Deshaun Watson never won the Heisman Trophy but consistently told everyone who would listen he believed he was the best player in college football.
After leading Clemson back from a two-touchdown deficit and taking down the kings of college football to deliver the Tigers their first national title since 1981, no one is going to argue with him. Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 on Monday night in a game for the ages, and it was Watson's 420 passing yards, 43 rushing yards and four total touchdowns (three passing) that ensured the Tigers won the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship.
One year after putting up 478 yards on Alabama in a five-point loss, Watson calmly led the Tigers back and wore Alabama down with a performance that will cement his legacy as one of the greatest individual players in college football history. It was Deshaun and Dabo who handed Nick Saban his first loss in a national championship game and first loss in any type of title game (SEC, BCS or CFP) since the 2008 SEC Championship Game.
The biggest plays for Alabama came on defense, mostly early in the game, as Ryan Anderson, Da'Ron Payne and Reuben Foster showed incredible instincts, closing speed and hard hitting in the open field to keep Watson contained. It didn't last for long as, after a slow start, Watson connected on 11 of his first 15 throws in the second half, including touchdowns to Hunter Renfrow and Mike Williams.
The field position battle, which Clemson lost decisively before halftime, became the name of the game as Alabama's offense spun its wheels through a tense final act. Quarterback Jalen Hurts made some bad reads, Alabama wide receivers had some bad drops, and instead of wilting as the game progressed, the Clemson defensive front only got stronger and more stout against the Tide's downhill rushing attack.
There were also several examples of game number 15 taking its toll on these two physical teams, especially in a contest that dragged into the early hours of Tuesday. In the big picture these minor injuries would seem less impactful, but losing Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell and Alabama star running back Bo Scarbrough from the contest no doubt played a huge role in the outcome. The final quarter was a test of conditioning and team strength, both physical and mental, with lots of hands on hips and slow recoveries after hard hits.
As the defenses wore down, the game was put in the hands of the quarterbacks. While Hurts struggled to connect on downfield pass attempts, ]Watson reminded everyone why there's been no one better during the last two seasons. He picked apart Alabama on the edges, ran away from the Tide pass rushers -- often spinning out from a would-be sack but still ending plays on the ground after letting a pass go -- and gave Clemson its first lead of the game at the 4:38 mark in the fourth quarter.
Alabama responded with a touchdown drive powered by a trick play, a wide receiver pass from ArDarius Stewart to O.J. Howard, and a long Hurts touchdown run. For Hurts, who finished the game completing just 13-of-31 passes 131 yards, it seemed like a redemption moment on the ground in a game where the Tide's passing attack was lacking both intimidation and effectiveness.
Watson finished the game by hitting 36-of-56 passes without tossing a single interception. For those keeping score, in his two games against Alabama's defense -- widely considered the best in the sport -- Watson totaled 941 yards of offense. This time, it resulted in a national championship.
For highlights and updates from the game, check out the blog below.
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