The Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers battled back and forth in a College Football Playoff National Championship Game for the ages. Alabama finally held off Clemson, 45-40, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona.
The win marks Alabama’s sixteenth national title and head coach Nick Saban’s fifth.
“It was a tough game. You’ve gotta give Clemson’s players a lot of credit. They’ve really got a good team. This was a great challenge for us,” Saban told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after the game. “I am so proud of our players, though, the way they competed, especially in the second half.”
Alabama (13-1, 7-1 SEC) secured the victory behind stellar performances from running back Derrick Henry (36 carries, 158 yards, three scores) and the aerial team of quarterback Jake Coker and tight end O.J. Howard. Coker completed 16-of-25 passes for 335 yards and two scores. Both of those scores and 208 of the yards came to Howard, who snagged five passes and proved nearly impossible for Clemson (14-1, 8-0 ACC) to tackle.
“I knew I had a chance to make plays tonight, with the plays we called in practice,” Howard told Rinaldi. “That’s what happened tonight.”
Though his team fell a bit short, Clemson sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson turned in an outstanding performance. Watson completed 30-of-47 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns, adding 73 yards on 20 carries. The Tide had allowed just an average of 186 yards per game to opposing passers, with only Mississippi (341 yards) and Mississippi State (304 yards) having eclipsed the 300-yard mark. Freshman walk-on receiver Hunter Renfrow notched two outstanding touchdown grabs, totaling seven catches for 88 yards.
Alabama finished the regular season ranked second in the AP Top 25 and USA Today polls, along with the CFP standings. The Crimson Tide will finish the season ranked first, but Clemson returns a vast majority of the players that participated in Monday night’s game. Just nine of the offensive and defensive players on Clemson’s two-deep are seniors or graduate students.
The defending national champions open their 2016 schedule Saturday, September 3rd against USC. The game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as the latest installment of the AdvoCare Cowboys Classic.
Clemson will kick off their 2016 slate at Auburn on Saturday, September 3rd.