Five stats that defined Clemson's thrilling national championship win over Alabama
The Tigers' upset was defined by a few key stats
Clemson was able to avenge last season's 45-40 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship game on Monday night in Tampa with a thrilling 35-31 win in a fourth quarter comeback win against the Tide.
The Tigers snapped Alabama's 26-game winning streak dating back to 2015 as Deshaun Watson and company gave Clemson its first national title since 1981. For the second straight season, Watson and the Clemson offense picked apart the nation's best defense, this time to the tune of 511 total yards.
In a season that was defined by the Tide's stifling defense, Clemson flipped the script in the title game to force Alabama into playing in a second half shootout for the second straight season. The difference this year was that Watson got to have the ball in his hands to end the game and finish off the Tide.
There were a number of factors that went into Clemson's win, but there are five stats in particular that stand out when looking through the final stat book that show why, this season, the Tigers were able to pull out the victory.
100 -- Clemson's red zone touchdown percentage: For the season, Alabama allowed opponents to score touchdowns on only 38.1 percent of red zone trips (third in the nation). On Monday night, Clemson went a perfect 4 for 4 on converting trips inside the Alabama 20 into touchdowns. The Tide had allowed only eight red zone touchdowns in 14 games, but Watson and the Clemson offense were able to get to 50 percent of that season total in 60 minutes on Monday night. The ability to finish drives in the end zone was the difference in the game, as the Tigers needed all 28 of those points.
3 -- Alabama points off of two Clemson turnovers: The Tigers put the ball on the ground twice by way of fumbles -- one after a wayward snap and the other after Wayne Gallman was stripped by Ryan Anderson. However, unlike nine other teams this season, the Tigers were able to prevent the Alabama defense from immediately turning those turnovers into six points -- Hunter Renfrow's tackle of Ryan Anderson on what could have been a scoop-and-score proved huge.
Clemson's defense, while it had its struggles at times with Bo Scarborough, stood tall when presented with the stressful situations of having to face Alabama's offense after a turnover, preventing the Tide from getting into the end zone in the two short-field situations.
99 -- The number of total plays run by Clemson: Alabama's defense hadn't faced more than 84 plays all season (Arkansas), but Clemson was able to wear down the mighty Tide defense with tempo and consistent movement on offense. Alabama, contrarily, only ran 66 plays on offense and the wear of those extra plays run by Clemson's offense on the Alabama defense was evident in the second half.
Clemson's offense averaged 5.7 yards per play in the second half after only 4.5 yards per play in the first half. The Tigers picked up 21 first downs in the second half after only 10 first downs in the first half. Alabama's push up front wasn't as strong -- only two tackles for loss (both sacks) in the second half -- and the lack of pressure allowed Watson to complete 23-of-34 passes in the second half.
13.3 -- Alabama's third down conversion percentage: The Tide's inability to extend drives played a role in Clemson's offense being on the field as often as it was. Alabama had 15 third-down opportunities and only converted on two of those chances. The 13.3 conversion percentage is the worst of the season by far for the Tide (previously 28.6 percent against Washington) and was well below the season average of 46.1 percent.
Part of the reason for that was Clemson kept Alabama well behind the sticks. The Tide's average third down distance to go was 9.3 yards for the game. The Tide were 1 for 13 on third down attempts longer than four yards for the game, which led to 11 punts. Clemson's defense might have gotten gashed by four touchdowns of 25 yards or more, but overall, the Tigers did a great job to keep Alabama from one of its classic long marches down the field that eat time off the clock and wear down defenses physically.
4 -- The number of Clemson receivers with more than 90 yards receiving: Deshaun Watson picked apart the Alabama secondary for a second straight year, and he did so by distributing the ball among his many weapons on the outside. His favorite target was Hunter Renfrow, who had 10 catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns -- including the game-winner -- but Mike Williams was huge with eight catches for 94 yards and one touchdown, while Jordan Leggett (seven catches for 95 yards) and Deon Cain (five catches for 94 yards) had big nights as well.
Watson was able to distribute the ball to a number of receivers and find success at all levels -- short, intermediate and deep -- on his way to 420 passing yards. He will capture the headlines, and rightfully so after a second straight masterful performance in an national title game, but the efforts of Renfrow, Williams, Leggett and Cain to work open against the Tide's secondary and come down with contested catches should also be commended.
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