Three years ago today, Clemson defeated Alabama 44-16 in Santa Clara, Calif., at Levi's Stadium to win the Tigers' third national championship as a program.
Alabama, the favorite, entered the game in the conversation among football pundits as the greatest college team of all time. By the end of the day, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney laid claim to that after becoming the first team since the 1800s to go 15-0 on January 7, 2019.
"Our guys had the eye of the tiger, but I'm so proud, and then for our seniors to be able to go out 15-0 and truly be the best ever...there was a lot of talk about best ever all year long," Swinney said, referring to Alabama. "We were never in that conversation. But tonight, there's no doubt. First 15-0 team, to beat Notre Dame and to beat Alabama to do it, this team won 13 games by 20 points or more and led by an unbelievable group of seniors, amazing group. I'm just thankful to be a part of it."
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Here are several highlights from the play on the field:
- Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman. He went 20-of-32 passing and produced 277 yards in the final three quarters.
- Justyn Ross led Tiger receivers with 153 yards and a touchdown on six catches. Ross was also a true freshman who carved up Alabama's vaunted defense. He scored on a 74-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
- Cornerback A.J. Terrell set the tone early in this game by picking off a pass from Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa that he returned 44 yards for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
- Clemson's defense out-schemed Alabama. Not only did the Brent Venables-led unit force two Tagovailoa interceptions, confusing him greatly on that Terrell pick, but they also thwarted a poorly-executed fake field goal attempt and got a goal-line stop late in the game.
- Alabama did rack up 443 total yards, it's third-lowest that season, but the Tide only had two touchdowns and one field goal to show for it. They hit a huge play on a 62-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to Jerry Jeudy.
- Clemson led 14-13 after the first quarter in what looked like a game that was going to be an offensive shootout. Alabama took a 16-14 lead in the second quarter, but it was the last time the Tide scored all game.
- Travis Etienne led Clemson on the ground with 86 yards, averaging 6.1 per carry, and scored three times. He had a 17-yard TD run in the first quarter, a 1-yard rushing score in the second quarter and then a 5-yard receiving TD from Lawrence before the half.
- Tee Higgins caught three passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.
- Isaiah Simmons led Clemson with nine tackles in that game and recorded one tackle for a loss.
- Clelin Ferrell, Trayvon Mullen, Xavier Thomas and Christian Wilkins all received sacks credit that night for the Tiger defense.
Here's a look at the wealth of talent that was on the field for both Clemson and Alabama that night in California:
- Since that game, the two teams have had a combined 47 players selected in three NFL Drafts. Clemson has had 18 taken while the Tide have seen an incredible 29 players go in the pro draft from that game.
- Four quarterbacks who played and recorded stats in that game are now starters in the NFL: Lawrence (Jaguars), Tagovailoa (Dolphins), Jalen Hurts (Eagles) and Mac Jones (Patriots).
- Thirteen Alabama players on that roster have gone in the first round since the 2019 NFL Draft.
- Seven Clemson players on that roster have gone in the first round since the 2019 NFL Draft.
- There are several second-round picks who are having solid NFL careers, like Higgins (Bengals) and Mullen (Raiders) from Clemson and Irv Smith Jr. (Vikings), Trevon Diggs (Cowboys), Xavier McKinney (Giants) and Damien Harris (Patriots).
- That championship game marked the final contest for "The Power Rangers." While Dexter Lawrence was suspended, it's still the last time Ferrell, Wilkins and Austin Bryant played together. Along with Lawrence, they made up one of the most decorated and dominant defensive fronts of the modern college football era. Lawrence, Wilkins and Ferell were all first-round selections.
- The Raiders, who were still in near-by Oakland at that time, took a huge liking to the talent on the field. Since the 2019 draft, they've selected Ferrell, Mullen, Tanner Muse, John Simpson and Hunter Renfrow from Clemson and Josh Jacobs, Alex Leatherwood and Henry Ruggs from Alabama.
- Alabama's running backs in that game were Jacobs, Damien Harris and Najee Harris. All three are starters in the NFL in 2021. They combined for 163 yards against the Tigers.
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