SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The first quarter had wobbled back and forth. No. 1 Alabama had made mistakes and big plays but a field goal gave the Crimson Tide a two-point lead. A college football classic seemed possible.

Instead, the walls came down.

No. 2 Clemson rolled to a 44-16 win over Alabama, scoring 30 unanswered points and claiming its second College Football Playoff Championship in three years. The 28-point defeat was the worst margin of defeat for Alabama in 20 years, dating back to a 38-7 loss
to Virginia Tech in the 1998 Music City Bowl, a game played in much colder temperatures for much lower stakes.

The Clemson offense made big play after big play, particularly on throws from freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence to a group of talented receivers highlighted by freshman Justyn Ross of Phenix City. Lawrence won Most Outstanding Player honors, completing 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Ross caught six of those passes for 153 yards and one score.

“We bent a little but we never broke,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “We punched back. This group had the eye of the Tiger tonight. Listen, Alabama, this is the most amazing champion ever, the University of Alabama. But this group was special from Day One.”

Alabama seemed somewhat out of sorts from its first series when Tua Tagovailoa threw a pick six that Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell returned 44 yards for a touchdown.

Tagovailoa quickly got that score back, completing a 62-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy to tie the game. Another swap of touchdowns saw Clemson’s Trevor Etienne run for a 17-yard score and Tagovailoa throw to Hale Hentges for a one-yard score that cut Clemson’s lead to 14-13.

Bulovas’ 25-yard field goal gave Alabama a 16-14 lead but UA could not get the defensive stop it needed as Lawrence converted clutch third down after clutch third down. Etienne scored twice more in the half as Clemson built its halftime lead to 28-16.

In the second half, Alabama failed on a pair of red zone chances including a fake field goal attempt that went awry. Lawrence added a 74-yard touchdown pass to Ross and a 5-yard score to Tee Higgins.

“We knew that their receiving corps was probably the most talented that we’ve seen as a group all year long,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “I said it earlier, we had opportunities to get off the field on third down, and we couldn’t get off the field. We
gave up big plays, not just first downs, but big plays.

“If you look at the stats of the game, their yards and all that are fairly equal. But the score, because of turnovers, not finishing drives in the red zone, not getting off the field on third down, giving up explosive plays, the score doesn’t indicate anything
like that.”

Alabama finished 14-1 on the year.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or 205-722-0225.