Three reasons Alabama failed to repeat as national champions
It was there for the taking. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts had given the Crimson Tide a 31-28 lead over Clemson with just over two minutes remaining in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
The Alabama offense turned things over to the nation’s best defense, but Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson marched the Tigers downfield and his 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with a second remaining gave Clemson a 35-31 victory and its first national championship since 1981.
The Tigers (14-1) scored 21 points in the fourth quarter against an Alabama defense that had allowed just 32 fourth-quarter points all season.
So, how did Alabama (14-1) lose a game it led at halftime for the first time in 24 games? There are three key reasons.
1. Bo Scarbrough’s injury
The Crimson Tide offense just wasn’t the same without their bruising sophomore running back, who left early in the third quarter with a leg injury. Scarbrough ran the ball 12 times for 76 yards in the first half, scoring both Crimson Tide touchdowns to give them a 14-7 halftime lead. Scarbrough had just four carries in the second half and finished with 93 yards. The Clemson defense had no answers for the 6-2, 230-pound Scarbrough before his injury.
2. Lack of sustained drives
Hurts were trying to become the first true freshman since 1985 to lead his team to a national championship. But Hurts, despite his go-ahead 30-yard touchdown run with 2:07 remaining, turned in an underwhelming performance. He was 13 of 31 for 131 yards and a touchdown. The Tide were just 2 of 15 on third down and couldn’t stay on the field to give their defense a break. Each of Alabama’s four touchdowns was of the big-play variety — Scarbrough’s runs of 25 and 37 yards, a 68-yard pass to tight end O.J. Howard and the late Hurts score. Before the Hurts touchdown run, Alabama had gained just 27 yards on ten plays in the fourth quarter with three punts.
While the Alabama defense wore down late because Clemson ran 99 offensive plays, the Tide were uncharacteristic of a Nick Saban-coached team with nine penalties for 82 yards. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on sophomore defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne helped put Clemson in a position to take its first lead with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. A pass interference penalty helped moved the ball from the Alabama 9 to the 2-yard line in the final seconds to put Clemson in a better position for the game-winning score.