Trevor Lawrence's Brilliance Leads Clemson to CFP Championship Win vs. Alabama

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2019

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07:  Justyn Ross #8 and Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers react against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Clemson Tigers are national champions for a third time after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 44-16 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

Trevor Lawrence finished 20-of-32 for 347 yards through the air and three touchdowns, while Justyn Ross caught six passes for 153 yards and a score.

Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa threw for 295 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The running back trio of Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris combined to run for 163 yards on 31 carries against a Clemson defense that was once again without star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.

     

Trevor Lawrence Cements Himself as Heavy 2019 Heisman Favorite, New Face of CFB

If you've already grown tired of seeing Lawrence's luscious, flowing locks, too bad, because the college football world is about to revolve around the Clemson quarterback. He's going to be on every preview magazine and included in every preseason hype video.

In his first season at the collegiate level, Lawrence threw for 3,280 yards and 30 touchdowns and capped off the year by shredding a defense that's likely to have multiple players selected in the first round of the 2019 draft.

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Lawrence started the 2018 campaign as the backup to the more experienced Kelly Bryant, which effectively ended his Heisman Trophy candidacy before it began. That won't be an issue when Lawrence embarks on his sophomore season.

The Tigers star has arguably supplanted Tagovailoa as the top Heisman contender, and not just because he outplayed him Monday night.

Tagovailoa will suffer from the same problem that prevented Lamar Jackson, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel from repeating as Heisman winners. The Alabama quarterback might have to be even better in 2019 than he was in 2018, which won't be easy considering he set a record for passing efficiency rating (205.8).

Lawrence also has the benefit of playing with two receivers, Ross and Tee Higgins, who will remind fans of the days when Clemson had Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins in the same offense. 

As if the Tigers didn't already have an embarrassment of riches on offense coming back, Doak Walker Award finalist Travis Etienne is only a sophomore. Etienne's presence will mean opposing defenses can only do so much to key on Lawrence and the Clemson passing game.

No Tigers player has ever won the Heisman. That drought should end in 2019 as long as Lawrence stays healthy.

      

Embarrassing Loss a Giant Red Flag for Alabama Next Season

Nobody saw this kind of dominant win coming for Clemson, but the warning signs were there for Alabama. The Tide trailed Georgia by 14 points deep into the SEC title game before the Bulldogs unraveled, while Oklahoma outscored Alabama 34-24 in the final three quarters of the Orange Bowl.

Against Clemson, the Tide's supreme talent wasn't enough and the team's issues were exposed. 

It's hard to remember a moment when Nick Saban looked more unsure of himself than when Alabama decided for a fake field goal on the team's opening drive of the second half down 31-16.

There's no question Saban will use this defeat as a source of motivation for his players, and nobody will be surprised if the Tide are in the playoff next fall.

Alabama is facing a year in which it will potentially have to replace a number of key players on defense. Quinnen Williams is a top-five talent, and Mack Wilson, Deionte Thompson and Raekwon Davis could all join him in the first round.

The schedule isn't all that favorable to Alabama either. The team will play Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn on the road.

Since the creation of the College Football Playoff, Alabama has earned a semifinal berth every year, and the Crimson Tide have reached the national title game in four straight seasons. That streak can't last forever, and 2019 might see it end.

     

Brent Venables the Biggest Key to Maintaining Clemson Dynasty

Clemson signed defensive coordinator Brent Venables to a five-year, $11.6 million extension in July. After Tuesday, the Tigers might want to give Venables another slight pay raise just to be safe.

Alabama gained 443 yards against Clemson in the title game, but that number is deceiving. Time and again the Tigers made big plays in the red zone and kept the Tide off the board.

Mississippi State, which has a somewhat comparable front seven to Clemson's, showed in the regular season you can throw Tagovailoa off his game by forcing him into quick passes. Venables took that game plan a step further with the looks he showed Alabama's offense.

One of Dabo Swinney's greatest strengths is his willingness to let his assistants operate on their own and avoid micromanaging everything about Clemson's play-calling. Swinney is smart enough to trust and empower Venables to draw up the perfect defense.

It makes you wonder what the Tigers would look like were Venables to receive his own chance to coach a team.

Clemson hardly missed a beat when Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott took over for Chad Morris as the co-offensive coordinators in 2014. Replacing Venables would likely be another matter.

     

What's Next?

Clemson gets ACC play started right away in 2019. The Tigers welcome Georgia Tech into Memorial Stadium on Aug. 29. Alabama opens the 2019 season in Atlanta against Duke on Aug. 31.