Live with it: Clemson was better

By: Harry King
Published: Thursday, January 10, 2019
Clemson's Nyles Pinckney stops Alabama's Mac Jones on a fake field goal attempt during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Clemson's Nyles Pinckney stops Alabama's Mac Jones on a fake field goal attempt during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

— Darrell Royal’s response to a what-if question about an Arkansas fourth-down failure works well when pondering the consternation and criticism of Alabama’s fake field goal attempt vs. Clemson.

Convinced the Dec. 5, 1970 Arkansas-Texas game would replicate the drama of the “Great Shootout” a year before, a 20-something sportswriter pitched the Austin trip to the The AP’s bureau chief in Arkansas. Eventually, the boss relented providing the underling could wangle two media credentials and purchase two seats for the wives.

Done and done.

Texas put together touchdown drives of 76 and 83 yards on its first three possessions and opened a 14-0 lead, but Arkansas rallied for 14-7 and reached the Longhorns’ 3 with a screen pass and a penalty.

After four running plays, Texas took over at its 1. Six minutes, five seconds and 15 plays later, the Longhorns led 21-7.

Innumerable times during the more than 500-mile drive, the captive passenger in the front seat heard about Arkansas’ play-calling on the goal line and how a tying touchdown would have changed the outcome. In those days, there was no internet and days went by before there was word that UT coach Royal was asked about the ramifications of that goal-line stand.

If Arkansas had scored, he reasoned, the final would have been 42-14 instead of 42-7.

Same with Clemson vs. Alabama. If the Crimson Tide had kicked the field goal when Clemson led 30-16, the final would have been 44-19. If Alabama had asked the third-team quarterback to throw instead of run on the fake and a Mac Jones completion led to a touchdown, the final would have been 44-23.

Clemson was better. Live with it.

Alabama couldn’t block Clemson’s defensive front consistently, the Crimson Tide had trouble covering Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins, Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was super cool — his over-the-linebacker throw to Higgins for the coup de grace in a 30-0 run couldn’t have been delivered better — and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa appeared confused at times.

One of the announcers suggested SEC coaches would flock to Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to learn how to shut down Tagovailoa, who had only two interceptions during the regular season, but two each in the SEC title game and the national championship.

Venables could draw up the Xs and Os, but Christian Wilkins and his NFL-bound running mates up front make it work.

That is not to say the ACC is better than the SEC from top to bottom, only that on Jan. 7, in Santa Clara, Calif., the ACC champion outdid the SEC champion. Oddly, prior to Monday night, some media offered that the ACC was awful because Clemson won its last eight conference games by 20 or more points.

By the way, Ross and Higgins — both 6-foot-4 and 200-plus — are what Arkansas coach Chad Morris has in mind when he talks about “bigger body” receivers on his wish list.

To that end, note that receivers Shamar Nash, TQ Jackson and Trey Knox who signed with Morris in December are 6-foot-2, 6-3 and 6-4, and that 6-foot-3 Treylon Burks and 6-foot-5 Hudson Henry will come aboard next month.

As for post-game speculation that coach Nick Saban will reverse course on offense, tone down the passing game and go back to the punishing running game that Alabama relied on for so long, that seems doubtful. After all, a one-game failure against what was arguably the best defense in the country is no reason to panic.

In addition, it was only last year that Saban emphasized expansion of the offense to take advantage of receivers such as All-American Jerry Jeudy and the talents of Heisman Trophy runner-up Tagovailoa. Both are sophomores.

Plus, former Arkansas assistant Dan Enos received rave reviews for his work with Alabama quarterbacks and reportedly is in line to become offensive coordinator. If he does, he would inherit an offense that set school records for scoring and passing in the regular season before tallying 80 more points and reaching 14-0.


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