NEW ORLEANS – Clemson saw its hopes of winning a second straight college football national title come to an end on Monday as it lost to Alabama 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl in a College Football Playoff national semifinal in the Superdome.
The Tigers, who beat the Crimson Tide last season to win the title after losing to them the previous season, finish the season with a 12-2 record after coming into the game as the No. 1 seed. Fourth-seeded ‘Bama is 12-1 and will play Southeastern Conference foe Georgia for the national title on Monday in Atlanta.
The Crimson Tide held Clemson to just 188 yards of total offense. The Tigers had just 64 rushing yards.
Alabama dominated the first half but only led the Tigers 10-3 at halftime. The Tide received the opening kickoff and on first down quarterback Jalen Hurts held on to the football too long on a read-option with running back Damien Harris and fumbled. Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph recovered at the Alabama 20-yard line.
However, the Tigers couldn’t move the ball and had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by placekicker Alex Spence to make it 10-6 with 12:45 left in the third quarter.
The Tiger defense forced a three downs and out and took over as its 32 following a punt. Clemson got a pair of 8-yard runs by running back Travis Etienne and a 6-yard run from quarterback Kelly Bryant for a first down at Tide 35.
On first down though, Bryant had the ball jarred loose on a hit by outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings while trying to pass. Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne had the ball go in his hands for an interception and he returned it 21 yards. A personal foul on Clemson added 15 more yards and set ‘Bama up at its 27.
Alabama got a first down on fourth down and one yard to go on a 4-yard run by Harris. Hurts followed with a 13-yard completion to wide receiver Calvin Ridley for another first down at the 1.
After no gain on first down, Payne came into the backfield as part of the Tide’s heavy set. He did not block though. Instead, Hurts rolled out and tossed a touchdown pass to Payne, who made the catch and used some nifty footwork to stay inbounds.
Placekicker Andy Pappanastos kicked the extra point to make it 17-6 with 5:40 left in the third quarter.
On first down on the ensuing possession, Bryant was picked off by Tide linebacker Mack Wilson, who returned it 18 yards for the score to make it 24-6 just 13 seconds later.
Alabama won the field position battle early and that led to it getting on the scoreboard first.
Clemson received the opening kickoff and started at its 16. The Tigers went three downs and out and the Crimson Tide took over at their 46 following the punt. Alabama also went three and out, but Clemson again had to start at its 16.
The Tigers once again ran just three plays and ‘Bama started a yard closer this time at its 47. Hurts got the game’s initial first down when he ran 19 yards on a draw to the Clemson 34.
Alabama had a first down and goal at the 3 but had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Pappanastos to make it 3-0 with 5:23 remaining in the first quarter.
It was another three and out for the Tigers and a 14-yard punt return by Trevon Diggs set the Tide up at the CU 46. Alabama got the game’s first touchdown on this drive with Hurts pulling up while scrambling to connect with wide receiver Calvin Ridley for a 12-yard score. Pappanastos added the extra point to make it 10-0 with 12 seconds left in the first quarter
Clemson again had terrible field position following the kickoff, starting at its 19. Bryant was dropped for a 7-yard loss on first down, but he went for five yards on the next play and scrambled 20 yards for the Tigers’ first first down.
Bryant followed with a 19-yard completion to wide receiver Deon Cain for a first down at the Alabama 42. Clemson got as close as the 27 before settling for a 44-yard field goal by Spence to make it 10-3 with 10 minutes to go in the first half.
Pappanastos had a 38-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright near the end of the first half to keep the score at 10-3.