Last night, Alabama defeated Clemson 45-40 to win the NCAA Football National Championship. It was a good game. It was probably the best championship game since Texas-USC. Two good teams came to play hard.
I still marvel at those who claimed Alabama was going to win big or win going away. I never thought that. If there was a blowout or a big margin, I thought it would be in Clemson’s favor because of their explosive offense. But I thought it would be a close game. And it was.
They say defense wins championships. Well, there was a lot of offense last night. Over a combined one thousand yards. Clemson’s DeShaun Watson passed for 405 and ran for 73 more. Alabama’s Jake Coker passed for 335 and Derrick Henry ran for 158.
But the big problem for Clemson was big play. Clemson simply gave up too many.
Here’s the stat of the night: For Alabama, just six plays accounted for 280 yards. When you add in the return touchdown of 95 yards, that means that 375 of Alabama’s 473 yards came on just seven plays. That’s right: 80% of the offensive production came on seven plays.
Some of those receivers were so wide open in Arizona that I could have completed a pass from my living room couch in Michigan.
It is hard to win when you give that up.
There was a clear officiating blunder that may have made a difference. At the end of the first half, the clock failed to stop on Clemson’s first down, which made them waste a time out and cost them at least one play. A 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Give them the extra play they should have had and that field goal may have been shorter and easier. And that means a five point deficit is now two points. But the officials were bailed out of that by the final score. Of course, if the game is three points closer, both teams are playing differently.
The onsides kick was a gutsy call and Swinney threw a fit about it. He may have a good case. His argument was that in the Clemson-USC game in 2014, Clemson had recovered an onside kick only to have it overturned because they did not allow the receiver an unimpeded chance to recover the ball.
Here is the play starting at the 28:00 mark:
What was the right call? I am not sure.
The NCAA rule book Rule 6 Article 3 (p. FR-64) specifies that “No Team A [kicking tean] player may touch a free-kicked ball until after: 1. It touches a Team B player (Exception: Rules 6-1-4 and 6-5-1-b); 2. It breaks the plane of and remains beyond Team B’s restraining line (Exception: Rule 6-4-1) (A.R. 2-12-5-I); or 3. It touches any player, the ground, an official or anything beyond Team B’s restraining line.”
However, it also specifies “A player of the receiving team within the boundary lines attempting to catch a kick, and so located that he could have caught a free kick or a scrimmage kick that is beyond the neutral zone, must be given an unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick.”
The play last night did not appear to have a receiving team player attempting to make the catch or in a position to make the catch, although it is possible he could have made a diving catch. It’s hard to tell how far away he was.
In the end, it’s hard to say the better team won. But it would have been equally hard to say that if Clemson had won. Clemson won in almost every statiscal category except time of possession where Bama edged them by less than a minute. But Bama won in the only place that matters—the scoreboard.