Clemson won the toss and elected to defer, a decision that paid off well as their stout defense was able to force Alabama into a quick 3 and out. Then it was Deshaun Watson and the Tigers offense turn. They were able to pick up some quick 1st downs before facing a 4th and one from the Bama 41 yard line.
The Tigers elected to go for it but were not able to pick up the first as the Tide took over. They then scorched down the field with a 3 play 59-yard drive that was capped off by a 25 yard run from Bo Scarbrough for the TD to make it 7-0 with 9:23 left in the 1st quarter.
Clemson continued to struggle to move the ball throughout much of the rest of the 1st quarter. Then on a 3rd and 5 from their own 42-yard line, Deshaun Watson fumbled the ball on a QB run. It was recovered by Bama linebacker Ryan Anderson at the Tiger 35-yard line; then things seemed to start to click for the Tiger defense.
Despite the great field position, Bama was unable to get any points on the board after starting off with a 5-yard offensive false start penalty and a 2 yard run for a loss by Scarbrough. This made it 2nd and 17 before 2 incomplete passes from Jalen Hurts. Bama was forced to punt and was able to down it at the Tiger 1 yard line.
After picking up two quick 1st down’s, the Tigers were unable to get any more production out of their ensuing possession as they were forced to punt it away. Then Alabama went back to work, imposing their will upon the Tiger defense.
The drive for the Tide started off with a 25-yard rush from ArDarius Stewart. Then 4 plays later it was a 37-yard thundering run from Bo Scarbrough to give the Tide a 14-0 lead with 10:42 left in the 1st half.
It was midway through the 2nd quarter when the Tigers finally got something going. Beginning from their own 13-yard line, they started out the drive with a 5-yard handoff to Wayne Gallman. On the next play, Deshaun Watson connected with Deon Cain for a 43-yard completion to make it 1st and 10 from the Tide 39 yard line. After a 23 yard pass from Watson to Jordan Leggett, the Tigers were inside the red zone for the first time of the game. It then took just 2 plays for the Tigers to get into the end zone as Deshaun Watson ran it in from 8 yards out to make it 14-7 with the Tide out in front.
This would remain the score as both teams headed to the locker room to make adjustments. Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough had started were he left off in the Peach Bowl, running for 82 first half yards on 12 carries and two TD’s as the Tigers did not seem to have an answer for him. The Alabama passing game was lackluster, to say the least, as Jalen Hurst had just 40 yards passing, completing just 7 of 16 passes.
For the Tigers, it was the familiar with Deshaun Watson leading the charge with his 1 rushing TD and 153 passing yard’s. The Tigers were outgaining the Tide in total offensive yards 203 to 183.
In the second half, the Tigers started out with the ball and picked up a quick first down. Then immediately following, the turnover bug once again struck for the Tigers as Wayne Gallman fumbled the ball and it was picked up by Bama’s Ryan Anderson for the 2nd time, and he took it back to the Tide 16 yard line. The Tigers were able to limit the bleeding and hold Alabama’s offense to just a field goal. It was a 27 yarder from Adam Griffith to make it 17-7 Tide with 12:25 left in the 3rd quarter.
Clemson’s ensuing possession produced minuscule gain as the Tide took back over. Then after a stale drive from Alabama, they were forced to punt, and it was a bad one, going just 30 yards. With 8:13 left in the 3rd quarter the Tigers took over 1st and 10 at the Tide 42 yard line. It then took just 4 plays for the Tigers to find the end zone as Watson connected with Hunter Renfrow for the 24 yard TD completion to cut it to a 3-point deficit.
Later on in the quarter, disaster struck for the Tide on a 2nd and 4 from their own 27-yard line as workhorse Bo Scarbrough went down with an injury that would later be determined to be a broken leg. To this point, Scarbrough had 99 yards on 16 carries, tallying up to be over 46% of the Tides offensive production to this point. Then on the next play, a coverage breakdown for Clemson led to a 68 yard TD pass to a wide open OJ Howard who was streaking down the left sideline to put the Tide up 24-14 with 1:53 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Tigers offense was able to answer the call, putting together a 9-play 72-yard drive that started with a 15-yard defensive pass interference call and was capped off by a 4-yard pass from Watson to wide out Mike Williams. This again cut the Tide lead to just 3 points with 14 minutes left in the 4th quarter.
From this point, both defenses stiffened up, and the next five overall possession’s in the game tallied only 36 yards of total offensive production, with 9 yards coming from the Clemson offense and 27 coming from Alabama. Then it happened for the frst time in the game; the Tigers took the lead.
It took just 1 minute and 55 seconds for Clemson to go 88 yards in 9 plays, as Wayne Gallman rushed it in from 1 yard out to make it 28-24 Tigers with 4:38 left in regulation. This was just the start of the excitement.
With time running short and their backs against the wall, Alabama would put together a memorable six play 68 yard drive that saw Jalen Hurts use his legs against the Tiger D as he rushed for a 30 yard score. This made it 31-28 Tide with just 2:01 left on the game clock.
It would be up to Deshaun Watson to lead the Tigers down the field and retake the lead or set up the team for a field goal, or they would once again suffer a National Title loss to Alabama in back-to-back years. The Tigers weren’t having this.
The drive started 1st and 10 at the Tigers own 32-yard line. It then took just 2 plays for Clemson to get into Bama territory as Watson connected with Mike Williams for a 24-yard completion that Williams had to go up and get, as the Tide’s secondary was playing tight defense. At this point there was still 1:41 left on the clock and the Tigers had the ball at the Alabama 39 yard line.
Just outside of field goal position, the Tigers continued to press. After three plays to get the ball to the Bama 26 yard line, Watson rushed his team to the line and spiked the ball with just 20 seconds left, as the Tigers did all they could to hold onto their final timeout. On the next play, Watson hit Leggett for a 17-yard completion to get the ball to the Bama 9 yard line and the Tigers called their final timeout with 14 seconds left on the clock.
The next play was an incomplete pass from Watson to Leggett, leaving just 9 seconds left in the game. Once again, the next play was another incomplete pass as the Tigers looked to go to the endzone, but Mike Williams couldn’t haul in the pass from Watson. However, defensive pass interference in the end zone was called on Alabama, which put the Tigers at the 2-yard line with just 6 seconds left on the game clock.
Then it happened, Watson took the snap, and Hunter Renfrow rolled out to the right side of the end zone uncovered, and Watson hit his receiver for the 2 yard score to make it 35-31 Tigers with just 1 second left on the clock.
Much to the surprise of Alabama, on the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers attempted an onside kick that was recovered by the Tigers as Clemson rushed the field, soaked head coach Dabo Swinney in Gatorade and mass hysteria broke out. However, there was still 1 second left on the clock, so the referees had to clear the field, and Clemson lined up in victory formation, took a knee, and the 35-year title drought was over. The Clemson Tigers beat the undefeated Crimson Tide 35-31 to win the 2017 College Football Playoff National Title.
Staying true to his colors, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney gave all the credit to God after the game, "For me personally, only God can do this. I mean, there's just no other explanation for me. It's not anything to do with me. It's God working through me and the staff and these players."
Watson was named the offensive player of the game as he finished with 420 yards passing on 36 completions and here TD’s through the air. He also added 43 yards rushing and 1 TD on the ground as he ended his final game as a Clemson Tiger as a National Champions.
It is a moment that almost didn't happen as Watson initially wanted to go to Florida before he found Christ, "Yeah, growing up Florida was my dream school, huge fan, like I said before. I loved Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, all those guys, and I just wanted to go there. But I found Christ when I was in ninth grade, and I just started praying on my decision. My mom got sick, and so it was kind of – she was praying about it. She knew everything was going to take care of itself, and she just wanted me to go play football and keep praying and make sure I made the right decision. I just felt like that day I committed to Clemson, God was talking to me, and I just felt like the time was perfect. That's what I wanted to do, and I stuck through it, and it was the best decision of my life. I just thank God that he was a part of it and gave me that opportunity."
Now the Tigers look ahead to the future. Watson will be headed to the NFL. However, the future is still very bright for the Tigers as Swinney has built a culture that strives on winning and winning is now expected. Despite being an underdog in this one, Dabo didn't even acknowledge that sentiment. The Tigers came with the mindset that they were going to win no matter what and Dabo didn't want to hear any talk about being an underdog.
"There was no upset tonight. That's the last thing I told them when we left the locker room. I said, when we win the game tonight I don't want to hear one word about this being an upset. The only upset is going to be if we don't win the dadgum game. I don't want to hear one word about it. This is an expectation, the last thing I told them. We expected to win the game. We expected to win it last year. When we take the field, we expect to win because we work our tails off, and we got a committed group of people, staff, players, everybody."