Lawrence and the Tigers Roll the Tide

But this time, there wasn’t a freshman phenom to come off the bench and save them. Tua Tagovailoa was already on the field, and for the first time in his college football career, he looked like he had just seen a ghost.

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Both Alabama and Clemson stomped over their College Football semi-final opponents to book their tickets to Levi Stadium for a chance at the National Championship. The Clemson Tigers embarrassed the then-undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Cotton Bowl Classic, while Alabama put on a dominant display over Heisman winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma. It was almost destiny for Clemson and Alabama to meet once again in the College Football playoff for round four of what is turning out to be one of the greatest College Football rivalries in recent history, rivaling the likes of USC-Notre Dame and Miami-Notre Dame. From the very beginning and throughout the College Football season, it was very clear that Clemson and Alabama were the cream of the crop, with the other teams left to play catch-up. It was the fourth installment of the classic matchup between the industrial powerhouse that is Alabama coached by Nick Saban, and “Little Old Clemson,” a term coined by coach Dabo Swinney.

The storyline going into the game revolved around a battle between each team’s prolific quarterbacks. Alabama were led by sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, the same guy who came off the bench as a freshman to win the National Championship for Alabama against Georgia last year. On the other hand, Clemson were led by true freshman Trevor Lawrence, whom scouts are touting to be the greatest quarterback prospect since John Elway. With both teams boasting “top ten” defenses and great rotation in the skill positions (i.e. wide receivers, running backs), the game would prove to be a test of which quarterback could rise to the occasion. Alabama was the favorite, as they were the defending national champions and Tua Tagovailoa had already proven that he can hold his own on the big stage.

The game started explosively with Tua throwing a pick-six on his first drive to help the Tigers score the first touchdown of the night. But to Bama fans’ relief, the Hawaiian showed great leadership and came back to throw a touchdown on the very first pass of his very next drive to Jerry Jeudy. The teams then exchanged long marches down the field capped off by two strong runs into their respective endzones, making the score 14-13 near the end of the first quarter (Alabama missed an extra point). But unfortunately for the defending national champions, that was the most success they would have all game.

In the second quarter, Trevor Lawrence marched down the field once again with a great rushing attack to his aid led by Travis Etienne. And it was Etienne who punched the ball in once again to extend the Tigers’ lead. Though nervous, Bama fans had good reason to believe that their Heisman runner-up quarterback would do what he had been doing all season long and put points on the board. But much to their chagrin, the sophomore threw his second interception of the game, where he was baited by the safety and horribly overthrew the pass intended for his receiver down the field. With momentum on their side, Clemson marched down the field once again, and Lawrence threw another touchdown pass to Etienne. Etienne capped off a hat trick of touchdowns in the first half, against Nick Saban’s defense, who are notorious for stuffing the run. Bama fans in Levi Stadium probably experienced a sense of déjà vu because as Georgia last year, Clemson was crushing Alabama's will for the greater part of the game by stifling their offense. But this time, there wasn’t a freshman phenom to come off the bench and save them. Tua Tagovailoa was already on the field, and for the first time in his college football career, he looked like he had just seen a ghost.

The second half was not any better for the Crimson Tide. The Clemson defense led by their stout pass rush kept Alabama’s explosive offense relatively quiet. It would only get worse when the Tide mustered up enough offense for a field goal attempt. It was then when Nick Saban made perhaps the worst call of his illustrious career. Nick Saban called a trick play on the field goal attempt and sent the backup quarterback (also the holder) to run the ball into the endzone with the kicker as his lead blocker. Understandably, Clemson wasn’t fooled for a second. That play marked the beginning of the end for Alabama. The trick play reeked of Nick Saban’s desperation, and the fake field goal attempt was nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to regain the momentum. Trevor Lawrence got the ball back and continued to amaze. The freshman pulled off every throw in the book, from quick slants to back-shoulder fades outside the numbers, and two very well-placed strikes into the endzone to bury the Tide. The Tide’s dissipation became evidently clear in the fourth quarter when Tua was benched and Clemson gave their starters a curtain call.

Trevor Lawrence ended the game with 350 passing yards and three touchdowns. NFL scouts and analysts like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper will undoubtedly be awed by his scouting tape for the next two years, desperately waiting for him to declare for the NFL Draft in 2021. But on the flip side, College Football can celebrate having a new star for at least two more years. As for Tua, there remains no doubt that he is one of the most talented prospects in College Football. However, this subpar performance will lower his stock, and it will take a few heroic performances in his junior year before the 2020 draft to secure himself as a top draft pick. As for Nick Saban, this game is a major blemish on his résumé, considering this was the first time in his career his team had been dominated in all aspects of the game, and the first time he felt like he had been outcoached. Despite the setbacks, the other six national championships will secure him a spot on College Football’s Mount Rushmore, as arguably the best ever to coach the game. It remains to be seen if this is the passing of the torch in College Football for an Alabama who have dominated for the past decade, or if the Tide will continue to roll on through for Nick Saban’s seventh national championship. At the very least, Clemson has given teams a blueprint for how to slow down the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide.