People were worrying about me. Colleagues and co-workers were tentative, concerned I might not be taking the results of the Clemson game too well. Readers of The Commissioners Blog kept checking the settings on their phones just in case they had missed an email. Even my brother thought I had dropped off the face of the Earth after Monday night.
The truth is much more mundane. Tuesday was a work day. It has been a busy week. Friday night is really the first opportunity I have had to post my thoughts about the end of the 2016 season. That interval, however, proved to be just what I needed to process that game; to make sense of coming so close to making history.
As he is with most things football, Coach Saban was absolutely right in what he told the players in the locker room: One game does not define a team. One game does not define a team's character and competitive spirit or classify the players as winners or not.
The 2016 Crimson Tide are winners. What the team accomplished this year is remarkable. What the senior class has accomplished in their playing years is nothing short of dynastic: three SEC Championships, three appearances in the CFB Playoffs, two appearances in the championship game, one national title. A three year record of 40-4. And all of this was achieved with a first-time starting quarterback each season. Who does that?
The Tide's 31 points were enough to win the game, if the offense had been able to generate a few more first downs in the second half. Six tackles for lost yardage and two take-aways by the defense were enough to beat Clemson, if the defense had not had to play a game and a half in the span of four quarters.
Clemson deserved to win the game......fair and square. DeShawn Watson is the best college football player in America in 2016. It is a laughable farce that the stiff-arm statue was awarded to a quarterback who lost three of his last four games-including one to Kentucky-and became more reliable for turnovers than touchdowns as the season wore on. The Downtown Athletic Club should do one of two things: (i) delay awarding the Heisman until the post-season is over; or (ii) quit making such a big deal about it. I can't recall a bigger fail by the Heisman voters than this year.
As deserving as Clemson clearly was, the fact is Alabama had the lead with 2:07 to play in the season. Watson made throws, and his receivers, especially Renfrow, made catches that were simply perfect. The defense was not laying back. The front rushed, the backs covered. Clemson just made the plays they needed to make.
If you didn't care who won, it was a fantastic college football game. Everything on the line. Three lead changes in the final four minutes. Two teams loaded with more NFL talent than have taken the field since Alabama beat LSU in the BCS CG. It was a football game even Meryl Streep would love.
For me, the Best College Football Game Ever has been the 1973 Sugar Bowl....New Year's Eve, 1973.....Alabama vs Notre Dame. Coach Bryant vs. Ara Parseghian. I may rethink that after Alabama vs Clemson Part II.
Because I agree with Coach Saban, I do not believe it would be appropriate to award letter grades for this game. Nevertheless, here are what I think are the key statistics:
Offense: Alabama gained 376 total yards [221 rushing] earning 16 first downs, but only converted 2 of 15 third downs.
Before leaving the game with a lower leg injury, Bo Scarbrough ran over and through the Clemson defense for 93 net yards on 16 carries. Jalen added 63 yards. Ardarius Stewart gained 25, Damien Harris ran for 24 and Josh Jacobs gained 16.
Jalen completed 13 of 31 pass attempts for 131 yards and a TD [OJ Howard]. Stewart completed a pass for 24 yards. Calvin Ridley caught 5 passes for 36 yards. OJ gained 106 yards on 4 receptions. Stewart and Bo each caught 2 passes for 12 and 7 yards respectively.
Promising drives were cut short with dropped passes and offensive penalties. Favorable field position was wasted. The Tide only generated 4 sustained drives [59, 74, 79, 68] each resulted in a TD. Bama punted 11 times. Seven of those punts came after only three offensive plays. In the second half, Alabama had 8 possessions. Only 1 of those offensive opportunities lasted longer than 1:46 of game time.
Defense: Clemson gained 511 yards of total offense [91 rushing] earned 31 first downs and converted 7 of 18 third down opportunities. Clemson's 99 offensive plays were 39 more than the 60 averaged by all other Tide opponents this season.
Reuben Foster made 12 tackles [6 solo]. Rashaan Evans was credited with 11 tackles, and Ronnie Harrison made 10 stops [5 solo]. Watson was sacked 4 times. Ryan Anderson forced a fumble and is credited with 2 fumble recoveries for 14 yards.
Punting: JK Scott had a punt partially blocked. Otherwise, he averaged 45.8 yards per punt and dropped 5 inside the Tiger 20 yard line. Gehrig Dieter returned one Clemson punt for 9 yards.
Place Kicking: Griff was good from 27 yards and perfect on 4 PATs.
Kickoffs: Griff averaged only 58.5 yards per kick, none were touchbacks. The coverage team allowed Clemson 130 yards of kick returns, the longest of which was 34 yards. The Tide return game only gained 57 yards.
Coaching: Alabama was penalized 9 times for 82 yards. Clemson was flagged 3 times for 35 yards. The participation repot lists 49 players who saw action in the game. Clemson played 52.
In the run up to the game, a lot of media time was wasted on the Sark vs. Kiffin non-controversy. In my opinion, the play calling was fine. Communication from the sideline to the field appeared to be just right. With rare exceptions, Jalen had plenty of time on the play clock for each snap. In retrospect, perhaps we ought not to have attempted to play with "tempo." Alabama wins the game with just :08 seconds more time of possession. That, however, is the worst of arm-chair quarterbacking.
So what happens now?
Nine freshmen recruits are already on campus, including Najee Harris, the consensus number 1 recruit in the nation. If Alabama did not sign another player in the 2017 recruiting class it would rank 7th nationally. In case you were wondering, Alabama does not intend to stop signing new players. Some experts are saying the 2017 recruiting class is shaping up to be the best Coach Saban has signed in his string of top-ranked classes. Let's hope this is true since word out of Tuscaloosa is that Marlon Humphrey, Ardarius Stewart and Cam Robinson are leaving early for the NFL where they will join perhaps as many as eight Tide seniors in the NFL draft.
Can any program sustain this high level of recruiting? Can any team in the SEC West win a fourth straight SEC Championship? Can Alabama return to the final four? Make the CG a third straight year? Reach the end of the Road To 17?
Only Alabama can.
Coming so close and not finishing is hard, but isn't it great to be from Alabama.
Roll Tide Y'all