Jan. 7 (UPI) — Freshman Trevor Lawrence passed all over the Alabama defense, leading Clemson to a College Football Playoff national title on Monday in Santa Clara, Calif.
Clemson went up big on Alabama in the first half and never looked back in a dominating 44-16 win at Levi’s Stadium. The No. 2 Tigers have now won two of the last three national championships.
“Going through the season, everyone is laying it on the line for each other,” Lawrence said. “It makes it easier when everyone out there is giving 100 percent. It makes you want to go hard for sure.”
Lawrence completed 20-of-32 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the thrashing of the defending national champions.
Clemson (15-0) jumped the Crimson Tide (14-1) from the opening whistle. Sophomore cornerback A.J. Terrell picked off Tua Tagovailoa on Alabama’s opening drive and sprinted for a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown just minutes into the heavyweight bout.
Alabama answered on the resulting drive, with Tagovailoa airing out a 62-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy to tie the score at 7-7 at the 12:05 mark.
The high-scoring quarter continued with the Tigers scoring in four plays on the next drive, capped off by a Travis Etienne 17-yard scoring scamper.
Alabama got another Tagovailoa touchdown pass to cap off a 10-play, 75-yard drive on the next possession, but missed the field goal and still trailed 14-13. The Tide forced the Tigers to punt on the next drive and would get a 25-yard field goal from Joseph Bulovas with 6:07 remaining in the opening quarter to take a 16-14 edge.
Then the Tigers really roared, reeling off 30 unanswered points to take control.
Etienne ran for another score on the next possession, putting Clemson up 21-16. Trayvon Mullen intercepted Tagovailoa on the next Tide drive, giving the ball to Clemson on the Alabama 47-yard-line.
Clemson reached the end zone eight plays later, as Lawrence found Etienne for a 5-yard touchdown toss, putting the Tigers up 12 points.
The Tigers defense stood strong, forcing a Tide punt on the next drive. Greg Huegel put Clemson up 31-16 at the half with a 36-yard-field goal with 1:19 remaining in the first act.
The halftime deficit was the largest Alabama has ever had in the Nick Saban era.
Lawrence burned Bama once again on the Tigers’ first drive of the second half. The freshman gunslinger hit fellow freshman Justyn Ross just short of midfield on a 3rd-and-8 play. Ross did the rest, reeling in the catch and scorching past the Tide defense for a 74-yard touchdown.
The Tigers flame thrower found Tee Higgins for his third passing score of the game with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter, giving Clemson its 44-16 advantage.
“I think the responsibility for us not playing well really starts with me,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters.
“… I thought the players prepared well for this game and I think that they just got outperformed.”
Tagovailoa completed 22-of-34 passes for 295 yards, two scores and two interceptions in the loss. Ross had six grabs for 153 yards and a score for the Tigers.
“We had a great season,” Tagovailoa said. “But just five words: good is not good enough. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish. We didn’t do the things we needed to do to execute and win this game.”
Etienne led the ground game with 86 yards and two scores on 14 carries for Clemson.
“There ain’t never been a 15-0 team and I know we aren’t supposed to be here, we’re just little old Clemson,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “And I’m not supposed to be here. But we are and I am. How about them Tigers?”
“We beat Notre Dame and Alabama. We left no doubt. And we walk off this field tonight as the first 15-0 team in college football history.”