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.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been intercepted twice in the first half of the College Football Playoff national championship game, and Clemson took advantage of his second turnover.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed four of five pass attempts on the drive after Tagovailoa was picked off by Trayvon Mullen, and Travis Etienne took care of some business on the ground with a few runs. On the final play of the quick 47-yard touchdown drive, Lawrence completed a shovel pass to Etienne up the middle for a touchdown, giving Clemson a 28-16 lead on the Crimson Tide with 4:38 remaining in the second quarter.
Earlier in the half, Alabama was stuffed by a Clemson defense that was not at all fooled by a shovel pass attempt near the end zone. A Tagovailoa shovel pass to Damien Harris was covered well for a loss of four yards, forcing Nick Saban to accept a field goal that gave Alabama a 16-14 lead at the time. Clemson responded with an impressive touchdown drive as the Tigers have shown an ability to move on Alabama like few teams have been capable of doing this season.
No. 2 Clemson (8-0, 5-0 ACC) is starting to have that look again. The Tigers were challenged early against Florida State (4-4, 2-4 ACC) in a scoreless first quarter, but Clemson woke up after that and left no doubt about how good they are. Clemson’s 59-10 victory over Florida State was the biggest margin for victory by the Tigers in the history of the series. It was so lopsided, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney had the luxury of inserting backup players in the third quarter.
Trevor Lawrence passed for 314 yards and four touchdowns before getting the entire fourth quarter off. Lawrence had a rough start to the game as it took time for he and the rest of the Clemson offense to get comfortable against a feisty start by the Florida State defense, but once the big plays started coming together, there was no looking back. Tee Higgins caught two touchdown passes inside the red zone to help get the Tigers on their roll, and Amari Rodgers pulled in two touchdown catches to go with his 156 receiving yards.
Clemson’s defense made life difficult for Florida State all afternoon. The Seminoles had a team total of -21 rushing yards and the team combined for 253 yards of offense in the game. Meanwhile, Clemson racked up more than double that with 523 yards, including 404 through the air. Florida State was also penalized 16 times for 140 yards, and two turnovers led to Clemson points when the game was still relatively up for grabs. For as uch progress as Florida State seemed to be making in recent weeks, all of that went out the window against Clemson.
Clemson’s 49-point victory is the largest margin for victory by Clemson in the all-time series against Florida State, and the second-most lopsided victory by either team in the series. Florida State defeated Clemson 57-0 in 1993 and 48-0 in 1998. Florida State also had a 47-point victory over the Tigers in 2000.
Next up for Clemson is a home game against Louisville. The Cardinals have been struggling mightily this season, which seems to suggest there should be another comfortable Clemson win on the horizon. Three of the final four games Clemson plays will come at home, with the only road trip remaining coming up in two weeks at Boston College. The fate of the division could come down to that game.
Florida State plays their next two games on the road, first at NC State next week and then at Notre Dame after that. The margin for error to get to a bowl game is beginning to get razor thin for the Seminoles. Florida State needs two wins in their final four games in order to go bowling. The two home games remaining will be played against Boston College and Florida.