Clemson pushes lead to 44-16 over defending champion Alabama in college football’s title game

What began as a shootout is turning into a rout as Clemson has pulled ahead of the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide in Monday’s College Football National Championship at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.   

Meeting in the College Football Playoffs for the fourth time in as many years, the Crimson Tide and Tigers quickly posted a combined 27 points in the first quarter alone before Clemson pushed its lead to 38-16 early in the second half. 

Clemson took an early step towards securing the school’s third national title and its second in the last four years as Tigers cornerback A.J. Terrell Jr. intercepted a pass from Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the Crimson Tide’s opening drive and returned it for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.  

Tagovailoa ultimately threw a second interception during the second quarter, but he also tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the first half as well.

Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, meanwhile, completed 12 of 21 passes in the first half for 197 yards and one touchdown. He added a 74-yard touchdown pass to Justyn Ross on Clemson’s opening drive of the second half. 

The biggest impact in the first half was made by Clemson running back Travis Etienne, who registered three touchdowns. However, Ross was the star of the second half after hauling in two spectacular one-handed grabs in addition to his 74-yard touchdown catch. 

The Tigers matched the most points scored in the first half against the Crimson Tide since Nick Saban became coach in 2007. Oklahoma also scored 31 in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Alabama’s opening drive in the second half ended on a failed fake field goal. 

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Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence tossed for 197 yards and a touchdown in the first half

Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence tossed for 197 yards and a touchdown in the first half

Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence tossed for 197 yards and a touchdown in the first half

Clemson Tigers running back Travis Etienne (9) runs the ball for a touchdown during the second quarter in the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi's Stadium. He had a 17-yard touchdown run in the first quarter as well 

Clemson Tigers running back Travis Etienne (9) runs the ball for a touchdown during the second quarter in the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi's Stadium. He had a 17-yard touchdown run in the first quarter as well 

Clemson Tigers running back Travis Etienne (9) runs the ball for a touchdown during the second quarter in the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi’s Stadium. He had a 17-yard touchdown run in the first quarter as well 

After throwing a pair of first-half picks, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa nearly lost a fumble, but the officials ruled him down by contact 

After throwing a pair of first-half picks, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa nearly lost a fumble, but the officials ruled him down by contact 

After throwing a pair of first-half picks, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa nearly lost a fumble, but the officials ruled him down by contact 

Etienne ran for two scores and also caught a 5-yard TD pass from Trevor Lawrence following Tua Tagovailoa’s second interception of the game.

The Tigers opened the scoring with a 44-yard interception return for a TD by A.J. Terrell on Alabama’s opening play.

Tagovailoa recovered to throw two TD passes to put the Crimson Tide up 16-14 before the Tigers scored the final 17 points of the half to hand Alabama its biggest deficit of the season. 

After coming off the bench to lead Alabama to a national title victory over Georgia a year ago, Tagovailoa’s second pass on Monday missed its target as Terrell left his assignment to jump the route and finished with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown.   

The two teams have met in the the College Football Playoff for four consecutive years, but Terrell’s touchdown marked the first time Clemson scored first in any of those meetings. 

Justyn Ross of the Clemson Tigers scores a third quarter seventy four-yard touchdown catch

Justyn Ross of the Clemson Tigers scores a third quarter seventy four-yard touchdown catch

Justyn Ross of the Clemson Tigers scores a third quarter seventy four-yard touchdown catch

Tigers cornerback A.J. Terrell intercepted a pass from Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the Crimson Tide's opening drive in Monday's title game and returned it for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead

Tigers cornerback A.J. Terrell intercepted a pass from Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the Crimson Tide's opening drive in Monday's title game and returned it for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead

Terrell left his assignment to jump the route and finish with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown

Terrell left his assignment to jump the route and finish with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown

Tigers cornerback A.J. Terrell intercepted a pass from Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the Crimson Tide’s opening drive in Monday’s title game and returned it for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. After coming off the bench to lead Alabama to a national title victory over Georgia a year ago, Tagovailoa’s second pass on Monday missed its target as Terrell left his assignment to jump the route and finish with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw two touchdowns and two interceptions in the first half of Monday's College Football National Championship 

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw two touchdowns and two interceptions in the first half of Monday's College Football National Championship 

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw two touchdowns and two interceptions in the first half of Monday’s College Football National Championship 

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney reacts after Trayvon Mullen (1) intercepted a pass during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney reacts after Trayvon Mullen (1) intercepted a pass during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney reacts after Trayvon Mullen (1) intercepted a pass during the first half the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama

Despite the mistake, Tagovailoa did not get down after throwing the pick six. 

Instead he got even, responding on the ensuing drive with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Crimson Tide wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to tie the game at 7-7. 

Clemson struck right back with its own four-play, 75-yard scoring drive that resulted in Travis Etienne’s 17-yard touchdown run. 

The key play on the drive was made by Lawrence, who hit wide receiver Tee Higgins with his own 62-yard pass. 

Alabama responded with its own 75-yard drive that resulted in Tagovailoa’s one-yard touchdown pass to Hale Hentges to cut Clemson’s lead to 14-3. Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas missed the ensuing point after, but would later add a field goal to give the Tide a brief 16-14 lead. 

But Clemson quickly recaptured the lead on the ensuing drive, marching 65 yards before Etienne scored his second touchdown of the game on a one-yard run. 

Alabama seemed destined to continue the offensive showcase in the second quarter, but Tagovailoa overthrew his receiver in Clemson territory and the pass was picked off by the Tigers’ Trayvon Mullen. 

Later in the half, Etienne caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence. The point after pushed Clemson’s lead to 28-16. 

The Tigers would go on to add a field goal from kicker Greg Huegel before the teams went in to the locker rooms at halftime. 

Lawrence threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to Ross three plays after Clemson stopped Alabama on a fake field goal attempt to give the Tigers a 37-16 lead in the third quarter of the national championship game.

Ross got loose for the big play after cornerback Saivion Smith went down with an injury to put the Tigers in control.

It was a dramatic turnaround after Mark Fields broke up a third-down pass that led to Alabama sending out the field goal unit on the opening drive of the second half. Saban called for a fake but holder Mac Jones was stopped for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-6 run up the middle. 

Tide running back Najee Harris (22) is tackled short of the goal line against the Clemson Tigers

Tide running back Najee Harris (22) is tackled short of the goal line against the Clemson Tigers

Tide running back Najee Harris (22) is tackled short of the goal line against the Clemson Tigers

This is the fourth straight year these teams have met in the playoff with Alabama winning the title game at the end of the 2015 season, Clemson winning the championship the following year and the Crimson Tide winning a semifinal matchup at the Sugar Bowl last season. The winner will become the first school in the AP poll era to finish a season 15-0.  

Tide vs. Tigers might be getting old for some fans, but the latest chapter is a feature not a bug in the five-year-old playoff to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

‘I think the objective is to get the two best teams,’ Swinney said prior to the game. ‘If that’s not best for college football, then why did we even do it?’

Swinney and Alabama coach Nick Saban went through the familiar routine Sunday.

Joint news conference, during which Swinney does most of the talking. Saban compliments Swinney’s Tigers. Swinney compliments Saban’s unprecedented run with the Crimson Tide. Handshake. Pose for a picture with a trophy. They have done this drill four straight seasons in the College Football Playoff.

Coach Nick Saban (center) and Alabama are already in the midst of the most impressive run in the college football history, with five national championships since 2009. If not for a last-second loss to Clemson in the 2016 championship game, the Tide would be shooting for four straight playoff titles. Alabama won a thriller against Clemson for the 2015 title

Coach Nick Saban (center) and Alabama are already in the midst of the most impressive run in the college football history, with five national championships since 2009. If not for a last-second loss to Clemson in the 2016 championship game, the Tide would be shooting for four straight playoff titles. Alabama won a thriller against Clemson for the 2015 title

Coach Nick Saban (center) and Alabama are already in the midst of the most impressive run in the college football history, with five national championships since 2009. If not for a last-second loss to Clemson in the 2016 championship game, the Tide would be shooting for four straight playoff titles. Alabama won a thriller against Clemson for the 2015 title

Coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers walks to the field prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide held at Levi's Stadium

Coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers walks to the field prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide held at Levi's Stadium

Coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers walks to the field prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide held at Levi’s Stadium

Plenty of attention has been focused on Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa's sprained left ankle

Plenty of attention has been focused on Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa's sprained left ankle

Plenty of attention has been focused on Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa’s sprained left ankle

For the first time the College Football Playoff championship game features two unbeaten teams. The top-ranked Tide (14-0) or No. 2 Tigers (14-0) will become the first 15-0 FBS champion in college football’s poll era, dating back to the first AP rankings in 1936.

Saban and Alabama are already in the midst of the most impressive run in the college football history, with five national championships since 2009. If not for a last-second loss to Clemson in the 2016 championship game, the Tide would be shooting for four straight playoff titles. Alabama won a thriller against Clemson for the 2015 title.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney pose with the trophy

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney pose with the trophy

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney pose with the trophy

Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence warms up before the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi's Stadium

Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence warms up before the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi's Stadium

Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence warms up before the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi’s Stadium

Saban has six national championships total, including a BCS crown with LSU in 2003. One more breaks a tie with Alabama great Bear Bryant for the most by any coach.

‘I don’t ever even think about that at all,’ said Saban, who is in his 12th season at Alabama and 23rd overall as a college head coach. ‘I do think a lot about trying to make and help this team to be the best possible – and to put them in the best possible position to have a chance to be successful.’

A case can be made that Saban has already surpassed Bryant, who was at Alabama for 25 years. The current Alabama dynasty is stacking up championships despite the constraints of scholarship limits and against competition bolstered by a deeper talent pool and more national exposure.

‘You’re talking about a program that I have a deep love and respect for, always have, always will, and a coach that’s – I mean, he’s won six national championships and the level of consistency is a model and an aspiration for every program,’ said Swinney, who was a walk-on receiver for Alabama’s 1992 national title team coached by Gene Stallings.

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley watches warm up on the sideline before the NCAA college football playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson. A former governor of South Carolina, Haley graduated from Clemson with a degree in accounting 

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley watches warm up on the sideline before the NCAA college football playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson. A former governor of South Carolina, Haley graduated from Clemson with a degree in accounting 

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley watches warm up on the sideline before the NCAA college football playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson. A former governor of South Carolina, Haley graduated from Clemson with a degree in accounting 

Dating back to 1925, Alabama had won 17 national titles heading into Monday's game

Dating back to 1925, Alabama had won 17 national titles heading into Monday's game

Dating back to 1925, Alabama had won 17 national titles heading into Monday’s game

The current Alabama dynasty under Nick Saban is stacking up championships despite the constraints of scholarship limits and against competition bolstered by a deeper talent pool and more national exposure

The current Alabama dynasty under Nick Saban is stacking up championships despite the constraints of scholarship limits and against competition bolstered by a deeper talent pool and more national exposure

The current Alabama dynasty under Nick Saban is stacking up championships despite the constraints of scholarship limits and against competition bolstered by a deeper talent pool and more national exposure

Swinney and Clemson have come closest to reaching the Alabama standard. A second national championship in three seasons would give Clemson three overall (1981, 2016) and put Swinney in prestigious company. Among the Hall of Fame coaches with two national championships are Bobby Bowden of Florida State and Joe Paterno of Penn State.

Saban’s accomplishments have pretty much settled the question of greatest college football coach. He might be better compared to coaches in other sports such as UCLA’s John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA men’s basketball championships; Pat Summitt, who won eight NCAA women’s basketball titles with Tennessee; Geno Auriemma, who has 11 women’s basketball championships at Connecticut; and Dan Gable, who led Iowa wrestling to 17 NCAA championships.

Alabama’s dominance has been defined by almost monotonous excellence. None of Saban’s teams stand out. They are similarly stellar, machine-like in their efficiency. This team has a chance to separate from the rest. Alabama can become just the third wire-to-wire No. 1 in the AP poll, joining 1999 Florida State and 2004 Southern California.

Fans gather outside Levi's Stadium before the NCAA college football playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson

Fans gather outside Levi's Stadium before the NCAA college football playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson

Fans gather outside Levi’s Stadium before the NCAA college football playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson

The Alabama Crimson Tide Band walk to the stadium prior to the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Clemson Tigers at Levi's Stadium

The Alabama Crimson Tide Band walk to the stadium prior to the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Clemson Tigers at Levi's Stadium

The Alabama Crimson Tide Band walk to the stadium prior to the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Clemson Tigers at Levi’s Stadium

ALABAMA ALREADY AMONG GREATEST NCAA DYNASTIES EVER 

By The Associated Press  

With five national championships in the past nine seasons, Alabama already has accomplished something never done before in the AP poll era that began in 1936.

Winning another crown Monday night against Clemson would lift the Crimson Tide even further above other college football dynasties and into the conversation about the best runs in all of college sports.

Not that coach Nick Saban is worried about any of that.

‘I’m always looking ahead. I think I’m always sort of focused on the next challenge,’ he said this week. ‘It’s a lot like climbing a mountain; you push a rock up a mountain, but when next year starts, it’s a new mountain, and you’d better be focused on that, and that’s the way we try to approach it with the individuals in our organization as well as our players.’

Before Alabama began this run by winning its first title under Saban in 2009, there were several other schools that could stake a claim to greatest college football dynasty in the poll era.

With five national championships in the past nine seasons, Alabama already has accomplished something never done before in the AP poll era that began in 1936. Before Alabama began this run by winning its first title under coach Nick Saban (right) in 2009, there were several other schools that could stake a claim to greatest college football dynasty in the poll era

With five national championships in the past nine seasons, Alabama already has accomplished something never done before in the AP poll era that began in 1936. Before Alabama began this run by winning its first title under coach Nick Saban (right) in 2009, there were several other schools that could stake a claim to greatest college football dynasty in the poll era

With five national championships in the past nine seasons, Alabama already has accomplished something never done before in the AP poll era that began in 1936. Before Alabama began this run by winning its first title under coach Nick Saban (right) in 2009, there were several other schools that could stake a claim to greatest college football dynasty in the poll era

Coach Frank Leahy led Notre Dame to four No. 1 rankings during a seven-year span in the 1940s, missing out only during the two years he served in World War II and in 1948 when the Irish finished No. 2 to Michigan thanks to a tie against Southern California.

Oklahoma then dominated for a stretch in the 1950s under coach Bud Wilkinson, winning back-to-back titles in 1955-56 and a record 47 straight games from 1953-57.

Miami went on a memorable run starting with the 1983 championship under coach Howard Schnellenberger. The Hurricanes added another title under Jimmy Johnson in 1987 and two more under Dennis Erickson in 1989 and ’91. But a loss in the Sugar Bowl the following year to Alabama denied Miami a fifth title in that run.

Nebraska and USC had shorter stretches of dominance, with the Cornhuskers winning consecutive titles in 1994-95 and then sharing the championship with Michigan in 1997.

The Trojans shared a title in 2003 with LSU before repeating as solo champion the next season. USC took a 34-game winning streak into the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl the following year before losing to Texas.

Here are a look at some of the greatest dynasties in other college sports:

UCLA BASKETBALL: John Wooden’s Bruins are the standard when it comes to college sports dynasties. UCLA won 10 titles in 12 seasons, including a staggering seven in a row from 1967-73. UCLA finished undefeated in four of those seasons, won a record 88 straight games from 1971-74 and made the Final Four 10 straight years. The run featured some of the game’s greatest players from the first title team in 1964 led by Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich, to Lew Alcindor’s three straight championships from 1967-69 to Bill Walton’s run in the early 1970s.

UCONN WOMEN’S HOOPS: Geno Auriemma’s Huskies have put together a run to rival the one engineered by Wooden. Auriemma took over a program that had only one winning season before he arrived in 1985 and built an undefeated champion a decade later. But the real run of dominance started at the turn of the century with the school’s second championship in 2000. Things really took off with three straight titles led by Diana Taurasi from 2002-04 before a brief slide that ended with Maya Moore’s arrival. UConn won back-to-back titles in 2008-09 led by Moore and then four in a row with Breanna Stewart from 2012-16. Auriemma’s 11 titles are one more than Wooden for the most in Division I basketball, and the UConn coach had a record 111-game winning streak that finally ended in the 2017 Final Four against Mississippi State.

NORTH CAROLINA WOMEN’S SOCCER: Anson Dorrance led the Tar Heels to their first three NCAA titles starting in 1982 and then a run of nine in a row from 1986-94 behind some of the greatest players in the sport such as Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly. He had a 103-game unbeaten streak, won 21 NCAA titles and had 13 players combine to win 20 Player of the Year awards. Dorrance was the first coach to win 20 NCAA titles and has won more than 90 percent of the games in his career.

USC BASEBALL: Coach Rod Dedeaux put together the best run in college baseball history, winning five straight College World Series titles from 1970-74 with rosters full of players who went on to be big-name stars in the majors. Among the players on those teams to become big league All-Stars were Dave Kingman, Fred Lynn, Roy Smalley, Steve Kemp and Steve Busby. The Trojans went 256-71-2 during that span.

IOWA WRESTLING: Dan Gable followed up a brilliant wrestling career that featured a 117-1 record in college at Iowa State and a 1972 Olympic gold medal by building the biggest dynasty in the sport. Gable’s teams at Iowa had a 355-21-5 record in dual meets during his career from 1976-97. He won 17 NCAA titles, including a record nine straight from 1978-86 before being denied by Iowa State. The Hawkeyes won 17 NCAA championships and 21 Big Ten titles in his 22 seasons as coach.

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