2017 Sugar Bowl, Alabama, Jalen Hurts
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

After suffering through purgatory for a week due to their loss to Auburn, the Crimson Tide showed the rest of the College Football world why they are the best team in the nation with their dominance over Clemson.

One could feel the anxiety coming from all areas of the Yellow Hammer state after Nick Saban’s defense failed to show up in the second half of their loss at Auburn. In that game, the Alabama defense, which had led the nation in points per game allowed, fell flat on their face after taking a 14-10 lead. The Crimson Tide defense allowed 195 yards and 17 points on three straight possessions, ending the Tide’s chance of a perfect season and, more importantly, putting their playoff spot into the hands of the College Football Playoff Committee.

In their rematch against Clemson on New Year’s Day, Alabama’s defense showed why they were dominant all season. Any questions the naysayers had about this team or who thought Ohio State deserved the final playoff spot was answered.

The Crimson Tide held Clemson to 188 total yards of offense, the second-fewest in a game under Dabo Swinney (131 games). Clemson averaged 530.5 yards per game in the previous two CFP meetings against Alabama.

Clemson Total Yards vs Alabama
CFB Playoff History
2015 National Championship 550
2016 National Championship 511
2017 National Semifinal 188

Clemson gained 71 yards on designed rushes, the Tigers’ second-fewest in a game in the last five seasons. The Tigers averaged 194.8 yards per game on designed rushes this season. It was the first time Clemson failed to score a TD in a game on a designed rush this season and the third time the Tigers did not produce a 10-yard play on a designed rush in the last five seasons.

Clemson Designed Rushing – Season
1st 13 Games Sugar Bowl
Yds per game 194.8 71
Yds per rush 5.3 3.1
TD per game 3 0

 

Kelly Bryant faced pressure on 19 of his 46 dropbacks (41 percent), his second-highest pressure percentage in a game this season. Bryant completed 2-of-11 passes for 26 yards with an interception while under duress. He was 4-of-12 for 36 yards on third down and came under pressure on six of those pass attempts (completed one).

Alabama made their fans a little nervous after a turnover deep in their territory gave Clemson a chance to tie the game at 10. However, the Tide defense stiffened, and pushed the Tigers five yards back after their three offensive plays, turning a first-and-10 at their 20, into a fourth-and-15 at their 25. Despite losing yards, when Alex Spence connected from 42 yards, the Tide’s lead was cut to 10-6.

Emotions grew more concerned about Alabama fans when their offense went three and out on their next possession, giving Clemson the ball back with a chance to take the lead. However, that is when this defense took over. After hearing all month of December how poorly they played in the second half against Auburn, it was time for them to show the nation just how good they are.

Da’Ron Payne then made his first big play of the game, as the Alabama defensive tackle intercepted a wobbly pass from Kelly Bryant and rumbling 21 yards. The 308-pound Payne showcased his athletic ability; shedding would-be tacklers and making open field moves to avoid others. Payne also was able to earn a 15-yard penalty, as he was horse-collared upon being tackled.

Payne then made his second big play of the game as Alabama faced a second and one at the one-yard line. Payne entered the game on offense, presumably to block, but he slipped open near the right pylon after a play fake from Jalen Hurts and caught a TD pass to give the Tide a 16-6 lead.

Payne became the third FBS player with an interception and a TD catch in the same game in the last 10 seasons, joining Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey (2016 vs Indiana) and Vanderbilt’s D.J. Moore (2008 vs Kentucky).

Already suffering from their previous turnover, Clemson shot themselves in the foot again on their next offensive play, as Bryant was intercepted by Mack Wilson, who returned the ball 18-yards for a pick-six. Alabama’s two touchdowns in 13 seconds turned the game from a nail-biter, into a high-five, as the Crimson Tide’s defense took out a month-long supply of frustration out on the Tigers.

Wilson’s interception return TD was Alabama’s 17th non-offensive TD since the start of last season, the most in the FBS. It was the Tide’s second such TD this season.

When all was said and done, the Tide had gained their revenge and accomplished what they had set out to do since the season started. On Monday, they have a chance to complete their journey to another National Championship, but it just wouldn’t have been as sweet if they didn’t defeat Clemson along the way.

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