SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It’s not that Alabama didn’t feel prepared on defense. Because it actually did. The execution just was not there.
As a result, No. 1 Alabama lost to No. 2 Clemson, 44-16, in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game at Levi’s Stadium.
“I feel like any game that coach (Nick) Saban has a game plan for, I’m going to go in prepared,” Alabama defensive back Deionte Thomspon said. “He does a good job putting game plans together, we just have to follow them. I don’t think we did that as players good enough tonight.”
Said UA defensive lineman Raekwon Davis: “Nobody did their job.”
The Crimson Tide’s defense gave up a season-high 482 total offensive yards to the Tigers, breaking down into 135 rushing and 347 passing. Clemson averaged 7.7 yards per play, another season-high against Alabama.
Last time UA let 44 points slip by was the 2014 Iron Bowl, but the Crimson Tide pulled through then with a win. There wasn’t any coming back against these Tigers.
“I thought the players prepared well for this game, and I think that they just got out-performed,” Saban said. “It wasn’t like we just didn’t cover a guy. I mean, we tried to cover No. 8 (Justyn Ross). He caught the ball, made a big play. We were in three-deep zone when No. 5 (Tee Higgins) catches a ball and runs 50 yards, 60 yards for a touchdown.”
Both of those Clemson players did just that, but not until the third quarter.
In the first two quarters, Clemson running back Travis Etienne was the issue. He scored three times. He had a 17-yard run and a 1-yard run, along with a 5-yard pass from quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The Tigers scored 31 points in the first half, tying the most Alabama allowed before halftime under Saban. Alabama allowed 31 to Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, which UA ultimately lost.
“It was very surprising to me because we always play together as a defensive unit,” Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs said. “First half, we may not come out strong. But second half, we always pick it up.”
Not this time. Clemson had two more touchdowns in the third quarter. Lawrence threw a 74-yarder to Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross and a 5-yarder to wide receiver Tee Higgins. There are the two plays Saban recalled.
The Tigers were shut out in the fourth quarter but won the time-of-possession battle, keeping the ball for more than 11 minutes of clock.
“It just seemed like we were going backward and backward,” Buggs said. “But we still had to continue to play ball.”
There was no other option.
Lawrence, who was never sacked, went on to complete 20 of his 32 passes for 347 yards. Ross had a game-high 153 receiving yards on six receptions. Etienne had a game-high 86 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Clemson converted 10 of its 15 third-down attempts and its sole fourth-down try.
“Just remember the feeling that we have right now,” Thompson said. “It’s not a good feeling. Walking off the field, you see somebody else with the confetti falling on them, which you worked so hard for day in and day out.”
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.