Clemson-Alabama II: This was not only the cherry to top a crazy electrifying college football season — but a whole other sundae.
Last year’s classic matchup for the College Football Playoff national championship was followed by an even better classic matchup.
This one had a powerful wow factor. I found myself uttering that word several times on several plays. So did many on social media.
Clemson milked the dramatics to the very last drop. After Alabama made a stirring drive to go up 31-28, the Tide couldn’t hold the Tigers, who scored on a pass with a second and a timeout left..
The winning play began with 6 seconds left and with the Tigers on the Alabama 2 with one timeout left. Clemson won it with a basketball play. Quarterback DeShaun Watson quickly passed to receiver Hunter Renfroe, who broke off a pick for the winning touchdown.
Clemson could have forced overtime with a field goal. It was a gutsy move by Clemson. With six seconds to run a play, there is no margin for error. A bobbled snap, any scrambling or any coverage issues in the secondary could have left the Tigers stranded on the 2 with a defeat.
But that was characteristic of this game: Bold, wow stuff.
It was worthy of a championship label. Both teams played well enough and made enough plays to win. Alabama didn’t lose it as much as Clemson won it. It would have been the same with the reverse outcome.
Even the perimeter issues were delightful. For awhile on social media, referee’ Mike Defee’s arms were getting more attention than the game. Some fans were rooting for offside penalties just so Defee could spin his well-chiseled arms on the phantom speed bag one more time. His biceps even got their own Twitter account.
Back to the game.
It was appropriate that Renfroe caught the winning touchdown pass. He was originally a walk-on, considered undersized to play major college football.
This game was won on heart, on spunk — and not just from established stars.
Clemson displayed intangibles the Arkansas Razorbacks lacked this season. When they were hit and hit hard, the Tigers hit back. When the Razorbacks were hit and hit hard, much of the time they collapsed.
Clemson was a tough team, tough to the finish. The Hogs had a soft underbelly.
And Watson showed how is a cut above in combining skill with leadership. If you took the ballot today, he’d receive my Heisman vote.
Examine a couple of telling statistics: Alabama was two of 15 on third down and the average third-down yardage to make up was 9.3 yards.
The Tide rarely rolled this season in a downfield passing game. Clemson forced the Tide to play a downfield game.
Four Clemson receivers had 90 yards in receptions. And the degree of difficulty was high on many.
Lane Kiffin, the former Alabama defensive coordinator? You can debate for decades whether his absence made a difference. Two many variables.
The difference was one second and one play.
Much of the focus on this game, and throughout the playoffs, on Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who proved why he eared the Broyles Award as the best defensive coach in college football. He formulated a plan in which Alabama had to win awkwardly and uncomfortably.
This was the year for the Atlantic Coast Conference emerging as not just a great basketball conference.
This game was a perfect bookend to the NCAA national championship game, won on a last-second basketball. As far as other sports, the seventh-game of the NBA playoffs and the seventh-game of the World Series were awfully good.
For a game that threatened to go past midnight, this was enchanting roller-coaster ride.
The game, particularly the finish, was as riveting and powerful as Mike Defee’s guns.