By (Matthew Speakman)

TAMPA, Fla. – It was first down. No. 2 Clemson had No. 1 Alabama’s defense on its heels. Quarterback Deshaun Watson took the snap, dropped back and found wide receiver Hunter Renfrow for a two-yard touchdown to take a 35-31 lead with one second left. A dagger into the heart of Alabama’s defense and the team’s chances at a 17th national championship.

“They capitalized on whatever they ran on us,” said linebacker Rashaan Evans. “They got a man open and they caught it.”

The game-winning touchdown capped off a nine-play, 68-yard drive that started with just two minutes left on the clock. Even though Alabama’s defense held its own for most of the game, it struggled to slow down Watson in the fourth quarter.

“It was was a full 60-minute game and we knew that going into this game it was going to be that,” said defensive end Jonathan Allen. “He [Watson] made the plays when they needed and we didn’t”

Alabama’s defense looked tired in the final stages of the game. The unit was on the field for nearly 35 minutes of the game, and Watson took advantage on the final drive.

“That [time of possession] was a pretty big factor since we were playing an offense like Clemson and Deshaun Watson,” Humphrey said. “We wanted to limit the amount of times they got the ball. I felt like when we would get them off of the field, we would be right back out there. It’s tough going against an offense that good.”

The Tigers’ offense seemed to settle in as the game went on. Early in first half, the team had trouble finding any room to work on offense- only tallying 46 yards in the first quarter. The Tigers turned the ball over, and were not able to score until the second quarter.

Then, Watson started to get comfortable, and Alabama’s pass rush slowed down. He was able to pick apart the Crimson Tide secondary, throwing two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.

Watson led the Tigers on multiple big drives and proved why he was a Heisman Trophy Finalist.

“He’s a great player. He is Clemson,” said linebacker Tim Williams. “Everybody follows behind him.”

Wide receivers Mike Williams and Hunter Renfrow proved to be big factors. The two combined for 18 catches resulting in 186 yards and three touchdowns. Both made big plays down the stretch, and Williams came down with multiple jump balls- including one on the final drive.

Humphrey believes Williams was one of the guys that hurt Alabama’s defense in the second half.

“He’s a pretty big guy, definitely very tough to guard,” Humphrey said. “I think he was there go-to guy down the stretch. I mean he’s a top-10 pick for a reason. There was no surprise that he was going to make some plays.”

Alabama’s defense was a force all season. Coming into the game, Alabama had not allowed a touchdown in the fourth quarter since its game against Arkansas. Yet, Clemson scored 21 points in the fourth quarter against the nation’s top scoring defense.

Tonight, The unit played 99 snaps- a season high. Part of this was due to the offensive struggles, and part of it was Clemson converting on big plays in big moments.

Allen, who had a sack in his final game, took the loss hard as a defensive player.

“Offense played so hard. Defense, we started good, but we ain’t finish strong,” Allen said. “…As a defensive player, I gotta put most of the blame on myself, I feel like I didn’t play like I should have. I let my team down.”

Alabama’s defense believed to be the heart of the team all season. When the offense would struggle, the defense would come up with a big play to keep the team alive. Tonight, that did not happen, and Clemson capitalized.

The team loses Williams, Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson, Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and possibly Humphrey. With the future on his mind, Williams said he told the young players to use the loss as motivation.

“It motivates me to talk to the young guys and tell them, ‘Keep y’all’s head up. Y’all got a lot of stuff going, y’all going to still be playing for Alabama’” he said. “It was my last game, so I’m taking it hard because I love my brothers.”

…read more

Source:: The Crimson White Sports