring in the second half to break a 14-14 tie. His second score broke a 24-24 tie in the fourth quarter. The 51-yard touchdown catch with nine minutes, 45 seconds remaining turned out to be the game-winner, as Clemson trailed for the remainder of the contest.
Howard also busted loose on a tight end screen while the Crimson Tide were attempting to run out the clock late in the game, which set up a one-yard score by Henry with 1:07 left. ESPN Stats & Info shared the highlight:
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/hiHKQfFMPI— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 12, 2016
The big play by the 6’6”, 242-pound tight end prompted this reaction from Michael Wilbon of ESPN:
My God, is every Alabama skill position player THAT much faster than the Clemson defenders?— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) January 12, 2016
Howard's outing was surprising because he tallied only 394 receiving yards all year and didn't record a single touchdown. In fact, Monday’s touchdowns were his first since he scored twice in 2013.
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin joked about Howard’s breakthrough after the game.
"We'd been resting him for 14 games," he said, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports. "He had fresh legs."
The Crimson Tide picked the right time to unveil Howard to the world.
Now, Howard must decide if he will come back for his senior season as one of the focal points of the Alabama offense or pursue the NFL. Bleacher Report NFL Draft Expert Matt Miller believes he is likely to get drafted in the first few rounds if he declares:
OJ Howard was at 61 on my last big board. Good chance he's on the rise.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 12, 2016
Whether or not he returns, Howard has catapulted himself onto the national scene in impressive fashion.