The 2016 College Football Playoff national championship game, featuring the No. 1 Clemson Tigers against the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, had the makings of a classic. This was the game that, we, the fans, all wanted. The two best teams in the country squaring off with greatness on the line. And it’s safe to say we were not disappointed. At the end of a surprisingly high-scoring affair, it was Nick Saban’s Tide that rolled away with the 45-40 victory. While Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers fought valiantly, the team from Tuscaloosa proved to be too much for the ACC champs.
In a back-and-forth game that featured multiple lead changes and countless momentum swings, we were given a title game for the ages. And while there are any number of storylines we could discuss, by the time the confetti officially fell on the 2015 college football season, we couldn’t help but fixate on these key moments. Here’s a look at the five biggest takeaways from the incredibly entertaining CFP national championship game.
1. It pays to play mistake-free ball (obviously)
If you’re able to play mistake-free football, you’ll never be out of the game. With this in mind, the Alabama Crimson Tide showed us how it’s down. Nick Saban’s crew only had two penalties — for 21 yards — on the night and didn’t turn the ball over once. In the end, we have to give it up to ‘Bama senior quarterback Jake Coker. After a lackluster first half, the Florida State transfer came out and showed the poise and guts of a champion. He finished the game with 335 yards passing, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. As we said before, it pays to play without mistakes.
2. Deshaun Watson couldn’t do it alone
Aside from a costly interception early in the second quarter, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson gave the Alabama defense fits all night. The Heisman finalist racked up 478 yards of total offense (405 passing, 73 rushing), while completing 30 of 47 passes and throwing for four touchdowns. Unfortunately, for too much of the contest, Watson was the only Clemson player making anything happen on the offensive side of the ball. The sophomore standout was absolutely phenomenal. But against a team as good as Alabama, it takes more than one superstar to get the job done.
3. Where has O.J. Howard been?
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard entered Monday night’s contest with just 33 catches for 394 yards on the year. He finished the title game with five receptions for a game-high 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns, earning Offensive Player of the Game honors in the process. Imagine how scary the Tide would’ve been had Howard been a focal point of the offense all season. We don’t even want to think about it.
4. ‘Bama was just too special
Special teams turned out to be the X-factor of the CFP national championship game. And the Crimson Tide were simply too special. Saban’s gutsy call to go for an onside kick, the “pop kick,” with 10:34 left in the contest — after Alabama had just tied it up at 24-24 — was stuff of genius. It literally turned the tide of the game. Couple that with Kenyan Drake’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which came after the Tigers had narrowed the gap to 31-27, and it’s clear which club made the big plays when it had to. This was just a special team dominating the game with its special teams.
5. Saban sets himself apart
It’s now officially impossible to keep Nick Saban out of the “greatest of all time” conversation. With this victory, he’s now won five national championships, including four titles in the past seven years with the Alabama Crimson Tide. He’s built a modern-day dynasty in Tuscaloosa and turned this program into the envy of college football.
Whether it’s bringing in Lane Kiffin as an offensive coordinator or calling for a “pop kick” in the fourth quarter of a national championship game with the scored all tied up, Saban showed that he’s not afraid take chances or go against the grain. He never stops pushing, never stops growing, and this program is all the better for it, which is why the Alabama Crimson Tide are the national champions of the 2015 season.