NEW ORLEANS – The Alabama defense had heard enough about its injuries this season. It had relived the last two games against Clemson and its last-second loss last January.
The Crimson Tide was ready to talk about something different. Alabama’s defense smothered Clemson to seal a 24-6 win at the Superdome on Monday.
“We had something to prove today,” sophomore outside linebacker Terrell Lewis said. “We had something to prove to everybody who doubted. The whole country, acting like Clemson was No. 1. We had something to prove and played with a chip on our shoulder.”
Clemson hadn’t been held to six points in a game since 2014. The Tigers’ 188 yards were their fewest in a game since 2011.
“This was a great team effort by our entire defense,” coach Nick Saban said. “The front guys did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. The linebackers did a good job of adjusting. The secondary guys did a pretty good job of covering all day. This was really a great team effort.”
Back-to-back turnovers swung all the momentum to Alabama in the third quarter. Defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne intercepted a pass that set up a touchdown seven plays later (Payne caught the touchdown, too). Linebacker Mack Wilson, who played much of the season with a foot injury and missed two games, had the second turnover. He returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.
Defensive ends Da’Shawn Hand and Isaiah Buggs had a pair of sacks to snuff out the next Clemson drive late in the third quarter, two of five sacks on the night. Clemson’s first four drives in the second half finished with minus-five yards, the back-to-back interceptions and minus-two yards.
“The guys played about as hard as any of our defensive teams that I can remember in this particular game,” Saban said.
The Tigers finally mounted a drive late in the fourth quarter that reached the red zone, but never scored.
Senior linebacker Rashaan Evans led the team with nine tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. Outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings was disruptive all night. He had three tackles for loss and a sack. Jennings left late in the game with what appeared to be a knee injury. Saban said his status for the national championship game is undetermined.
“Everybody balled out on defense,” Lewis said.
Hunter Renfrow, who caught four touchdown passes in the first two games between the teams, had just five catches for 31 yards. He didn’t get his first reception until early in the fourth quarter, when Alabama already had a stranglehold on the lead.
Clemson had just 64 rushing yards and averaged fewer than two yards per carry. Quarterback Kelly Bryant completed half of his 36 passes, and none of his throws went for more than 19 yards.
“I’m very proud,” senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “The fact that we got some of our guys back from injuries, this whole defense, I feel like now we have a different type of motivation and a different type of outlook for this upcoming game.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.