After 35 years, the Clemson Tigers are the National Champions. A last-second touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow allowed the Tigers to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31 in what some feel is the best national championship game since the 2005 Rose Bowl classic between Texas and USC.
Back in 2015, coach Dabo Swinney told his men to B.Y.O.G – Bring Your Own Guts, and it certainly took a lot of guts and determination to defeat the undefeated Tide. Heading into this contest, it was a re-match of last year’s National Championship, where Alabama came away 45-40 victors in a high-scoring affair.
Clemson were out for revenge following that loss, but Alabama wanted one last shot at Deshaun Watson after he threw for over 400 yards against them in 2016, something rare for an Alabama defense to concede. The Crimson Tide defense was one of the best in the nation, boasting NFL-caliber players all over the field. They led the nation in non-offensive touchdowns, with their ability to force turnovers and return it into the end zone uncanny. Watson, who at times struggled during the year with turnovers, knew how to come up clutch in big games. He created Heisman moments against Louisville and Florida State on his way to finishing 2nd in the Heisman race. He then went on to lead the Tigers to a total obliteration of Ohio State in the semi-final. The re-match was set. Watson vs Bama. The face of college football against the top dynasty in college football.
From the outset it looked as though the Tide had the upper hand, halting the Tigers on multiple drives, including a 4th down stop on Clemson’s opening drive. Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough, who had been on-and-off during the year battling injury, ran for two touchdowns in the first half to put the Tide up 14-0 during the second quarter. Scarbrough would wind up being a key loss for the Tide in the second half. The start of the second half saw Clemson starting with possession down 14-7 and looking to tie the game. However, a fumble by Tigers tailback Wayne Gallman ruined those chances, as Alabama linebacker and potential NFL prospect Ryan Anderson scooped up another loose ball. Clemson’s defense managed to limit the Tide to just a field goal and from then on, it was a back and forth contest. Throughout the entire game, Deshaun Watson was slowly trying to find his way in the game and managed to see the light at the start of the fourth quarter. A 4-yard pass to Mike Williams closed the lead to 24-21, before Wayne Gallman punched it in from a yard to give the Tigers their first lead of the game. Something seemed to spark the dormant Alabama offense, as true freshman Jalen Hurts, who was looking to become just the second true freshman quarterback in history to win a National Championship, ran up the middle for a 30-yard touchdown run to give the lead back to the Tide. Then it was Deshaun Watson’s moment. Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett made key grabs on this drive, but it was walk-on Hunter Renfrow who made the biggest catch of them all. The touchdown grab with one second left on the clock ended a 35 year drought. As orange and purple confetti fell, Deshaun Watson and Dabo Swinney fell on their knees overcome with emotion.
Dabo’s seen some great Clemson stars come and go. CJ Spiller, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony. Tajh Boyd. They could never win the big one. But as Ben Boulware put it, they started the Clemson dynasty. Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman, Boulware, Cordea Tankersley. They built upon what was started and finished the job. The Clemson dynasty has been built and it’s succeeded. Dabo defeated Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, two of the best coaches in college football, to win the National Championship. Dabo’s the second person to win a national title as both a player and coach. Deshaun Watson ends his college career on a high note. These guys have finished building the dynasty. However, it’s the end of an era for Clemson and college football. New Clemson stars will rise next year. But can they make sure no one can bring the dynasty down?
The start of the next season is a long way away. But for now, thirty-five years of “Clemsoning” – where the Tigers weren’t able to win the big one – are over. Maybe Clemsoning has a new definition – national champions.