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Alabama loses title to Clemson

APR's Pat Duggins
CFP 2019 logo display in downtown San Jose, California

Clemson University is the new champion of college football. The Tigers beat Alabama in a lopsided forty four to sixteen victory at Levi’s stadium in Santa Clara. Alabama Public Radio’s Pat Duggins has more from California’s Bay Area…

Alabama has lost games before during the Nick Saban era, but this defeat at the hands of Clemson is being described as a knockout. The Tigers struck first early in the game, with an interception and touchdown by Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell. Clemson’s Trayvon Mullen would intercept a pass of his own from Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to set up another Tiger TD. Alabama would score as well—but, a field goal in the second quarter was the last time the Tide would make any points. By halftime, it was thirty one to sixteen. Clemson would follow-up in the second half with thirteen unanswered points. During the post-game press conference, Tide Coach Nick Saban was first to face the media…

“Well obviously, we’re very, very disappointed. But, I’d like to say that I’m very, very proud of what our team was able to accomplish this year. To win fourteen games, to win the SEC, win the Orange Bowl, and have an opportunity to play for the national championship.”

Alabama’s Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was on Saban’s left during the question and answer session. Despite the encouraging words from his coach, Tua sat with his head hung low, until it was his turn to speak…

“We had a great season. But just five words. Good is not good enough," says Tagovailoa. "We didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish. We didn’t do the things we needed to do to execute and be successful, and that’s all it is.”

After Alabama wrapped up, it was the turn of Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney to talk about his second title in three years… “A Hollywood…movie…Steven Spielberg, one of those movie producer people. They couldn’t write this script.”

Sweeney is referring to his upbringing by his single mother, and the path that led him to lead a football program now mentioned in the same breath as Alabama, Notre Dame, and Georgia. Sweeney says his team had a plan and stuck with it…

“I think we were able to achieve that. We took care of the ball. We attacked and make big plays, defensively we bent a little but didn’t break. Had some critical stops, and just had a complete performance all the way through.” G

etting back to that Hollywood analogy for a moment. Last night’s loss might be a painful one for Alabama, but 2018 might be remembered for its own made for tv moments, featuring one team and one venue, clear on the other side of the country…

“It’s inches and we didn’t get the inches tonight," said Georgia’s head coach Kirby Smart at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Bulldogs just lost the Southeastern Conference Championship to Alabama last month. “We talked about it during halftime," said Smart. "We wanted to come out and be the more physical dominant team and play the second half the right way, and close the deal, and we couldn’t close the deal.”

That’s big loss number two for Georgia at the hands of the Crimson Tide.

Big loss number one occurred in January of last year. “In overtime, we didn’t finish what we started, and Alabama did,” Smart admits.

Loss number two was for the 2018 National Champion ship.

One thing hat might all this easier to follow is that this was also at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with Smart commiserating before reporters in the same room. It’s how both games played out that even boggled fans of Alabama… “We told everybody at halftime that there was no question that they were going to him, cause they were struggling," said Smart. "They needed some momentum. He provided them some juice, and got them some momentum, got the momentum swung back their way. He’s a good player.”

The player Smart was referring to was Alabama’s untested freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailia. In January’s game, Saban pulled starting quarterback Jalen Hurts after a shaky first half. It took Tagavailoa the rest of the fame, plus one pass in overtime, known in Crimson Tide lore as the “Tua bomb” to seal the victory.

“I looked out, and he was wide open, Smitty was wide open," recalled Tagovailia. "So, I hit him, and here we are now, thank god.” The “Smitty” Tagovailoa is referring to was freshman wide receiver Devonta Smith who caught the winning pass in the endzone. It wasn’t lost on tide coach Nick Saban that it was a freshman passer and a freshman receiver who won the title…

“To go out there and play, the way they played…together as a group and trusted and believed in each other," said Saban. "And I think that respect and trust is something that’s really important to have in a good team. And, that’s something this team had.”

Okay, now here’s where it gets weird and even more painful for fans of Georgia…

The 2018 title game was in Atlanta in January. Georgia and Alabama met up again at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta last month for the SEC Championship game. The Bulldogs let during that game too, until the last ten minutes. Nick Saban made a decision regarding starting quarterback Tagavailoa…

“He always put the team first," said Saban during the post-game press conference. "He’s gone in the game whenever we asked him to go in the game. And, we played him as much as we could. So, if this came up, he’d be ready.”

Saban wasn’t talking about Tua, but his back-up…former starter Jalen Hurts. He stepped in and scored two touchdowns after Tagovailoa sprained both ankles. It was the biggest come from behind victory in the history of the SEC Championship. For Jalen hurts, it was his moment in the sun after spending the year in the shadow of Tua Tagovailoa…

“We know what adversity looks like," saud Hurts. "And sometimes, we’re going to get hit in the mouth, but we know we were going to respond. And I think we did a great job of finding a way to get it done today, and we did a great job of doing it.”

So, for Georgia’s Kirby Smart, his team lost the 2018 title after the Tide switch Tua for Jalen at quarterback. Then, they lost the SEC title after a switch from Tua to Jalen.

“It says volumes for college football, that there are two young men, who play that good, especially in that stretch of the game," said Smart.

Now, Alabama and Clemson have very different futures to look forward to. Dabo Sweeney and the Tigers will meet Friday to start planning the upcoming fall football season. Alabama’s Nick Saban will likely have a similar agenda, but with a stinging loss and no title facing next year’s team. Pat Duggins, APR News at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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