TAMPA – Big games are sometimes won by big plays. But what really makes the difference is key plays.
Here’s a look at key plays that impacted the University of Alabama’s 35-31 loss to Clemson on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Raymond James Stadium:
1. Fourth-down stop
The situation: Clemson ball, fourth-and-one at its own 41-yard line on its first drive, early in the first quarter.
The play: Clemson pitches to Wayne Gallman on an option play to the right. Alabama defensive back Tony Brown speared into the backfield to disrupt things and take Gallman down for no gain.
The result: Alabama takes over on downs. Four plays later, Bo Scarbrough broke lose for a 25-yard run and the Crimson Tide took a 7-0 lead with 9:23 remaining in the first quarter. He would add another scoring run, of 38 yards, in the second period to put UA up 14-0.
2. Short punt
The situation: Midway through the second quarter, Alabama ball, fourth-and-six from its own 12.
The play: Usually reliable JK Scott’s punt travels just 30 yards, giving Clemson field position in Alabama territory. Four plays later, Deshaun Watson passed to Hunter Renfroe for a 13-yard touchdown to cut UA’s lead to 17-14, and the complexion of the game changed.
4. Bo goes out
The situation: Alabama ball, second-and-four at its own 27-yard line, late in the third quarter.
The play: Scarbrough runs for a 5-yard gain and a first down.
The result: The sophomore running back was slow getting up. He then walked a few yards and laid down on the turf, injured. Medical personnel checked him out before he got up and left, not to return. His absence took a lot out of UA’s already-struggling offense.
5. O.J. open again
The situation: Two plays later, Alabama ball, second-and-10 at its own 32.
The play: It happened again. Clemson, which allowed UA tight end O.J. Howard to run uncovered for two long touchdown receptions a year ago in the national title game, lost him again.
The result: Jalen Hurts passed to a wide-open Howard for a 68-yard score, and Alabama led 24-14 late in the third quarter.
6. Big-play Mike
The situation: Clemson ball, first-and-10 at its own 43 with just over 5 minutes remaining.
The play: Watson threw an up-and-over pass to top wideout Mike Williams for 26 yards, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Alabama exacerbated the situation, turning it into a 41-yard gain.
The result: Two plays later, Wayne Gallman dove into the end zone for a 1-yard score and Clemson had its first lead at 28-24 with 4:38 left, with Watson completing his second long scoring drive of the second half.
7. Stewart to the rescue
The situation: Alabama ball, third-and-16 at its own 26 in the final minutes.
The play: Hurts rolled to his right and threw to ArDarius Stewart in the middle of the field for a 15-yard gain.
The result: Alabama converted on fourth-and-one, and Hurts galloped 30 yards into the end zone four plays later to put the Crimson Tide ahead 31-28 with 2:07 still to play.
8. Clemson clutch
The situation: Clemson ball, first-and-goal at the Alabama 2, with six seconds to go.
The play: If this play takes too long, game is over and UA wins. But Watson passes to Renfroe for a touchdown with 1 second to go.
The result: Clemson wins.