Despite coming up short Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson broke former Texas Longhorns star Vince Young's record for the most total yards in a national title game, per SportsCenter:
The sophomore, who threw four touchdown passes in the game, recorded 405 yards passing and 73 yards rushing in the 45-40 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
He also broke Matt Leinart's record for the most passing yards in a national championship game.
Although it was an impressive performance, it wasn't shocking to those who followed Watson this season.
He finished third in Heisman Trophy voting and torched defenses for 4,104 passing yards, 1,105 rushing yards and 47 total touchdowns.
Watson earned respect from fans all over the country but also one of his opponents, 2015 Heisman winner Derrick Henry, per SEC Network:
While it may not be as important to him as winning the game, he proved all of the accolades and praise he received this year were warranted.
Watson should have his Tigers in the championship mix next season. And who knows? Perhaps he'll have a chance to break his own records.
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The Alabama Crimson Tide reign at the top again.
The Crimson Tide defeated the Clemson Tigers 45-40 in a College Football Playoff National Championship Game that will go down as a classic with many memorable moments.
The onside kick. O.J. Howard being wide-open for every catch he made. Deshaun Watson's historic night. It was all a spectacle, ending with the Tide winning a national championship for the fourth time under head coach Nick Saban.
Alabama shared some of these moments after the clock hit triple zeroes, including the trophy presentation:
Times can get stressful when running a tight ship like Saban does. Alabama expects perfection each time the Crimson Tide play, so it's always a phenomenon when Saban smiles, per BuzzFeed Sports:
Once a win is no longer in doubt, Saban needs to cool off because it's been a long year. So here's a Gatorade bath, video courtesy of Vice Sports:
Or, according to CBS Sports' Will Brinson, perhaps the Crimson Tide players poured something else on Saban:
With five national championships under his belt, Saban has coached in and won many important games. Dan Wolken of USA Today thought Monday's performance should rank at the top of the list:
Clemson's late touchdown, which helped the team cut the deficit to five in the closing seconds, ended up making a huge difference in the sportsbooks. The line closed with the Tigers as 6.5-point underdogs, per Odds Shark, and the backdoor cover either won people a lot of money or sent them home upset.
This is, arguably, an accurate representation of Las Vegas right now, per Bleacher Report:
Even those who cover the pros for a living, such as Rich Eisen of NFL Network, had to take a step back and admire what was happening inside University of Phoenix Stadium:
After winning a national championship, it might be best to not judge anything the champs decide to do. For example, who will tell them to stop smoking cigars in the locker room? Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel was there to observe, not to rat anyone out:
Even the Alabama cheerleaders and mascot reveled in the fact that their team is atop the college football world once again, per SB Nation:
The confetti they're sitting on was even used to create a confetti snow angel, much like the one sophomore running back Lawrence Erekosima made, per SportsCenter:
Throughout the night, fans compared Monday's game to the USC-Texas Rose Bowl in 2006. It lived up to the hype, but didn't finish the way that historic contest did.
Nevertheless, it was still one of the best national title games in recent memory and will go down as a classic.
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All eyes were on Alabama running back and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Clemson on Monday night in Glendale, Arizona, and unfortunately for Henry, that included the eyes of the Clemson front seven.
Sure, he finished with 158 yards on 36 carries, but 50 of those yards came on a first-quarter touchdown run in Alabama's 45-40 win over the top-ranked Tigers.
In the second half, while the top two teams in the country were busy trading body blow after body blow like two heavyweight fighters going toe-to-toe for the belt, Henry found himself bottled up by the fast, physical and deep Clemson defense.
Somebody had to step up, and it was Tuscaloosa's version of a unicorn—tight end O.J. Howard.
The junior caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns for the Crimson Tide, etching his name in stone as one of the most surprising stars in title-game history after not realizing his potential for the majority of his career.
His 53-yard touchdown gave Alabama a 21-14 lead coming out of halftime, and his 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown broke a tie in the fourth quarter after head coach Nick Saban stunned Clemson with an onside kick. It was the play that sent the Crimson Tide's momentum into overdrive when they needed it the most.
As Ben Jones of TideSports.com noted on Twitter, Saban places the blame on himself for not getting him more involved in the game plan over his first three seasons with the program.
Even in a critical spot on 2nd-and-long late in the fourth quarter with Alabama up one score, quarterback Jake Coker found Howard for a 63-yard catch-and-run down to the Clemson 14-yard line that set up Henry's third touchdown, which iced the game.
The 6'6", 242-pound native of Prattville, Alabama, came to town as one of the 5-star studs of the 2013 recruiting class, but he never really materialized into the weapon he was touted to be.
"Everything I've heard is that he was kind of lazy," Bleacher Report NFL draft analyst Matt Miller said. "Some of it, too, was because of the way the scheme was designed, they're going to run the ball so much and that is going come in to play. A lot of the focus on the edge was with Ridley and those guys."
Now, things have changed quite a bit for Howard.
His performance, which earned him offensive MVP honors, has scouts at the next level drooling based on his potential, size, running ability, hands and ability to play his best against the best.
"It moves him up, there's no way around it," Miller said. "I always tell people that you want 'big plus big,' and that's what tonight was. You're going against a Clemson secondary in which every one of those guys is going to play in the NFL, and some of those guys are going to be early draft picks."
It took him long enough.
Howard entered the title game with just two career touchdown catches—both during the 2013 season—394 receiving yards during the 2015 season and the "recruiting bust" label.
"Anybody who follows recruiting knows who O.J. Howard is and that he's a freak and an athlete, but he had never had those numbers until tonight," Miller said. "You got an idea of what he can do. I always say to scout traits over production. Tonight you got to see those two things come together."
Howard has a decision to make after his masterful performance. His career might have been slow to get started, but his junior year ended on the highest of high notes.
Will he strike while the iron is hot and make the jump to the next level?
He was more of a mystery than a monster in college, but that mystery was solved in the biggest game of the season.
Better late than never.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Now that was worth the wait.
More than four months ago, we started the journey of the 2015 college football season. The hope was we would be rewarded for the experience of navigating a regular season full of non-stop excitement and weekly thrills. We got what we thought would be a pair of great playoff games, only to be handed duds.
But Monday's national championship game in Glendale, Arizona, did not disappoint. Alabama and Clemson played their hearts out, but only one team could come out on top.
And only one can finish atop the final Bleacher Report Top 25.
Twenty-one members of our college football staff voted in this week's Top 25: writers Ben Axelrod, Greg Couch, Ed Feng, Justin Ferguson, Bryan Fischer, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Mike Monaco, Brian Pedersen, David Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Greg Wallace and Christopher Walsh; video experts Michael Felder and Sean McManus; and editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Eric Yates.
First-place votes were worth 25 points, with each subsequent rank worth one fewer point, all the way down to one for 25th place. The 25 highest vote-getters made our list, with the rest falling into the "others receiving votes" category.
See where each team landed after the completion of the 2015 season and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.
Defense doesn't win championships. Special teams and big plays win championships.
The Alabama Crimson Tide shocked the Clemson Tigers with four touchdowns of 50 yards or more on the way to a 45-40 victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night. It was Alabama's fourth national title since the 2009 season and cemented its recent run as one of the best ever, as ESPN Stats & Info highlighted:
It was also head coach Nick Saban's fifth career title, and Dan Wolken of USA Today considered Monday's performance one of the coach's best:
The championship was also a testament to Saban's recruiting ability, as John Garcia Jr. of Scout.com noted:
Saban made his impact with a critical decision to attempt an onside kick in the fourth quarter after Alabama had tied the game. It worked—and set up a go-ahead touchdown, which underscored one of the themes from Monday's contest.
Clemson's special teams consistently collapsed: missing a field-goal attempt at the end of the first half and allowing the onside kick and a backbreaking kickoff return for a touchdown by Kenyan Drake in the final quarter. Drake averaged 39.2 yards per return on five attempts.
The Tigers also failed to stop tight end O.J. Howard—who finished with 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns after scoring twice in the last three seasons combined—and running back Derrick Henry—who proved his Heisman Trophy worth with 158 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson capped a brilliant season with 405 passing yards, 73 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He put up 40 points against the nation's No. 1 scoring defense and was unstoppable throughout the four quarters. He warned the college football world something like that would happen back in 2012:
With players such as Watson and Henry, the offenses wasted little time making game-changing plays in the first quarter on the way to 21 combined points. Although Clemson took a 14-7 lead into the second, Alabama struck first when Henry steamrolled his way through a hole for a 50-yard touchdown.
Robby Kalland of CBS Sports depicted the scene:
Ryan Krasnoo of Sports Illustrated said, "It should be illegal for someone 6'3" and 235 pounds to run that fast." And Bryan Fischer of Bleacher Report recognized the offensive line's efforts on the play:
The Tigers responded with two quick scores. Watson found Hunter Renfrow, who chose Clemson as a preferred walk-on, for two touchdowns in the opening quarter. One went for 31 yards and the other went for 11.
The Alabama defense was having trouble keeping up with the Tigers' early pace. College GameDay shared a look at the first connection:
Fischer weighed in on the development:
B/R Insights pointed out how rare the early defensive struggles were for the Crimson Tide:
Alabama turned the tide in the second quarter when Eddie Jackson picked off Watson, which set up another touchdown by Henry and knotted the game at 14. College GameDay illustrated how difficult it was for the Clemson defense to stop the Heisman winner from scoring from the 1-yard line:
Henry also made some program history in the first half, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The defenses settled down for the remainder of the half, and the teams entered the locker rooms tied at 14. Greg Huegel missed a 44-yard field goal that would have put the Tigers ahead before halftime. It came after time mismanagement by the officials, who failed to stop the clock after a first down and forced Clemson to take its last timeout and try a longer field goal than perhaps it would have otherwise.
Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch offered his support for Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney:
Clemson had reason to be concerned outside of the officials, because cornerback Mackensie Alexander—who was questionable coming into the game with a hamstring injury—left the contest after reaggravating the ailment. Alexander had "been moving at half speed most of the night," according to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports. "You just knew that hammy would bite at some point."
Right on cue, the Crimson Tide exploited the limited Tigers secondary to start the second half. Jake Coker hit Howard for a 53-yard score after a blown coverage assignment left the tight end wide open down the sideline. SportsCenter captured how open Howard was even after the catch:
Larry Williams of TigerIllustrated.com acknowledged those kinds of plays have been an issue for Clemson:
The Tigers responded with a field goal to cut the deficit to 21-17 and got a stop when Kevin Dodd recorded an impressive sack on the ensuing possession. Nancy Armour of USA Today put the pressure by the Clemson front seven into perspective:
Watson looked like a magician with the football as he kept alive a nine-play, 60-yard drive with a number of critical scrambles and perfectly placed throws. While Watson did most of the work, running back Wayne Gallman capped the series with a one-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers had a 24-21 lead, and Watson was drawing a number of comparisons, per Fornelli:
Henry, on the other hand, made more program history during the third, as Alabama Football pointed out:
Early in the fourth quarter, Coker came through with an incredible 38-yard completion to ArDarius Stewart as he was falling backward. That set up the game-tying field goal with 10:34 left. Alabama then stunned Clemson with its surprise onside kick, and Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated discussed the gutsy call:
Coker helped the Tide take a 31-24 lead with a 51-yard pass to Howard, who was wide open for the second time. Wolken reacted to the poor defense:
Clemson kicked a field goal to make it 31-27, but Drake opened a two-score margin with a 95-yard return on the ensuing kickoff. It was another special teams disaster for the Tigers at the most inopportune time, and Fischer said it had been foreshadowed:
Clemson wasn't dead yet, as Watson directed an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. He connected with Artavis Scott from 15 yards out for a touchdown, but the Tigers could not convert the two-point attempt and found themselves trailing 38-33 with 4:40 left. B/R Insights noted Watson made history during the drive:
Just when it looked like the Tigers were going to get a stop, Howard busted loose on a tight end screen to put Alabama in field-goal range, and Coker scrambled for a first down with 2:10 left. Michael Wilbon of ESPN remarked on the speed of Howard from the tight end position:
Henry then put the game away from less than a yard out, though the officials delayed their touchdown call to the point that many in the crowd thought Clemson had registered a third-down stop. Mike Farrell of Rivals.com agreed with the ruling but wondered about the execution of the call:
Even with Alabama ahead 45-33 and only 1:07 left on the clock, Watson continued his fight, finding Jordan Leggett for a 24-yard score to trim the deficit to 45-40. It was too little, too late, however, and Alabama clinched the national title with a kneel-down after Clemson failed to recover its onside kick.
Unfortunately for college football fans, the offseason is next for every team. Fortunately for fans of both Clemson and Alabama, their squads are well-positioned to challenge for a spot in next season's College Football Playoff.
Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports ranked the Crimson Tide No. 1 and the Tigers No. 2 in his early Top 25 for 2016, largely because of the talent both teams will still have in place. Alabama will likely lose Henry, but running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough will take the reins in the backfield, and wide receiver Calvin Ridley will still be a dangerous threat in the passing game.
Plus, the Crimson Tide ranked in the top six nationally in scoring defense in each of the last seven seasons and will likely reload on that side of the ball once again.
For the Tigers, Watson's return is the primary reason they will be among the nation's best. He proved himself as a Heisman finalist throughout the season and will be on the shortlist of favorites to capture the award next year, especially after Monday's outing. Wide receiver Mike Williams will also return to give Watson another weapon he didn't have in 2015.
A championship rematch is a legitimate possibility next season. Few would likely complain after Monday's incredible, back-and-forth affair.
Howard was named Offensive Player of the Game in the aftermath, while Jackson, who tallied the interception, was named the Defensive Player of the Game.
Still, Saban recognized his entire team after the win, per SEC Sports: “It was a tough game. I am so proud of our players.”
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin discussed his coach and “said he was ‘stunned’ when Saban called the onside kick. Said he had to be careful not to make a face that would give it away,” per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports.
Saban described his rationale for the move, per Mandel: “I called the onside kick because it was 21-21, we were tired on defense, needed to do something to change momentum or wasn't going to win.”
Kiffin also jokingly said, per Mandel, that Alabama had “been resting him for 14 games. He had fresh legs,” when discussing Howard’s breakthrough performance after a quiet career. Saban took responsibility, though, and said “bad coaching” by him is why Howard wasn’t used enough this year, per Josh Bean of AL.com.
On the other side, Swinney was already looking ahead, per Dr. Saturday of Yahoo Sports: “You can't let one game define you. This program doesn't take a backseat to anybody. We can beat anybody, and that's a fact.”
Swinney also said, per College GameDay, “It won't be another 34 years before we'll be back, I promise you that.”
With Watson returning next season, it’s hard to argue with that.
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