Our final Crimson Conclusions as we wrap up Alabama’s 16th National Championship season!
Monday night the second ranked Alabama Crimson Tide brought home the school’s 16th National Championship in a wild, barn burner of a title game against top ranked Clemson Tigers. The Tide, led by a breakthrough performance from tight end OJ Howard and Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry, went back and forth with Clemson and their Heisman finalist quarterback, Deshaun Watson, all night long before pulling away late in the game.
OJ Howard Explodes
All season long Alabama fans have complained about the lack of production by tight end OJ Howard and the lack of opportunities that had been thrown his way throughout the season. Howard had not scored a touchdown since the 2013 season but he exploded with a career game against Clemson in the biggest game of his life.
Jake Coker struggled mightily in the first half, seemingly playing very tight, and the Tigers defensive backs were taking away anything down the field for Alabama. Clemson defensive end Chris Dodd abused right tackle Dominick Jackson throughout the game, to the tune of five tackles for loss and three sacks, but Lane Kiffin combatted that in the second half with roll outs, bootlegs, and sprint outs that forced Dodd to chase Coker rather than allow him to bull over Jackson.
Then, in the second half Kiffin managed to find a matchup that ended up being a killer for Clemson. Clemson attempted to match up a safety, almost all night, with 6’6” tight end OJ Howard rather than attempt to have a slower linebacker run with him. That resulted in disaster for the Tigers as Howard caught a beautiful 53-yard pass for his first score early in the third quarter, and came right back for a 51-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
On the first score Kiffin called a go route to Howard with the receiver, Calvin Ridley, faking like it was going to be a screen. Both the safety and corner bit on the screen and Howard ran free for the long score. On the second score Howard just flat out torched the safety, running straight passed him untouched, before catching a beautiful pass from Coker. Then, with under four minutes remaining in the game, Coker tossed a short pass on a drag route to Howard, who then proceeded to break a tackle and blaze past the Clemson defense for a 63-yard gain which ultimately set up Derrick Henry’s third touchdown of the night.
Howard was incredible on the night but Coker played tough, and overcame his early struggles, to make several big plays in the second half including a big third and short scramble inside the ten and a 38-yard beauty to ArDarius Stewart despite taking a huge hit. Last week Michigan State sold out to stop Derrick Henry and Calvin Ridley torched the defense. This week OJ Howard did the torching.
Henry Surpasses Alexander
Derrick Henry started his night off with a bang after a 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and ended up with over 100 yards in the first half. In the second half Clemson made adjustments and started to control the line of scrimmage in the running game. Henry struggled mightily in the third quarter to find any room at all but as Coker started to hit big passes down the field things started to open for Henry once again and he began running over defenders once again with big, tough runs. None bigger than his one yard touchdown plunge in the fourth quarter that iced the game. With his 158 yards rushing Henry officially surpassed Shaun Alexander as Alabama’s all-time leading rusher with 3,591 rushing yards, and the insane thing is that he did it in just one season as a starter and only two seasons as a regular contributor. Henry has also shattered Alabama and SEC single season records with his 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns.
The National Championship will likely be Henry’s final game in crimson and white and if it is he will end it as one of the greatest running backs to ever play for the Tide and his 2015 season was one of the greatest of any running back in the history of college football.
Defense Throttled, Still Makes Big Plays
The Clemson offense sliced through the Alabama defense at times last night like a knife through warm butter. It was extremely frustrating to watch at times and you could tell the Alabama defense was equally as frustrated. Reuben Foster looked to be the designated “spy” on Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson for much of the first half but struggled trying to chase the speedy signal caller down, and also struggled trying to run with Tiger running backs out of the backfield on pass routes. In the second half Kirby Smart moved Rashaan Evans to the “spy” position and it resulted in Alabama’s only two sacks of the game and a few forced punts as Evans was able to keep Watson’s runs to much shorter yardage situations for the most part.
Alabama’s usually deadly pass rush didn’t seem nearly as aggressive as in past weeks and as a result Watson was able to pick apart the Alabama defenses at times, to the tune of more than 400 yards. Despite the fast paced style and Clemson attacking the edges for the majority of the game, the Tigers typically like to run into the teeth of defenses, up the gut, but Alabama held Clemson’s inside running game in check. Running back Wayne Gallman had just 45 yards rushing, with 34 of that coming on a long run late in the game. Freshman cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick struggled the entire game and was torched in the first half more than once by former walk-on receiver Hunter Renfrow.
The Alabama defense seemed to be content on allowing short underneath throws complete while not letting the Clemson receivers get behind the defenders. Clemson’s longest pass play of the game was 39 yards but the problem was that they had too many 20+ yard completions which really hurt the defense and helped Clemson keep Alabama’s defense on its heels much of the night. The biggest defensive play of the game was the interception by Eddie Jackson at a point in which Clemson was leading 14-7 and had Alabama gone down 21-7 it may have really been a killer. Instead Derrick Henry punched the ball into the endzone a few plays later.
Kenyan Drake, Special Teams Make Huge Plays
In the fourth quarter, following a Clemson field goal that cut the Alabama lead to 31-27, senior Kenyan Drake excited the more than 60,000 in attendance with an electrifying 95-yard kickoff return touchdown. It was Drake’s first career return touchdown and it was a backbreaker for the Tigers as it seemed that Clemson was starting to gain momentum back again. It was an especially memorable moment in the game considering the struggles Drake has gone through the past two seasons. The emotion the play elicited from Drake’s teammates will likely not be forgotten by anyone that witnessed it. The play was one of several big plays the Alabama special teams made during the game that really helped propel the Tide to a win.
Possibly the biggest play of the game was a gamble made by the Tide which seemed to shock everyone in attendance. Nick Saban isn’t exactly known as a gambler and on this night decided his team needed a wager. With just over ten minutes remaining in the game and the Alabama defense struggling Adam Griffith kicked one of the most absolutely perfect onside kicks I’ve ever seen and cornerback Marlon Humphrey caught it in the stride. Just two plays later Coker hit Howard for the 51-yard touchdown strike. It was a huge momentum shifter and it was a moment in the game when I truly felt like the game turned.
This Alabama team was special and the closeness and togetherness that they played with this season has been a thing to remember. Not just the records that have been broken this season or even the championships, but this team started out the year with everyone questioning Jake Coker and really the entire team. In September many in the media buried this Alabama team and declared that the Alabama “dynasty” had been burned to the ground. Well, on January 11th that dynasty rose from the ashes and claimed the schools 16th National Championship. Pundits like Colin Cowherd may think that Alabama is “boring” and “bad for college football,” but thankfully Nick Saban doesn’t care what they think and once again the Tide is sitting on the throne of college football.
Jake Coker: 16-25, 335 yards, 2 TD
Derrick Henry: 36 carries, 158 yards, 3 TD
Kenyan Drake: 1 carry, 1 yard; 2 catches, 21 yards
Calvin Ridley: 6 catches, 14 yards
OJ Howard: 5 catches, 208 yards, 2 TD
ArDarius Stewart: 2 catches, 63 yards
Richard Mullaney: 1 catch, 29 yards
Geno Matias-Smith: 11 TKL
Reuben Foster: 9 TKL, 1.0 TFL
Cyrus Jones: 5 TKL, 1 FF
Reggie Ragland: 5 TKL
Marlon Humphrey: 5 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 2 PBU
Da’Shawn Hand: 4 TKL, 2.0 TFL
Minkah Fitzpatrick: 4 TKL, 2 PBU
Dillon Lee: 3 TKL
Rashaan Evans: 3 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks
Eddie Jackson: 3 TKL, 1 INT
A’Shawn Robinson: 3 TKL
Denzel Devall: 3 TKL
Ronnie Harrison: 1 TKL, 1 PBU
Maurice Smith: 1 TKL
Jarran Reed: 1 TKL
DJ Pettway: 1 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 blocked field goal
Adam Griffith: 1 TKL
Dalvin Tomlinson: 1 TKL
Bradley Sylve: 1 TKL
Keith Holcombe: 1 TKL
JK Scott: 7 punts, 42.4 YPP, Long: 52 yards
Adam Griffith: 1/2 FGs, 6/6 XPs
Kenyan Drake: 5 KOR, 196 yards, 1 TD
Cyrus Jones: 1 PR, 12 yards