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Clemson Transcended Sport in its National Championship Victory

Clemson delivered the story America craves. Also, some (not great) 1st quarter film review!

CFP National Championship Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

When sport offers a triumphant moment, I wonder how it must feel for the players and fans who truly care for the athlete or team who ascend into legend. I wonder if I’ll ever feel what I could only imagine is a sort of bliss incomprehensible to one who grew up riding the Clemson roller coaster near the turn of the millennium. The ride slowly grew more smooth as Dabo Swinney began to change the culture when he took over in 2008. Halfway through this decade, we in Clemson enjoyed an increasing number of vindicating wins and excitable moments: Every bowl game from the last 5 seasons; Notre Dame in a hurricane; Wayne Gallman against FSU later that season, Deshaun Watson and Jordan Leggett against Louisville and FSU; Marcus Edmond; 56-7.

All of these were monumental to us, but were merely steps in our literal and figurative journey. As earth-shattering as each felt, none transcended sport itself. Until Tampa.

In the opening minutes of Tuesday morning, Clemson’s triumph echoed across the country not only for its immediate enshrinement in college football history, but as a triumph for American culture. This was bigger than college football or even sport at large; Clemson brought to life America’s favorite story arc: the underdog hero overcame the unstoppable machinations of evil in the most dramatic climax imaginable. The entire country (outside of Central Alabama and the desolate Midlands of South Carolina) cheered with us as one of our own fulfilled the Campbellian Monomyth: Watson completed his Hero’s Journey. This was literature in motion, this was Hollywood personified, this was Clemson delivering to America our shared moment of triumph and joy straight out of fiction.

It’s only appropriate that Sporting News combined American culture’s greatest and most visible Campbellian moment with Clemson’s own:

Watson and Clemson delivered what many already call not only the greatest title game ever, but the greatest college football game ever. Clemson. Us. This is how it feels.



Alley = area between the OT and WR. BCB = Boundary Cornerback, Bullet = ILB A or B gap blitz. C0, C1, C2, C3, C4 (quarters) or C6 = coverage scheme by the secondary. DIME OF DOOM = 3rd down 3-2-6 havoc formation. FCB = Wide side or field cornerback. Fire = S, NB, LB blitz from the outside. Green Dog = man blitz when your man stays in to block or is not in the formation. IV= inverted veer. IZ = Inside Zone or Zone blocked play inside the tackles.Jailbreak = 7 or more blitz. LOS = Line of Scrimmage. Man = man to man coverage.OZ = outside zone run or zone blocked play off-tackle. PA = Play Action. PBU = Pass broken up. Red Dog (overload) = LB and S/NB blitz on the same side. Robber = S or LB moves to take away crossing routes. C3 Sky = SS moves up two yards, takes flat, CBs and FS take deep thirds. Soft= CBs/NB playing well off the WR until he gets to the 1st down line. Stretch= zone blocked run just inside the last offensive player on that side. Stack = the 3 LBs are stacked directly behind DL. Stalk = WR blocks DB in front of him. Sweep = RB/QB run, often FB/ H-B lead play to the D gap. TO = Triple Option. ZR = Zone read option play.


  • Thoughts within a play are separated by a comma. (,)
  • Each play is separated by an ellipsis. (...)
  • First downs are separated by a paragraph.
  • Comments on a drive are in italics.
  • Offensive personnel listed as a 2 digit number: # of RBs, # of TEs, # of WRs; 11 = 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 receivers; 22 = 2 RB, 2 TE, 1 receiver, etc.

Play by Play

Bama ball, 14:55, Bama 24 yard line

11 shotgun vs 4-3, quick out batted down by Wilkins, would’ve been a TFL for Smith if complete...11 ace (bunch left) vs 4-3, counter trey to Scarbrough, Wilkins and Ferrell in the backfield immediately, Tankersley and the rest of the front 7 clean up, loss of 2...11 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM (Carter nickel, Fields FCB) cover 4, quick screen to Ridley stuffed by Carter who split two blockers and wrapped up, PUNT.

Clemson ball, 13:24, Clemson 22

11 shotgun vs 3-3-5, fake jet counter to Gallman, Crowder with a beautiful block in space and Gallman gets to the edge for a gain of 11, trucking defenders on his way out of bounds...

LOOK AT CROWDER MOVE. Even the maligned Hearn recovers to prevent a TFL.

Empty shotgun vs 3-3-5 cover 7, RPO, Watson tucks when he sees Foster run out in coverage but the Bama DL is on him immediately, loss of 4...

When Foster splits out to cover the hook/curl, it should be 5 offensive linemen vs 5 defenders in the box, meaning Watson should be free to run to the second level. It’s not a sack, it’s a draw off a run/pass option based on Foster.

11 shotgun vs 4-2-5 (Tim Williams in at DE, still technically 3-3-5 personnel) NB fire, triple option shovel to Leggett gains 5, unnecessary roughness, not targeting, called on Foster’s hit to Watson’s head, looks like a Cam Newton no-call...

21 shotgun (Scott in backfield) vs 3-3-5 cover 3, PA, quick swing to Scott who gains 1...21 shotgun vs 4-2-5, counter to Gallman gains 5, creative new run look...11 shotgun (bunch left) vs 4-2-5 man cover 1, complete to Williams on the trailing slant for a gain of 4...4th & 1, option pitch is stuffed, TURNOVER ON DOWNS.

Bama ball, 10:21, Bama 41

11 pistol vs 4-3 man cover 1, PA stretch, Hurts keeps rolling outside and eventually tucks for a gain of 20...

12 pistol vs 4-3, IZ to Scarbrough gains 4...12 pistol vs 4-3, PA, Ferrell in the backfield immediately again and pats down the quick out, Ferrell flagged for hands to Hurts’ face after the PBU...

11 ace vs 4-3, counter trey to Scarbrough gets to the edge, O’Daniel didn’t get outside to force him back and gets blocked out by Howard, TOUCHDOWN.

Nobody outside.

Clemson ball, 9:15, Clemson 45, 7-0 Bama lead

11 shotgun vs 3-3-5, jet sweep to Scott loses 1...empty shotgun vs 4-2-5 man cover 1, quick slant complete to Leggett, gain of 9...11 shotgun vs 3-3-5 man, slant complete to Williams for the 1st...

11 shotgun vs 4-2-5, triple option ZR give to Gallman gains 3...11 shotgun vs 4-2-5, fake pitch option keeper gains 4...11 shotgun vs 4-2-5 cover 3, deep fade to Cain overthrown, PUNT.

Bama ball, 6:26, Bama 16, 7-0 Bama lead

11 shotgun vs 4-3, stretch to Scarbrough gains 1, Bama is giving Ferrell a free rush every time, sealing and running behind him...screen to Scarbrough gains 8...11 pistol vs 4-3 (more like 4-6 with 10 in the box), IZ cutback gains 2...

12 ace vs 4-3 man under, PA throwback incomplete...empty shotgun vs 4-3, rollout pass dropped along the sideline...10 pistol (WIDE splits) vs 4-3 man cover 1 Will fire, IZ to Jacobs gains 13...

11 shotgun vs 4-3 man cover 1 Mike bullet, QB draw stuffed by Joseph for a loss of 1...11 shotgun vs 4-3 cover 3 Mike/Will bullet, WDE drop, Hurts runs past the blitz for 8 yards...12 ace vs 4-3, PA, Ferrell pressures immediately again and forces the holding penatly...11 shotgun vs nickel cover 4, Bryant tips the ball at the line, incomplete, PUNT BLOCKED BUT STILL GOES 25 YARDS.

Clemson ball, 2:30, Clemson 37, 7-0 Bama lead

11 shotgun vs 3-3-5, inverted veer (IV) keeper gains 5...11 shotgun vs 3-3-5 cover 3, fake jet sweep go route to Cain, open but overthrown by 5+ yards, points off the board...3rd & 5 rendered irrelevant when snap is fumbled and recovered by Bama...

Bama ball, 1:50 Clemson 40, 7-0 Bama lead

11 pistol vs 4-3 Sam fire, DL slants away from it, Watkins splits and gets the 2 yard loss, monster game from Watkins...

11 shotgun vs 4-3 cover 3 Mike/Will bullet WDE drop, deep curl open but overthrown incomplete...11 shotgun vs nickel man cover 1 FS/Mike/Will bullet with both DEs dropping, Smith gets through clean and forces the throwaway, PUNT.

Can’t overlook forcing a punt after beginning the series at your own 40. This is the first glimpse of the overriding theme of the entire second half and eventual deciding factor: Clemson’s defense stoned Bama enough to give the ball back to Watson and eventually tire out the thin Tide defense.

Clemson ball, 1:07, Clemson 1, 7-0 Bama lead

11 shotgun vs 4-2-5, IZ handoff gets out of the endzone after a scary moment in which Guillermo got blown up, gain of 2...offside...11 shotgun vs 3-3-5, ZR keeper gains 1...END OF QUARTER.

This game got off to a bad start so of course I won’t end on that. End on Sean McDonough’s call of the winner on ESPN Radio because he’s the most fun announcer in sports today:

Cry every time.