No matter what happened Monday night in Santa Clara, we knew the Clemson Tigers were going to be a top national title contender in 2019. But after the Tigers dismantled Alabama in the most impressive championship game performance of the short lifespan of the College Football Playoff with true freshmen leading the charge at quarterback and wide receiver, we may have just had a glimpse of just how strong the Tigers are going to be again next fall.
We have not been strangers to seeing young players step into the championship spotlight during the College Football Playoff, of course. It was just last year when Tua Tagovailoa stepped onto the scene to save Alabama’s national title hopes against Georgia as a freshman, with the Bulldogs also being led by a young quarterback in Jake Fromm. But the display of aerial brilliance exhibited by Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and wide receiver Justyn Ross was something for the ages.
Lawrence showed he was not afraid of the big moment against the best team he has faced all season by throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the biggest game of his life. Ross was undeterred too with six receptions for 153 yards with a handful of plays that will be added to his preseason Biletnikoff Award campaign for the 2019 season. And these were just freshmen who a year ago were in high school. On Monday night, they were responsible for shredding apart an Alabama defense that had been cracking in their pass defense in the postseason. Lawrence and Ross were just there to break things wide open against the Tide.
Sophomore slumps? Don’t count on it from these two players. Clemson has this dynamic duo for at least two more seasons, barring any unforeseen changes to the eligibility rules and possible changes on the landscape with the NFL or other outside influencers. For now, Dabo Swinney has a quarterback and a wide receiver and you know the rest of the roster is going to be loaded as well. Winning his first national championship two years ago was the crowning achievement of Swinney’s career, but winning his second puts Swinney in even more elite company as a two-time championship-winning head coach. To be able to win both of his national championships against the undisputed king of college football in the BCS and playoff era, Alabama’s Nick Saban, makes Swinney’s case as one of the best today even stronger.
Ohio State’s victory over Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship game was impressive. The previous two battles between Alabama and Clemson were instant classics, as was last year’s Alabama victory over Georgia. But what Clemson did to the team that had been No. 1 all season long on a stage Alabama usually delivers was single-handedly the most impressive championship game performance in the playoff era. It should not be a suggestion that Alabama is on the decline, because that is simply not true. It is, however, another example to suggest just how strong a program Swinney has molded.
Not too many coaches get the best of Saban in the postseason, especially when a championship is on the line. With Lawrence and Ross, it may not be a surprise to see Swinney get another chance to take down the Tide.
As Clemson continues to put on a clinic against Alabama in a blowout in the national championship game, we are watching freshman wide receiver Justyn Ross become a household name. As Clemson was in the process of taking a commanding 44-16 lead on Alabama late in the third quarter after a massive fourth-down stop at the other end of the field, Clemson’s dynamic freshmen got to work.
Trevor Lawrence has continued to impress with what he’s been doing in the game, and having confidence Ross is going to make a catch is a big reason why. Ross made two highlight catches on the Clemson touchdown drive that will show why he should absolutely be on the Biletnikoff Award watch list for the 2019 season. First was the easy toss to Ross from Lawrence on 3rd and 13 for a 37-yard gain. Ross catches the ball after bobbling it with one hand down the right sideline.
Not to be content with just one incredible effort, Ross one-upped himself moments later with an amaiing one-handed stab for a catch to move the ball into the red zone.
Lawrence even took a hit as he released that second pass to Ross as he continues to look unrattled against the Crimson Tide, who are grasping for answers at this point. Lawrence finished off the drive with a touchdown pass to Tee Higgins on a third-and-goal in the final minute of the third quarter.
Barring an incredible comeback, Clemson is on its way to a second national championship under Dabo Swinney, and the freshman quarterback and freshman wide receiver are big reasons why.
Down 31-16, Alabama head coach Nick Saban was not afraid to try doing something unorthodox to catch Clemson off guard on the opening drive of the second half. But Clemson was not fooled by Alabama’s attempt of a fake field goal.
After a 12-play drive stalled at the Clemson 22-yard line, Alabama tried a fake field goal with holder Mac Jones attempting to pick up the needed six yards to pick up a first down. But Clemson must have seen something, as did ESPN announcer Chris Fowler because the Tigers snuffed it out and made sure Jones lost two yards on the play.
Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas missed an extra point in the first quarter, preventing Alabama from tying the game at 14-14 at the time and instead of keeping Alabama down by one point. Bulovas later added a field goal for the last points scored so far tonight by Alabama, but even that try wasn’t the most confident-looking kick. Down by 15 points at the time, Saban must have felt his team really needed more than a field goal to open the half. Instead, the worst-case scenario played out as Alabama came up empty on the drive and three plays later Trevor Lawrence dumped off a pass to a wide-open Justyn Ross. Ross took off for a 74-yard touchdown and gave Clemson a 38-16 lead midway through the third quarter.
As if that were not bad enough, Alabama cornerback Saivion Smith was injured on the play. He fell on the field while initially covering Ross on the play, and he was carted off the field with an injury.
Alabama is in some serious trouble right now, with Clemson leading 37-16.
After getting knocked out of last week’s game, freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence made his return to the football field this weekend for Clemson. Against Wake Forest, he has calmly worked back into his groove and Clemson is leading the Demon Deacons on the road 28-0 at halftime.
Travis Etienne has scored two touchdowns on the ground and has helped to take the pressure of the freshman quarterback. Lawrence has one 55-yard touchdown pass to Justyn Ross, which came in the second quarter for Clemson’s first third-down conversion, but most of the pass selection has looked to take advantage of shorter and more efficient and accurate passes. Lawrence passed for 173 yards while completing 18 of 21 attempts for two touchdowns.
Clemson’s defense continues to take care of their business as well. Wake Forest has struggled to keep drives going, converting just three of 11 in the first half for a first down. Wake Forest has just 74 yards of offense at the half. Clemson is already up to 312 yards and counting.
It sure looks as though Clemson is heading to a 6-0 record to start the season. If Wake Forest can’t find any big plays on offense, they have very little chance of making this one interesting after halftime.