The Sugar Bowl was close for awhile. Despite largely dominating the first half, the Tide held just a 7 point lead at half. That was quickly cut to 4 by a Clemson field goal after a Jalen Hurts fumble on the first play of the second half.
The offense quickly turned in a three and out, and Clemson’s offense started having some success moving the ball before Alabama made a few big plays.
2nd and 2: QB Kelly Bryant is in shotgun with a running back on his right hip and trips left. The Tide have three down linemen. Anfernee Jennings (#33) is standing up on the left, and Rashaan Evans shows blitz late on the right. Raekwon Davis (#99) - thanks for the correction - pushes upfield on the snap, getting picked up by the right guard, but he also draws the right tackle’s attention, who has to swat away Davis’s hands with his left arm. That quickness from Davis distracts the tackle just enough for Jennings to blow by on the outside and get an angle on Bryant. The running back tries to come back, but he’s too far away. Bryant doesn’t see it coming, and the ball flutters out as he’s hit. And it flutters out right to Da’Ron Payne (#94).
The big man catches it and takes off running. The svelte defensive tackle deftly avoids one attempted tackle and keeps on rumbling. The right tackle who blew the block on Jennings eventually drags Payne down with a horsecollar tackle, but not before Payne has gained another five yards.
1st and 10: Alabama is in the pistol with Damien Harris (#34) as the tailback and Irv Smith (#82) at H-back. Jerry Jeudy (#4) is in the slot while Calvin Ridley (#3) Hurts fakes the handoff to Harris, which sucks in all three linebackers. Jeudy breaks in on a slant, drawing the nickel back in. Ridley also runs a slant, but he sells the defender on an outside release first. He throws a little fake beforehand. Ridley gets off the line, taking a big step with his right leg and throwing his head and upper body to the right. That gives the corner pause, and now Ridley has a couple yards separation. Hurts hits Ridley in the chest (a pass out in front of him probably scores, though). The talented wideout hits the brakes and almost goes down at the 3 yard line, but he’s able to prop himself up and jump forward to the 1 yard line.
2nd and goal: The offense goes tempo after the Ridley reception, but Damien Harris is stuffed for no gain. So they busted out their jumbo package, sending in defensive linemen Da’Ron Payne and Quinnen Williams (#92). Payne starts on the left and shuffles to his right pre-snap. Hurts fakes the handoff to Harris while Payne slips out of the backfield into the flat. Williams also moves to the right and annihilates two Clemson defenders with his
block pick. This leaves Payne wide open. Hurts rolls to his right and throws it, placing the pass so that it doesn’t carry the big man out of bounds. Payne, for his part, shows off his excellent receiving skills with those soft hands and a beautiful two toe tap.
1st and 10: Clemson goes five wide, leaving Bryant with an empty backfield. Alabama responds with its dime package, so Mack Wilson is the middle linebacker. The Tigers offensive line goes for cut blocks on the Tide’s four rushers to set up a quick pass. Bryant immediately turns to his right and looks for Deon Cain on a quick slant. Levi Wallace (#39) doesn’t allow Cain a clean release, however, getting a hand on the receiver as he breaks inside; and he’s got the route smothered. Wallace bats the ball away, and it’s popped up. Wilson reads Bryant and the play perfect, seeing where the quarterback would go with it and taking off in that direction. This puts him right in front of the batted ball. Wilson leaps forward and snags it. He races towards the endzone, just beating Bryant; and he lays out and just gets the touchdown.
In a matter of minutes, Alabama has ended up any hope Clemson had of coming back, turning a 4 point lead into an 18 point one.