TAMPA (USA TODAY)— Breaking down Clemson’s come-from-behind 35-31 win over Alabama in Monday’s national championship game at Raymond James Stadium:
THE BIG PICTURE: Clemson was the better team — on both sides of the ball. And while they say defense wins championship, having arguably the best quarterback in college football on your side helps, too. Over and over, Deshaun Watson put Clemson on his back and willed his team to stay in this game. Watson was battered, bruised and exhausted by the game’s final whistle, but it was all worth it. A year after falling just short of a national championship to this very opponent, Watson got to be the one covered in confetti with a trophy to raise.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Whether or not Alabama fans can blame this loss on Lane Kiffin. We’ll never know what would have happened if Kiffin called the game, and if that might have magically turned true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts into a great passer. But Nick Saban’s big gamble — firing Kiffin and bringing in Steve Sarkisian as the offensive coordinator a week before the title game — didn’t pay off. Alabama’s offense was unimpressive, which it’s been multiple times this season without mattering — due to that terrific defense. But against a team as potent as Clemson, you’ve got to have enough weapons to win a shootout
STAR POWER: Watson said he wanted to win the trophy nobody votes on — and he did everything he possibly could to put Clemson in position to win it. And it worked. Watson finished with a heck of a stat line — 36-of-56 for 420 yards and three touchdowns, plus 43 yards rushing — in the most important game of his career.
STAR POWER II: How about Hunter Renfrow? Two touchdown catches on the day, including the game winner with one second left in the game. The former walk-on teamed with Watson to pick apart one of the best defenses in college football history.
KEY STAT: Nick Saban is now 12-2 in title games, which include five national championships. His only loss before Monday? The 2008 SEC title game.