SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Alabama’s proud offense closed the season with no confetti. It finished with records, but not rings.
A meteoric 2018 campaign crashed all at once in a 44-16 loss to Clemson in the national championship game. The Tigers’ defense, accumulated with Alabama mistakes, extinguished any chance of an Alabama comeback.
“We didn’t expect to play like this,” senior running back Damien Harris said. “There’s nothing we can do about it now. We’ll never get it back. That opportunity is kind of gone. It is what it is. We had a great season. This one game will not define us as players. It won’t define us as a team. I still think we’re a championship-caliber team. I still think we’re a team of champions, people with that championship character, mentality. It just didn’t go our way.”
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw two interceptions in the first half, one of which was returned for a touchdown. The other launched a 47-yard touchdown drive. Those two turnovers cost Alabama 14 points and gave Clemson a 28-16 lead.
Alabama never scored again after Tagovailoa’s second interception. Clemson finished the game on a 30-0 run. Alabama was shut out for the final 44:18 of the game after taking a 16-14 lead.
“You don’t prepare yourself for this,” senior tight end Hale Hentges said. “We’re Alabama. We obviously do a great job. I’ve lost four games here in my entire career, and they don’t get any easier. We do such a great job here of always executing and when you don’t execute, it’s hard to deal with it. Because we’re not used to it. Hats off to Clemson, they played extremely well. It just hurts.”
Tagovailoa covered his face with a towel and hung his head as he rode a golf cart back to the locker room following the postgame press conference.
He finished the game 22 of 34 passing for 295 yards with two touchdowns to accompany his two turnovers. He also finished the game on the sideline, as junior Jalen Hurts came in for Alabama’s final drive.
“I just think we came out, and we were killing ourselves,” Tagovailoa said. “We shot ourselves in the foot by me throwing that interception for a touchdown, and then not finishing drives the way we wanted to.”
The offense found room to make plays, rolling up 443 yards on the night. Running backs Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs combined for 163 yards on 31 carries. But it fell short in critical situations, going 4-13 on third down.
Alabama turned aggressive early after Clemson’s early scores and kept pushing on fourth down, but Clemson pushed back. The Crimson Tide conversions fell short on fourth down on three times. A fake field goal was stuffed. Tagovailoa was tackled short of the marker twice, 11 and nine yards from the end zone.
“I think we’re all just sick to our stomachs at how we finished drives, especially on offense,” Hentges said.
Clemson didn’t turn the ball over once and scored on five of six possessions in the red zone. The conclusions for Alabama were very different.
“We didn’t finish drives in the red zone,” coach Nick Saban said. “We could have got right back in the game now. We had the ball down there three times and didn’t score a point, didn’t score a point. We had a fake field goal, went for it on fourth down twice, had the ball on the 1-yard line.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.