Since I was at the game, I wasn’t able to write my postgame reaction, and wanted to give the game a rewatch (or two, or three, ok maybe four) just to firm up what we looked like to the average fan watching from the stands Monday night.
Honestly the atmosphere wasn’t the same for me this time compared to Tampa and Phoenix, both of which I also attended. There is no way Clemson is going to win a Natty without me being present. The stadium in both of those cases was 60/40 Clemson, and this one was about 40/40 with 20% of other folks who didn’t really care about either team. Phoenix was good, Tampa got quite loud, but this one was so-so from my seat. Maybe it depended on where you were sitting. The stadium itself is not particularly attractive from the outside, and the whole fan-central CFP experience wasn’t all that if you don’t go nuts over Keith Urban, but the view of the mountains was tremendous. Oh and for those of you who may attend one in the future, be sure to get drunk outside, because its $13-14 per beer inside the fan area.
Before the game I was pretty confident we were going to win, because I do watch a good bit of Alabama football along with all of our games, and so I do see the weaknesses of our teams. Alabama was not great at pass defense this year, and lacks some star power at LB that they’ve had in the past. Don’t get me wrong, statistically they are great, but you have to see the whole picture. Saban has always given offenses places to attack him, its just that most teams don’t have the cats to take advantage and catch his DBs when they jump routes or otherwise cheat in coverage. If you have no QB and no horses, then you are going to get smothered by his front 7 and won’t score at all. Any team that can protect the QB long enough to get their athletes in space against Alabama can beat them.
Trevor Lawrence is a great QB and has great WRs, and thanks to the absolutely stellar OL pass protection, Alabama had no answer for Clemson. I finally saw backs moving around to pick up blitzers, and actually making blocks. Just the same at TE. AL gave us a 2-High look for the first 3Q of the game, and they do a lot of split coverages and rotations into C3, but nothing they had truly worked. They could not sit on the underneath routes like they could against us last year. The line kept Sunshine upright and he kept his eyes downfield and just picked them apart. The opportunities were there last season, but we didn’t have the cats to hit them, that is the difference. Saban had to respect the vertical stretch, in last season’s game he did not.
But there were passes he threw that couldn’t be defended either. If you put a ball in the perfect spot, even with good defensive position, the cover guy can do nothing. Tua’s slants that gave us problems in the 1st half were just the same. If it’s on the money, no defense, however good, can stop it.
I felt we’d end up with about 70-90 yards rushing, not really any better than the last 3 games, and until the final drive of the game that is where we were. I thought we had some decent success running earlier, but the staff seemed to quit on it too soon and decided to just throw it around. Alabama, on the other hand, had great success running the ball and just didn’t stick with it. This is what concerned me the most at halftime. Any time you can get to the redzone but can’t score, it’s on the run game. Why Mike Locksley decided to stop running it, I’ll never know, because Tua was confused from the get-go. He tried all kinds of stuff in the redzone besides smash-mouth, and the few times he did later, we’d get one negative play and kill the drive. That final goal line stand made me jump 10 feet in the air.
I felt sure that the difference in the run game would bite us late, but by then Alabama seemed to have tapped out. Then it was Clemson punishing a tired DL.
Clemson’s defense bent quite a bit, and it made me very nervous. Gap control was not great in that first half. But I could see they were prepared better. Mullen and Terrell will be NFL corners. If not for Muse biting on the double move by Jeudy and then again later when his TE snuck out to the left at the goal line, they could’ve had no TDs. Think about that. Skeletor bitched him out for not even looking at Hentges, but then he came back in and played well down the stretch, making some big run stops along the way. The DL would’ve had more sacks if not for the constant holding that was never called. They just could not pass block, and this was probably one of the best pass protection teams Saban has had.
I never felt totally comfortable in this game until Saban ran that fake FG. I know how fast they’ve been able to score all year, just like us. He went full Kirby Smart on that call, however. A fake FG, with 6 yards to gain (huh?), with the kicker as lead blocker(lol!), against 4 NFL defensive linemen (lol!!), playing FG Safe defense (wtf?). I’ve seen him screw up a call before, but never have I seen it in a high stakes game. You should’ve seen the look on Bamafan’s faces. Pity the poor holder folks, he’s been gelded and burned at the stake by now. After that, everyone in the stadium knew it was over. Jalen Hurts coming in was a formality, he had no shot.
Bottom line, it looked like Clemson prepared for a month and Alabama prepared for a week. Swinney outcoached the Master. He’s made himself the best Clemson coach of all time. We gave up a lot of yards, but made every stop we needed to make. Our WRs caught everything that got near them. Bama could do nothing to stop Trevor Lawrence, and I don’t think they will next year either. I fully predict that we’ll be back for New Orleans next season, even with the defense taking a step back.
I never would’ve thought after the 6-7 season that we’d be here today. If you recall, we were calling for heads to roll. Only after that did the IPF and facilities/WEZ enhancements even get announced, after TDP told us just 6 months before that we needed no IPF. The Board, TDP, and Barker weren’t committed but Swinney got them there somehow, and now that he has us moving all in one direction we’re the best team in the nation, and national champions once again.
And that’s 3 titles since Georgia won their last one in case you forgot.