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My Ode to Clemson (In-depth: Clemson Tigers win the Natty)

Clemson wins the greatest national championship game ever?!

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
Fly Deshaun Fly
The Greenville News-USA TODAY Sports

I honestly thought I would never see a National Championship come back to Clemson during my lifetime. I always hoped. Always suffering along with everyone through thick and thin.

I’m good. I just wanted to win one natty.

Not going to lie, I shed tears. Tears of sorrow when Hurts seemingly stole the trophy and, of course, tears of exuberant relief and joy—exorcising decades of jaded cynicism and doubt. I could barely breathe on the last drive.

In the first quarter, I felt like I was back in the Georgia Dome about to get rolled. This team was absolutely made of different stuff, different mettle.

I should just end this post right now, sign off and go out on top....

I don’t think nationally people realize how hard it is to be a Clemson fan. This is not a fanbase that gets to rely on the prestige and winning tradition of a Bama, LSU, OSU, or Michigan.

That is easy fandom.

Teams like Florida and Florida State have a recent history to fallback upon. Clemson got one taste in a different era and then was stuck knowing they could be better. Clemson was stuck knowing they could beat the best teams in the country, but then fall flat on our collective faces time and time again. It hurt because we knew we could be great. We were great, and then we would lose to Boston College or Duke, get spanked by Bama in an opener, win the ACC and then get blown out by WVU, put up with Clemsoning and being laughed at as we kicked the bleachers and wailed into the night (looking at you Jesse Palmer).

Dabo helped us all to believe. I’m sure he hates most (if not all) of what I write because he wanted to overcome the pessimism that inculcated our Clemson football culture.

Thank you Dabo Swinney.


I promised there would be no negatives. Sure, I could talk about Guillermo and Hearn getting blown up at times and the bad snaps (I think his fingers were bothering him) or Pollard and Anchrum being beaten by the best pass rushers in college football in Anderson and Williams, but who cares??

In fact, this game arguably turned because that offensive line just hung in there and weathered the storm. The maligned offensive line, the guys who took a bunch of garbage all season from me and tons of analysts, they hung in there and kept working.

Alabama played with tempo on offense and when two teams play with tempo depth becomes a huge concern in the fourth quarter. Alabama lacked depth, especially on the defensive line this year (I thought it was a mistake for Bama to play with that much tempo). The offensive line gutted it out and as the game progressed they were able to hold their blocks just a little longer and Bama’s pad level got a little bit higher. It doesn’t take much for Watson and the quick pass game to wear down any defense, but Bama really only rotated 14-15 guys (those injuries to Jackson, Hamilton, and the guy who shot his finger off on the D-line were huge).

The game really turned when Mike Williams made a spectacular catch and Payne (#94) got flagged for a personal foul on Hearn. A couple of plays later after Deshaun took flight it is first and goal from the one.

Can Clemson get that yard?

Yes. Thanks to a combo block by Hearn and Jay Guillermo driving Payne back three yards deep in the endzone. Gallman scores and that effort and resolve, that right there, wins championships.

Watson was great all night. Mel Kiper Jr. proves to be a very shallow analyst with a limited knowledge of college football with his 2nd round grade of Watson and his comments on the game. Watson was making every check, every correct read in the first and second quarter while under tremendous duress. Bama was throwing a Bear front with a spy and Man Cover 2 to Robber—everything. Pruitt and that defense was amazing and NFL caliber. Watson proved he could process all of that information, not get happy feet, and remain calm and collected. I wish I could go on a show and throw all of the weak arguments from ‘NFL guys’ who don’t even watch college football right back in their ignorant faces. NFL scouting of QBs is pathetic. Anyone who had watched Logan Thomas and EJ Manuel (along with countless other blown evals) knew that wasn’t going to happen—and you want to give Deshaun a 2nd round grade??

Beyond ridiculous.

We could talk about getting run over by Bo in the first half and his injury in the third quarter as a turning point in the game. It certainly made things easier, but Clemson also lost Ferrell at the nine minute mark in the 3rd Q. Alabama lost Bo for only the 4th quarter. Big loss, but Harris is a thousand yard rusher in the SEC who came in and played well. Clemson just got ahead and forced some three and outs. The defense had largely adjusted to the zone runs by the 4th Q.

The Clemson defense was gassed at the end of the game and put everything into that 3 and 16 play. On the Hurts running TD, Jadar couldn’t break it down, Dorian could barely jog over, Joseph made the diving attempt. Guys were spent, but looking back, Watson wanted every possible second. He wanted the ball in his hands to end the game. The chance he never got the year before. (I’m also not going to talk about the OJ Howard bust, but it was pretty funny that right as that play was happening, Boyd was about to talk to TJ Green on the Homers broadcast. Tajh did a great job again this year and it was highly entertaining. Also fun to watch our fellow ACC Atlantic coaches on the coaches show, really shows their strengths and weaknesses as coaches—I’m glad we got our guys...)

Key Plays of the Game

There are so many great plays and iconic moments that will go down in Clemson history and lore. First, the ‘pick’ plays? The Renfrow TD isn’t a pick because Scott never touches Brown. Thanks to Humphrey for grabbing Scott’s shoulders (a penalty as Dabo rightly said) and helping him fall to the ground. On the Leggett mesh concept, that could have been called, but Leggett got his hands up and sold it well.

How about the missed PI’s and holding calls? How about the three missed targeting calls?

We are experts on targeting in the ACC.


If a player hits the head/neck area of a QB while they are making a shovel pass, leaving their feet and launching, making first impact with a forearm and possibly the crown of the helmet?? That was the third offensive play of the game for Clemson. It is a clear ejection and the refs saw it and called unnecessary roughness. The replay booth didn’t have the guts to take Bama’s top defender off the field.

If a player leads with the crown of the helmet and hits the helmet of the other player, making initial contact with the crown (leading with the crown of the helmet) that player is toast. Brown should have been ejected for his hit on Mike Williams.

Same thing with Foster’s launch that hits the facemask of Watson, causing him to helicopter spin in the air (I wish he got the first down because that would have been an all-timer right there).

Boulware’s hit was close but because he keeps his head up, doesn’t hit with the crown and doesn’t initially launch, it doesn’t reach the targeting criteria.

Moving on...

Great call on the 4th down pooch kick by Watson in the 3Q. Dabo played field position rather than going for the fourth and 1 after failing to convert on the first drive. Clemson forces a three and out and then Bama’s Ray Guy punter inexplicably shanks a punt, giving Clemson the ball around the 40 yard line. This was a turning point.

The special teams calls were the best they’ve been all season. Great call on the opposite field rugby kick. Bama kept trying to counter, bringing in two returners, etc. but Andy kept getting the better of them. People were calling the kicks ugly. No. No. Always kicking 38 yard punts is ugly. This was just beautiful.

Tanner Muse laying out like a flopping fish, getting the block. Tre Lamar would have had one but got tangled (more like tripped up) with the Bama player.

Seth Ryan with another excellent hold. He needs to come back next year, absolutely saved an extra point in the game.

Wayne Gallman’s block on Foster that freed up Watson for the first touchdown.

Maybe the biggest play in the game was a hustle play. Renfrow’s tackle of Ryan Anderson was huge. That tackle saves Clemson 4 points and gives the defense a chance to hold the offense to three points. The momentum swing would have been huge and it would have been even harder to find an offensive rhythm.

Two plays later Ryan Carter does not bite on a double move by Calvin Ridley and maintains good coverage on an overthrown ball. Carter missed a few tackles got beaten on some balls during the year, but was solid overall. He is your starter heading into next year. Fields actually lost contain a couple of times. Carter has played much better.

In the 4th Q, on the slip screen where Howard catches the ball instead of Harris, Big Dexie, the DexStar, gets the shoestring tackle to force the punt. If Dexter misses that it is a first down and possibly a touchdown. Muse actually gets around the block toward the RB Harris, but because Howard wrongly caught the ball he was out of position.

Boulware was able to diagnose a couple of key plays on defense. Huge tackle for loss to set up the 3 and 16 after he snuffed out the screen.

Fly Deshaun Fly.

This might have been my favorite play of the season. I think the image of Deshaun soaring above defenders is what I will remember most about Deshaun as a Tiger. His most iconic moments have been when he has literally taken off and flown. NC State hurdle. South Carolina stretch and aerial the next year. Natty drive to take the lead.

The final drive was a thing of beauty. But after the Mike Williams catch I felt like the coaches were going full Tommy Bowden and wanting to play it a bit safe and kick the field goal for overtime (a field goal that would inevitably been blocked because, well, that’s what Bama does...). I don’t know why we let so much time run off the clock with two timeouts and 50 seconds left in the game. The Jordan Leggett catch was so important. It forced us to try and score, to win the game. That was an insane catch and must have felt good after his missed ball earlier in the quarter. He basically one handed the ball and brought it down. Without that catch, I’m not sure we are as aggressive taking shots at the endzone. The confidence the team had at that point...

On the last play, Deshaun told the coaches he wanted to run the ball to win it. I think the Bama coaches actually believed that he would run it despite the time. It really is the only explanation for the Cover Zero look the defense gave. Jeff Scott will forever have my praise for insisting on the sprint out pass to Hunter Renfrow. Elephant Hunter Renfrow (sorry, I know that is inappropriate, but he was Bama’s kryptonite two years in a row).

It is just fitting that the preferred walk-on wins the national championship for Dabo Swinney. It just doesn’t get scripted any better than this...

We are the National Champions my friends...