College Football Playoff National Championship 2016 Recap: How the Tide Turned the TideBy Russell Westerholm
The Clemson Tigers did everything they needed to do offensively to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide's touted defense, putting up 40 points, 550 yards, converting on third down, and so on.
But Alabama's offense had answers for Clemson's unrelenting attack and saved its best for the fourth quarter. Yes, Alabama was billed as the defensive superpower in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, but Clemson's was no slouch either.
Through three quarters, Clemson had a 24-21 lead. The Tiger defense did not contain Derrick Henry, but it was not allowing the Heisman winning running back to beat them either. Nor was quarterback Jake Coker finding much success down the field with his receivers.
But then the Tide turned, pun intended.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 12, 2016
After tying the game up at 24, Nick Saban dialed up an onside kick disguised as a regular kickoff, a la Super Bowl 44. Alabama recovered so easily it almost seemed inevitable someone broke some rule, but the flag never came. The play was also executed so perfectly and quickly, it was easy to look over the massive risk associated with giving Clemson a short field in a tied game in the fourth quarter.
"We weren't playing very well on defense," The Associated Press quoted Saban saying after the game. "It was a tie game. I thought we needed to do something that was going to change the momentum of the game. That certainly did."
On that very drive, Coker and the Alabama offense got its big play: a 51-yard touchdown strike to O.J. Howard that would give them a lead they would not relinquish. When Clemson followed with a field goal, Kenyan Drake returned the kickoff for a touchdown. And when Clemson answered that with a touchdown, Alabama drove down the field for a touchdown on eight plays in three-and-a-half minutes.
Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson was the best player on the field, accounting for 478 total yards and four touchdowns. He had exactly the kind of game he needed to have to give Clemson a chance to beat Alabama, but the Tide answered every salvo the high-powered Tiger offense fired.
Saban smile! https://t.co/afG7WJLWva — SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2016