Alabama didn’t have the greatest November. The Tide barely survived at Mississippi State, beat Mercer, lost in the Iron Bowl by double digits, and sat at home during Championship Weekend.
When given a second chance at the playoff, though, Alabama responded. The Tide stifled Clemson, 24-6, in the Sugar Bowl and are one win away from their fifth national title in nine seasons.
Could anyone have predicted that Alabama would dominate Clemson so thoroughly?
“Well, I thought that Alabama would be motivated,” Alabama radio analyst Phil Savage said on The DA Show. “They had lost the Auburn game, played really the worst game in 10 years under Nick Saban, arguably. They slide into the back door of the playoff, (and there was) a lot of criticism, a lot of negative comments about the Tide. Did they belong? Should they be in it? Usually Alabama has to motivate themselves because they’re typically a prohibitive favorite. They’re playing inferior opponents week in, week out, throughout the course of these years and games. But on this occasion, they actually could use the outside noise to fuel the fire from within. They wanted some payback against Clemson based on what happened at the end of last year’s game, and they were able to apply that not only to their practices, but ultimately the game.”
Clemson ran 33 times for 64 yards (1.9 yards per carry), mustered just 188 total yards, and failed to score a touchdown.
“It truly was a dominant performance,” Savage said. “The crushed Clemson’s offensive and defensive lines for the most part, and that was a key part of the game. Once they could make Clemson one-dimensional and take the run game away, (Clemson was in trouble).”
Quarterback Kelly Bryant was ineffective throughout the night. He finished 18-of-36 for 124 yards and two interceptions and ran for just 19 yards on 19 carries.
“Kelly Bryant had only averaged 28 pass attempts per game over the course of the year,” Savage said. “It took Deshaun Watson 56 throws to subdue Alabama a year ago. So the higher that number went on Monday night, the better off Alabama was going to be.”
The Tide, it’s safe to say, were motivated for many reasons: to prove they belonged in the playoff, sure, but also to avenge last season’s loss to Clemson. Nick Saban appeared even more intense than usual on the sideline Monday, and last year’s national-title loss probably had something to do with it.
“I think it did to a degree,” Savage said. “Look, one thing Alabama has been able to master over the years is their preparation for Florida State to open the year this season was the same preparation that they used int terms of getting ready for Tennessee, for the Iron Bowl, for Mercer. The consistency is always there. But I do think that they were particularly inspired as an overall program because of what happened last year. They were trying to go wire-to-wire for a national championship, and that was taken away with literally one second – in the last second of the last game of the year. That really stung Alabama, and so the motivation was very high. They almost let it slip away in the Iron Bowl, but with a second chance, they certainly took full advantage on Monday night.”