MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- No. 1 Alabama is headed back to the College Football Playoff National Championship for the fourth straight season after beating No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34 in the Orange Bowl on Saturday night.
After a week full of concern regarding the health of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the sophomore quarterback not only looked 100 percent but put together a nearly flawless performance. Tagovailoa completed 24-of-27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns, bounced up quickly after sacks and tackles and moved without limitations throughout the night. Oklahoma's star quarterback Kyler Murray, meanwhile, was stymied by Alabama's defense for much of the first half before getting warmed up in the second quarter and pushing the Sooners back into contention in the second half.
Because of Alabama's 28-0 start -- including an Orange Bowl record 21 first-quarter points -- the game never felt totally in doubt, but the Sooners never-quit attitude kept the majority Tide-friendly crowd at Hard Rock Stadium on the edge of their seats until the game's ultimate conclusion. Murray became the first QB to rush for over 100 yards against a Nick Saban-coached Alabama defense, totaling 109 yards and a touchdown on the ground to go along with his 308 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Alabama and Clemson have met each of the last four years in the College Football Playoff, and next Monday's showdown in Santa Clara, California, will be the third time they've battled with a national title on the line. The Tide currently hold a 2-1 lead in the CFP series with the Tigers.
What were the biggest takeaways from the Orange Bowl?
1. It isn't just Tua Tagovailoa: Sure, the sophomore sensation quarterback was back with a vengeance on Saturday night, But his receivers don't get nearly enough credit as they deserve. Whether it's Jerry Jeudy coming out of a break, DeVonta Smith breaking off routes when he knows Tagovailoa is getting pressure, Jaylen Waddle's track-star speed or Irv Smith Jr.'s ability to be a matchup problem against any defense, there's always somewhere to go with the football. Nine different receivers caught passes against the Sooners -- the most for the Crimson Tide in 2018.
This group is unlike any corps that Alabama has ever had under Saban. It typically has been only Julio Jones or only Amari Cooper or only Calvin Ridley. The depth and diversity of this year's group, coupled with the ability of offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to find creative ways to get all of them involved, is a big reason why Alabama will play for the national title for the fourth straight season. Running back Damien Harris said earlier this year that the goal for the 2018 season was to make the offense as feared as the defense. That has happened, due in large part to Tagovailoa's help in the passing game.
2. Josh Jacobs might be the Tide's best rusher: Harris is the veteran leader and Najee Harris is the sophomore who's next in line, but at this point, it's fair to consider that Jacobs -- the under-recruited afterthought -- has emerged as one of the sport's superstars. The junior had 98 rushing yards, 60 receiving yards and one punishing 27-yard catch and run early in the second quarter to extend the Crimson Tide lead to 28-0 This comes one game after earning MVP honors in the comeback win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. That's not an insult to the other running backs on the depth chart. Their work this year has been a big part of the Tide's success. But without Jacobs, would Saban's crew be as dominant as they've been? Doubtful.
3. Kyler Murray's last stand? If Murray follows through with his baseball career and doesn't test the NFL waters, his last game as a football player should go down as one of his best, even though he came out on the wrong side. He didn't quit. He didn't crumble when 295 pounds of Quinnen Williams landed squarely on his head. He continued to play his game and had one of the best performances every by a quarterback against Saban.
There will be talk about Tagovailoa getting Heisman Trophy revenge over Murray. Don't fall into that trap. Both of these quarterbacks were worthy of the most prestigious individual award in American sports in 2018 and proved it at Hard Rock Stadium. It just so happens that there's only one trophy.
4. Clemson-Alabama IV is going to be a doozy: The first two editions of the fiercest CFP rivalry of the format's early years were classic showdowns for the national title, but the third in the Sugar Bowl semifinal last year was a snooze-fest. Part IV is going to resemble the first two, not the most recent.
The Clemson defensive front squaring off against the Alabama offensive line -- with key pieces of both units missing -- is wildly intriguing. Clemson true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence squaring off with last season's true freshman sensation Tagovailoa is a phenomenal new twist to the budding rivalry. Two of the best set of skill players together on the same field is drama that you can't miss.
Alabama vs. Clemson IV isn't boring. It isn't bad for the sport. It isn't stale. It's needed. Two of the best teams throughout the entire season meeting in the postseason is how things should be. It shouldn't be about lesser teams getting hot -- like 9-7 teams in the NFL. Buckle up. This one's going to be fun.
CBS Sports was with you the entire way Saturday updating this story with the latest scores, analysis and highlights from the 2018 Orange Bowl. If you are unable to view the live updates below, please click here.
Thanks for stopping by.