Monday and well into early Tuesday morning, the Clemson Tigers secured revenge while beating the Alabama Crimson Tide at their own game.
Clemson came out on top 35-31, scoring a touchdown with one second left in regulation and announcing to the globe another version of the Crimson Tide had arrived and isn't going anywhere for a long time.
The contest was a tale of gaudy numbers, revenge and momentum. A look at the box score summarizes the last point best, as Deshaun Watson and the Tigers turned it on in the final frame:
Down 24-14 entering the fourth quarter, Watson tossed two touchdown passes and Wayne Gallman rushed for one, an epic 30-yard scoring scamper from Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts the only answer from the eventual loser.
The pertinent team stats tell the whole story—Clemson largely controlled this game, piling on the yardage, third-down conversions and time of possession:
|3rd down efficiency||7-18||2-15|
|4th down efficiency||0-1||1-1|
|Yards per pass||7.4||4.8|
|Yards per rush||2.2||6.5|
Clemson's biggest weakness, clearly, was coughing up huge plays—Alabama's touchdowns came from 25, 37, 68 and 30 yards out.
Hurts was a major part of the big plays, besides the 30-yard score in the fourth quarter, throwing the 68-yard bomb to tight end O.J. Howard. Running back Bo Scarbrough played as advertised, rushing 16 times for 93 yards and two touchdowns, the scoring runs coming in at those 25- and 37-yard totals.
Howard's touchdown, like the year prior, was a blown coverage, as SEC Network showed:
SEC Network @SECNetwork
Clemson fans are definitely having flashbacks after this... TOUCHDOWN OJ HOWARD!! https://t.co/fzNRDXHIoY #RollTide https://t.co/9PcgVldTrM2017-1-10 04:27:07
The late touchdown run by Hurts, which looked like a game-winning moment for the freshman, still deserves a look as well, as captured by College GameDay:
College GameDay @CollegeGameDay
ARE YOU SERIOUS, JALEN HURTS?! @AlabamaFTBL takes the lead right back, 31-28. #SidelineCam https://t.co/GXEaDJafxf2017-1-10 05:12:59
Honestly, Alabama was most impressive on the defensive side of things, where future NFL talent put on a show. Reuben Foster, Rashaan Evans and Ronnie Harrison all finished with double-digit total tackle numbers. Five players recorded at least half a sack.
Offensively, the game belonged to the Tigers. Watson was in Heisman Trophy form again, throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns with another 43 yards and a score on the ground. Impressive, albeit expected after he dropped four touchdowns on the Crimson Tide in last year's title game.
Outside of Watson, it was wideout Hunter Renfrow finishing as the most impressive player. He didn't just catch 10 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, he caught the game-winning touchdown.
Renfrow, all 5'11" and 180 pounds of him, dominates Alabama. ESPN Stats & Info shared a must-see note:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Hunter Renfrow now has 11 career TD catches, four of them in CFP championship games against Alabama.2017-1-10 05:22:54
The numbers tell the whole story for those who missed the game—Clemson is another version of Alabama, albeit out of a different conference. One could feel such confidence throughout the game, and especially after.
“We’ve modeled our program after Alabama,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said, according to Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples. “Each year, you just reload.”
In fact, one could almost suggest Clemson did a better job at Alabama's strength than the Crimson Tide. Hurts, a freshman, wasn't the reload Nick Saban had hoped for when it mattered most, his 13-of-31 mark through the air something that pops off the page when reviewing the game.
Hindsight isn't going to be kind to the Crimson Tide, though Hurts himself wouldn't agree with reporters who suggested he scored a touchdown too quickly near the end of the game.
SEC Country's Cody Pace captured Hurts' reaction to the conversation: "We tried to keep our cool and get in the end zone. We might have scored too fast but it is what it is. We have to deal with it. … That’s the first time we've ever been in that situation so it’s kind of hard to say. Sometimes it rolls like that. We can only control what we can control."
Given the parallel paths traveled by the Tigers and Crimson Tide, it only seems right the former evened the series. And based on the numbers and how well each program continues to reload, the word "series" certainly makes sense—a third act soon wouldn't come as much of a shock.
For now, Clemson can enjoy an offseason of reloading while boasting to recruits it beat Alabama at its own game. Those young members of the Crimson Tide, like the Tigers last year, can take lessons learned and apply it to next year's title run.
Follow Chris Roling (@Chris_Roling) on Twitter.