It was billed as the biggest National Championship Game since the legendary meeting between USC and Texas in 2006. The unheard of fourth straight postseason matchup between Alabama and Clemson had all the makings of an instant classic.
The field was littered with future NFL draft picks. The opposing quarterbacks were among the best in the sport. And head coaches Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney faced off as arguably the top two coaches in the game.
For the first five minutes, it looked like the game would live up to the hype. Both teams traded scores in a flurry of high-speed action that captivated audiences from the opening kickoff.
But then, in a twist that few saw coming, the slight-underdog Tigers put their foot on the gas pedal and throttled an Alabama team that was heralded as one of the best teams of all time.
Trevor Lawrence more than validated his five-star recruiting ranking, as the true freshman quarterback shredded one of the best defenses in the country. He, along with his elite stable of receivers, torched the Tide like few ever have, and on the game’s biggest stage, to boot.
Defensively, the Tigers bent but ultimately didn’t break against a powerful Alabama offense. For the first time all season, Tua Tagovailoa looked ordinary against Brent Venables‘ aggressive scheme. Clemson’s pass rushers made life miserable for the Heisman runner-up, and their long, athletic cornerbacks held serve against a group of receivers that many touted as the best in the country.
The 44-16 result was the largest deficit that the Tide has ever suffered under Saban. A few days later, many around the country are still perplexed at how mortal the ever-imposing Crimson Tide looked on Monday night.
There is much to stew on following the surprising blowout. From a national perspective, this game raises questions about the Tide’s growing defensive concerns and its vulnerability as a program. Although the team has made a playoff appearance every year since the system’s inception, it looks a heck of a lot different than it did under Saban’s initial title runs. While its offense has advanced, its defense is far less dominant than it used to be.
Is this transformation for the better?
With two titles in the last three years, is Clemson on its way to becoming the top program in the country? After all, it not only hung in there with the team that has set the standard in college football, but Clemson absolutely blew the doors off of Alabama. For one game, at least, it sure looked like Clemson was the most talented and best coached team in the land by a wide margin.
And finally, what can the Ducks learn from the heavyweight bout? We saw just how important it is to have a consistent downfield passing attack, and likewise, how important it is to have receivers that can make plays down the field.
Additionally, the Tigers put on a clinic in game-planning, as they clearly put their players in the best position to succeed on both sides of the ball. They didn’t try to run it up the gut against a stout defensive interior or play soft coverage against a quick-striking Tide passing game. Instead, they attacked Alabama’s weaknesses and dared them to adjust. And for the first time in a while, they couldn’t.
Can Mario Cristobal and company use Clemson’s blueprint to bring the Ducks to the top? Let us know in the comments what you learned from the national title game, and what the Ducks can do to find themselves raising the trophy at the season’s end.
Morgantown, West Virginia
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Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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