NEW ORLEANS The trilogy turned out to be a tragedy for Clemson late Monday night against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide dominated the top-seeded Tigers for four quarters at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, earning a 24-6 victory.
Clemson’s offense succeeded all year without key pieces from last year’s national title team, but the Tigers (12-2) were no match for Alabama as the teams met for the third consecutive year in the postseason.
Clemson had -7 yards of offense in the first quarter and finished the game with 188.
After not allowing Ohio State to run a play in Clemson’s red-zone last season, the Tigers failed to reach Alabama’s red-zone until late in the fourth quarter. They scored their only points of the game on field goals of 44 yards and 42 yards by Alex Spence.
“It's a very disappointed locker room, but I'm very thankful for our seniors. And this is a team - nobody picked us to be here this year,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It didn't end the way I wanted it to or the way they wanted it to, but this is a great group of young men that I'm going to miss deeply. But we will bounce back. We will learn from it. For us it's always about what is next.”
Alabama led 10-3 at halftime thanks to a 24-yard field goal by Andy Pappanastos and a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley.
The Tigers quickly gained momentum in the third quarter as a botched handoff on the first play of the third quarter set Clemson up at Alabama’s 20. But the offense went backwards before settling for a long field goal by Spence.
It was all Alabama from that point forward. Kelly Bryant was picked off on consecutive pass attempts with Da’Ron Payne setting up a touchdown and Mack Wilson getting a pick six midway through the third quarter as the Crimson Tide grabbed control.
“One thing that we have done a great job on all year is points off of turnovers. And we gave up 14 points off of turnovers,” Swinney said. “If you just play kind of even football as bad as we played, it's a 10-6 game in the fourth quarter and you have got a chance.”
Clemson lost the battle up front on both sides of the ball as Alabama smothered Bryant throughout the game and kept Clemson’s defensive front from making much of an impact.
Alabama sacked Bryant five times and finished with nine tackles for loss. The Tigers had 26 carries for 38 yards, averaging 1.9 yards per rush.
“We knew coming into the game it was going to be a grown man's game. We didn't really feel overwhelmed because we understood what we were getting into,” Ferrell said. “We played in this game the past two years, and we understand how physical of a game it was going to be. Like we said, the game was going to be won and lost in the trenches. As a team, we just feel like we didn't do a joint effort together to come out with a W. And the scoreboard showed it.”
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was efficient in the passing game, completing 16 of his 24 attempts for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 40 yards.
Hurts spread the ball out to nine receivers.
Clemson’s receiver struggled to gain separation with Deon Cain catching six passes for 75 yards and everyone else combining for 49 receiving yards.
Travis Etienne led the Tigers in rushing with four attempts for 22 yards, while Tavien Feaster had only four carries.
Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph led the Tigers with 10 tackles, including a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Star of the game: Rashaan Evans: The Alabama linebacker was all over the field with a team-high nine tackles, a sack and a pass breakup.
Play of the game: Alabama nose guard Da’Ron Payne picked off Kelly Bryant and returned it 21 yards in the third quarter. He then finished the ensuing drive with a touchdown catch.
Stat of the game: 1.9: Clemson averaged 1.9 yards per carry on 33 rushing attempts.
Won in the trenches: Clemson’s defensive front has created havoc all year but struggled to get any pressure on Hurts.
Alabama defense is legit: The Tide have speed all over the field and proved why they were the No. 1 defense all year.
Bryant struggled: It wasn’t all his fault, but Clemson’s quarterback struggled with his accuracy and decision-making.
Alabama 24, Clemson 6
BAMA—FG Pappanastos 24, 5:23
BAMA—Ridley 12 pass from Hurts (Pappanastos kick), :12
CLE—FG Al.Spence 44, 10:00
CLE—FG Al.Spence 42, 12:45
BAMA—Payne 1 pass from Hurts (Pappanastos kick), 5:40
BAMA—M.Wilson 18 interception return (Pappanastos kick), 5:27
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Alabama, D.Harris 19-77, Hurts 11-40, Scarbrough 12-24. Clemson, Etienne 4-22, K.Bryant 19-19, Choice 5-14, Feaster 4-10, (Team) 1-(minus 1).
PASSING—Alabama, Hurts 16-24-0-120. Clemson, Feaster 0-1-0-0, K.Bryant 18-36-2-124.
RECEIVING—Alabama, Ridley 4-39, Ruggs 2-25, Scarbrough 2-16, D.Harris 2-4, Jacobs 2-3, N.Harris 1-22, I.Smith 1-6, D.Smith 1-4, Payne 1-1. Clemson, Cain 6-75, H.Renfrow 5-31, McCloud 3-1, Feaster 2-(minus 3), Rodgers 1-16, Richard 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Alabama, Pappanastos 38.