SANTA CLARA, CA (WBRC) - Last Saturday night as college football fans watched Clemson dominate Notre Dame and Alabama work through Oklahoma, there was a collective eye roll for thousands of fans.
It’s official: The Crimson Tide and Tigers are playing in the CFP ... again. Four meetings in four years (three in the CFP National Championship Game).
If fatigue has set in, we understand. Alabama-Clemson has become the college football Warriors-Cavaliers. It’s the Patriots playing in the Super Bowl. It’s large-market teams playing in the World Series. We’ve been there, done that and want something else.
But before you write it off, consider the game we might watch on Monday.
The last two championship games between Alabama and Clemson were absolute classics. Alabama won the first, Clemson won the second. The rubber match needs to happen.
Clemson and Alabama both enter the game with fresh faces of the program, each being a first-year starting quarterback. In one corner you have Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa. In the other is freshman star Trevor Lawrence.
But most importantly, regardless of any fatigue of these two playing, there’s no denying Alabama and Clemson are the best two teams this season. This is the game that should decide the national champion.
So as we count down the days to the 2019 CFP National Championship Game, let’s look back at Alabama’s last three meetings with Clemson.
Two words: O.J. Howard.
Clemson fans are still having nightmares of the Alabama tight end scorched the Tigers for 208 yards on five receptions.
Howard’s stat line was impressive, but his two touchdowns were what made the biggest difference. Howard scored on a 53-yard reception that broke a 14-14 tie to open the second half and a 51-yard reception to give Alabama a 31-24 lead midway through the fourth. It was a lead that stood the remainder of the game.
This game was a good one. It featured ties at 7, 14, 21 and 24 before Alabama extended its lead to double digits.
The game then went down the stretch with both teams exchanging blows in Glendale.
The turning point in the game came after Jacob Coker’s 51-yard TD pass to Howard with 9:45 left in the game. Clemson responded with a 31-yard field goal by Greg Huegel with 7:47 left to cut Bama’s lead to 31-27. Then Kenyan Drake returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, giving Alabama an 11-point lead.
As indicated by the score, this game featured high-powered offenses that combined for more than 1,000 total yards. For Alabama, Coker threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns and Derrick Henry rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns. In his first of two meetings with Alabama, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 405 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He added 73 yards on the ground.
This game was a dream to any football fan that didn’t have a dog in the fight. For Alabama and Clemson fans, it was an emotional roller coaster that it’s amazing the fan bases survived.
The Crimson Tide and Tigers exchanged touchdowns in the game’s last three possessions, creating a national championship game that’ll be remembered for a long time. The contest came down to literally the final second, with the game-winning score coming from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow with 1 seconds left on the clock.
Watson was masterful for the second time against the Crimson Tide. He threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns and added 42 rushing yards and another score.
Alabama led 24-14 after three quarters, but the game took off in the fourth.
Clemson scored early in the final quarter then took the lead on a 6-play, 88-yard drive with 4:38 left. The drive took fewer than two minutes. Trailing for the first time in the game, the Crimson Tide traveled 68 yards in just over 2 minutes to regain a 31-28 lead with 2:07 remaining.
With Alabama needing a stop to win back-to-back championships against Clemson, Watson was too much. He completed five passes and rushed once as Clemson marched down the field and into the Alabama red zone. A pass interference call on the Crimson Tide gave Clemson the ball on the 2 yard line with 2 seconds left. Watson found Renfrow for the game-winning score.
For the first two meetings to be instant classics, this CFP semifinal game was anything but that.
It was revenge for the Crimson Tide, but this win was easily overshadowed by Alabama’s following game - a come-from-behind, overtime win against Georgia for the national championship.
The January 1, 2018, meeting between Alabama and Clemson was much different offensively than the first two meetings. Neither team had 300 yards of offense, as Alabama held Clemson to 188 total yards and out of the end zone. Though Alabama scored only two offensive touchdowns, both passes from Jalen Hurts, it was more than enough to win.
Hurts, in what would be his last full game as Alabama’s quarterback, threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns, including one to defensive lineman DaRon Payne. Payne also intercepted a pass, as did teammate Mack Wilson, who returned his pick 18 yards for a touchdown.