Different year, same national championship matchup.
No. 1 Alabama defeated No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34 on Saturday night in the Orange Bowl, setting up a College Football Playoff National Championship clash with No. 2 Clemson, the third title-game meeting between the two programs in four years. The two also met in last year's semifinal, which Alabama won 24-6 before going on to win the championship against Georgia.
The Crimson Tide stormed out to a 28-0 lead by the 13-minute mark of the second quarter only to see Oklahoma force them to grind out a full 60 minutes with a spirited attempt at a comeback. The Sooners made some incredible plays and slowly but surely cut down Alabama's lead as the game went along, but they couldn't get any closer than 11 points. The game ended with Alabama kneeling it out, sending the program to its fourth-straight national championship game.
The full game highlights are in the video below, courtesy of ESPN:
Despite playing on a sore ankle, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa could seemingly do no wrong. The sophomore completed 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns. His first passing strike was a work of art, a beautiful arcing throw to Henry Ruggs III, who made a brilliant catch in the back of the end zone despite being smothered by Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown.
Here's the play, per ESPN CollegeFootball:
Brown himself noted it was Tagovailoa's pinpoint accuracy that put Ruggs III in position to make the jaw-dropping catch.
"It was just there perfectly. That's something Tua is good at," said Brown, per ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough.
In the backfield, Crimson Tide running back Joshua Jacobs put on a show, rushing for 98 yards while adding another 60 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. During Alabama's fast start to the game, he showed off both his strength and his electrifying agility, per SportsCenter:
Alabama's offense was impeccable both through the ground and the air to start the game. Oklahoma was unable to recover from the furious push.
"Yeah, it's not the result that we wanted or expected," Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said, per Scarborough. "Kind of a tale of two different games for us. The start of the game, give Alabama credit, they're a really good football team. They made a run on us there early. We just had a hard time breaking their string of momentum."
Running back Damien Harris also came up big for Bama, rushing for 48 yards and two scores.
The Sooners snoozed through the first 20 minutes of the game or so, but their offense was too good to keep down for long. This bruising block from wide receiver CeeDee Lamb on a Kyler Murray scramble helped wake the team up, per ESPN:
Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner, was electric in a losing effort. He threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 109 yards and another score. This late-third quarter throw to Charleston Rambo showed off why he was considered the best player in college football this season, per ESPN:
It was a disappointing finish for Murray, who may be playing in his last football game. The 21-year-old is also a star baseball prospect and may opt to focus on a career on the diamond over the gridiron. Following the game, Murray said he hoped he left his mark on the Sooners program.
"My goal was to be remembered here," Murray said, per ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson and Chris Low. "I think that should be anybody's goal. You step on campus make a name for yourself, make the place better than you found it. I hope I did that. I just hope everybody knows I never quit."
Murray also received high praise and words of kindness from his counterpart, per USA Today Sports:
Tagovailoa and Co. will now have to focus on their archrival Clemson. The Tigers looked excellent on Saturday in the Cotton Bowl, defeating Notre Dame 30-3.
"They've got a great program and a great team," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said, per the Associated Press (via DallasNews.com). "I'm sure it'll be a great challenge for us, and I'm sure we'll need to play better than we did today."
Saban is looking for his sixth national championship since taking over as Alabama's head coach in 2007. He demands perfection from his team, even when they are already playing at a seemingly unbeatable level (note his headset-destroying rage at a time his team was up 28-10 and in scoring territory).
That said, Alabama may need perfection, or something close to it, when the team plays Clemson on January 7.