GLENDALE, Ariz. - In a scintillating matchup of contrasting styles, the Alabama Crimson Tide (14-1) showed incredible resourcefulness and resilience to earn its16th football national championship Monday night in the Arizona desert. The national title is the fourth in the last seven seasons for the Crimson Tide and gives Tide head coach Nick Saban five national crowns in his career, including four with the Tide.
Tight end O.J. Howard caught five passes for a career-high 208 yards, quarterback Jake Coker passed for a career-best 335 yards, running back Derrick Henry rushed for 158 yards and Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to lift the Tide to a 45-40 victory over the top-ranked Clemson Tigers (14-1) before a crowd of 75,756 (capacity: 71,000) in the College Football Playoff Championship Game at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Howard's receiving yardage is an Alabama record for a tight end and the fifth-most by any Tide player, regardless of position. Meanwhile, Henry broke season and career school records for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns during the game.
A 50-yard run by Henry opened the scoring to put the Crimson Tide up early, 7-0, with 7:55 left in the first period. Clemson responded on the next possession on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, evening the score at 7-7 with 5:18 left in the first quarter.
After a missed field goal by Alabama ended a scoring threat, Clemson moved 73 yards in seven plays to another Watson-to-Renfrow touchdown pass, this one from 11 yards for a 14-7 lead on the final play of the first period. Moments later, Tide safety Eddie Jackson intercepted a Watson pass to set up the tying touchdown as Alabama moved 42 yards to a 1-yard dive by Henry to tie the score at 14-14. The Tide held off another Clemson scoring threat in the final minute of the half. A 27-yard pass from Watson to wide receiver Charone Peake reached the Tide 39. Two plays later, Greg Huegel's 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Alabama's D.J. Pettway and fell short.
After forcing a punt on Clemson's opening possession of the second half, Alabama raced 64 yards in three plays to take a 21-14 lead on a 53-yard pass from Coker to tight end O.J. Howard with 12:53 left in the third period. Clemson came right back with a 55-yard drive to a 37-yard field goal by Huegel with 10:10 left in the third quarter, narrowing the Tide lead to 21-17. Clemson moved ahead on its next possession on a 1-yard run by Wayne Gallman, capping a 60-yard drive to give the Tigers a 24-21 lead with 4:48 left in the third period.
Alabama evened the score at 24-24 on a 33-yard field goal by Griffith with 10:34 left. On the ensuing kickoff, Griffith booted an onside kick that bounced high and into the hands of the Tide's leaping Marlon Humphrey to give Alabama the ball at the 50. One play later, Coker found Howard wide open again for a 51-yard touchdown pass to give the Tide a 31-24 lead with 9:45 left in the fourth period. Clemson stormed right back, driving 61 yards to a 31-yard field goal by Huegel with 7:47 on the clock. Kenyan Drake returned the kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to extend the Tide lead to 38-27 with 7:31 on the clock.
The Tigers stormed back on a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 15-yard pass from Watson to Artavis Scott with 4:40 on the clock. A two-point conversion try on a run by Watson was stopped and Alabama held a 38-33 lead. Two plays later, on a second-and-12 play, Coker found Howard in the left flat and Howard raced past defenders for 63 yards to the Clemson 14. Six plays later, Henry sealed the victory with a 1-yard dive to give the Tide a 45-33 lead with 1:07 left in the fourth period. A pass by Watson to Leggett with 12 seconds left for a Clemson touchdown provided the final 45-40 margin.
Beating the best
Since 2007, Alabama owns a 40-13 mark against AP top 25 teams, including a 22-7 record against AP top-10 teams following the win over No. 1 Clemson Monday. This season, the Tide faced eight teams ranked in the AP preseason poll, the most ranked opponents of any team in the nation. In 2015, the Crimson Tide faced nine opponents ranked at game time and went 8-1 in those contests.
With the win over Clemson, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has won his last eight “championship” games with wins over Florida (2009), Georgia (2012), Missouri (2014) and Florida (2015) in the SEC Championship Game and victories over Texas (2009), LSU (2011), Notre Dame (2012) and Clemson (2015) in national championship contests. Overall, Saban is 11-1 in those games at Alabama and LSU with six SEC titles and five national titles.
Junior strong safety Eddie Jackson earned Defensive Player of the Game honors in the CFP National Championship Game victory over Clemson. His three tackles and a key interception capped off a season in which he excelled at his new position — he was formerly a cornerback.
Howard earns offensive MVP
Tight end O.J. Howard set an Alabama single-game record for receiving yards by a tight end in a game with 208 yards and two TDs on five catches. This was also the most yardage by any Alabama player in a bowl game. Howard’s 53-yard TD catch in the third quarter matched his career-long reception.
Henry breaks records
Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry capped his monumental 2015-16 season in impressive form in the 45-40 win over Clemson, rushing for 158 yards and three touchdowns against the Tigers. It was Henry’s 10th 100-yard rushing performance of the 2015 season, which would be a school record. It marked the 16th 100-yard rushing performance of Henry’s career, also setting a school record.
Henry ended the night with 3,591 rushing yards for his career and 2,219 yards for the season. Henry broke the school career rushing yards record, previously held by Shaun Alexander, on a 2-yard run with 9:30 left in the third quarter. His three rushing touchdowns ties the school career mark of 42 (Mark Ingram, 2008-10) and extended his season record to 28. The 36 rushing attempts by Henry set a new record for an Alabama player and his 158 yards is fourth-best in a bowl game by a Tide player. Henry’s three touchdowns rushing ties the Alabama bowl record (Shaun Alexander vs. Michigan, 2000 Orange Bowl).