What the hell just happened? How is this even possible? What unworldly spirit has possessed Justyn Ross? Is this even real?
There is an awful lot to unpack in the worst beating of an Alabama team coached by Nick Saban. But there are only four keys to what happened in Santa Clara.
- Clemson used QB Tua Tagavailoa’s greatest strength against him. Tua’s ability to read defenses pre-snap is uncanny. He made history and headlines in 2018 by deciphering coverage and pressure schemes and putting the ball exactly where the defense was at its weakest. Clemson’s defensive braintrust addressed this by showing Tua one thing, and quickly doing something else, making a weakness a strength and vice versa. This shook the youngster’s confidence and produced two critical turnovers.
- Clemson’s front seven played over their heads. Once Tua’s first options were taken away, even a four man rush got him out of the pocket and forced him to throw before he was ready. That is the holy grail of pass defense. A hurried throw is rarely a good one but Tua made several amazing throws under pressure anyway. He’s going to learn from this.
- It was Alabama’s defensive backfield, not Clemson’s, that played poorly. Clemson receivers were open all night, and it was Alabama’s front seven that could not get Trevor Lawrence to panic. He could have pitched a tent and lit a campfire in the pocket. When a QB that good has receivers that good running that wide open, bad things happen to you.
- Dabo Swinney &Associates outcoached Nick Saban & Co. Swinney, The Pelham, Alabama native and Alabama alumnus had the advantage of a pushover first round opponent in Notre Dame. Clemson prepared scarcely two days for that cakewalk and spent the rest of the time between the ACC Championship Game thinking up new and interesting ways to torment the Tide.
Those four little things added up to the 44-16 shellacking we saw last night. And it could have been worse—Clemson opted to eat clock deep in Alabama territory as the game expired. Please resist any urge to blame officiating (it was awful, but awful both ways), blame Tua, blame the receivers, etc. Alabama was just beaten by a better team that had a better plan. It happens. Thankfully, it happens only about once a year but it’s as inevitable as tomorrow.
Alabama will regroup after this. This machine Saban has built is not just going to go away. Much to the dismay of its future opponents, the 2019 National Championship loss is not the beginning of the end of anything. It is simply another chapter in another volume of Alabama football lore.
Watching social media out of the corner of my eye during the game last night, I was struck curious by the volume of other teams’ fans who deliriously celebrated Alabama’s defeat. Then it occurred to me that Bama may be one of the most hated programs in the modern college football era. And then it occurred to me that it was better to be the hated rather than the hater, because that usually means the former has whipped the latter so often that the hater legitimately fears the hated. And as we all know, the only righteous fear is the fear one has of something capable of your destruction.
It’s just a game, folks. And we’re just fans.
And it’s just a scant 235 days until kickoff.