Clemson players explain what it took to beat Alabama

Clemson players explain what it took to beat Alabama

Margins were thin that cool night in Tampa. That should’ve been obvious when Clemson scored the winning touchdown with one second left on the Raymond-James Stadium clock.

Alabama came that close to a second straight national title before Hunter Renfrow caught the final pass, giving the Tigers a 35-31 win. Memories of that late-night thriller remained vivid last week in Indianapolis where members of both teams gathered for the NFL combine.

It’s been almost two months since Clemson avenged the previous year’s classic title game against Alabama. That made a difference when Round 2 came around, several Tiger players said.

“The year before, I was real emotional,” running back Wayne Gallman said in Indianapolis. “I cried at the end of the game and I just felt that confetti falling over me and going back in that locker room, we all had that thought about being back in the national championship. So, it was a great feeling having that confetti falling for us.”

Just like that 45-40 Alabama win over Clemson the previous January, points and offense were plentiful in the rematch. Again, Clemson eclipsed the 500-yard mark against Alabama.

Only this time it worked.

Several Clemson players referenced the cumulative impact of running 99 plays on an Alabama defense that was dominant most of the season.

“At the beginning, they were flying around like crazy,” receiver Artavis Scott said. “Toward the second half, some of those tackles that they would have made in the first half they didn’t make.”

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Linebacker Ben Boulware said that made the job of Clemson’s defense much easier. The Tigers actually played exactly 99 snaps against future Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville back in October.

“And it sucks,” Boulware said in January at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. It’s not fun at all. When you’re going against an offense like ours, it’s very draining. So, I’m grateful it’s our offense doing it to them.”

That answers why Clemson managed 14 points in the first three quarters and 21 in the fourth. The two final drives took 1:55 and 2:00 off the clock, respectively in quick strike possessions.

“Very focused, not really worried about the outside noise or the crowd,” Gallman said. “We were just worried about being on the field and doing our job.”

It was successful.

“The final drive, we’re a fast-break offense, spread, we know what we do,” Scott said. “We do 2-minute all the time. So, we knew when we had that much time left that we could get it done and go score.”

That night remains fresh for former Alabama receiver ArDarius Stewart, too. His podium at the NFL combine was directly next to Clemson’s Mike Williams. Beating the Tigers in 2016 doesn’t necessarily make things even to Stewart.

“I don’t think it helps,” he said. “I don’t like to lose, the guys don’t like to lose, and we like to finish. But we didn’t finish and it’s something that’ll always stick with us and something that we’re really not proud of.”

The plan for attacking Alabama’s offense was to keep quarterback Jalen Hurts in the pocket, Boulware said. Clemson used maybe two plays all game on defense, the linebacker said.

Boulware also didn’t downplay the impact of Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough leaving the game in the third quarter with a broken leg. The sophomore had 93 yard on 16 carries with two scores when the injury changed everything.

“It sucked for them,” Boulware said, “but thank god I didn’t have to tackle him anymore.”

Several Clemson offensive players said they didn’t do many things radically different from the previous year’s meeting. They just did it better.

“I don’t think there was anything different, we just came out to play,” Gallman said. “It was all about execution and just coming to play football.”

AL.com’s John Talty also contributed to this story.

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Published at Tue, 07 Mar 2017 13:26:21 +0000