College Football Playoff: Clemson, Alabama win to set up title rematch
Published 9:44 pm Saturday, December 31, 2016
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Deshaun Watson ran for two touchdowns and threw another and No. 3 Clemson crushed No. 2 Ohio State 31-0 Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl to set up a rematch with Alabama for the College Football Playoff national championship.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney had sold his team on making this a redemptive trip to the desert by winning at the site where they lost to Alabama in the national title game last season. With that taken care of, Clemson (13-1) now gets another crack at the top-ranked Crimson Tide in Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 9. The teams that started the season ranked Nos. 1 and 2 will most certainly ended it that way, too.
In what figures to be Watson’s final college game, he will try to lead Clemson to its first national title since 1981. The junior and Heisman Trophy runner-up passed for 259 yards and ran for 57 against the Buckeyes (11-2), who could not keep Clemson’s big and quick defensive line out of their backfield.
Freshman Clelin Ferrell had a sack among his three tackles for loss and Clemson allowed only 215 yards and nine first downs. The Buckeyes were shut out for the first time since 1993 against Michigan and Urban Meyer had one of his teams held scoreless for the first time in 194 games as a head coach.
Watson made it 24-0 with 2:06 left in the third quarter when he faked a pitch, cut through a hole and into the end zone from 7 yards out. He hopped through the back of the end zone and did a little dance in front of the Ohio State section.
The rest was a formality.
Much the way Alabama’s defense suffocated Washington in the day’s first semifinal, Clemson gave Ohio State no options. The Buckeyes came in averaging 258 yards rushing per game and finished with 88. J.T. Barrett threw for 127 yards and was intercepted twice.
The sellout crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium of 71,279 had far more Ohio State scarlet than Clemson orange at kickoff, but by the halfway point in the fourth quarter Tigers fans mostly had the place to themselves.
No. 1 Alabama 24, No. 4 Washington 7
ATLANTA — Alabama is heading back to the national championship game.
Bo Scarbrough and another stifling performance by Nick Saban’s defense made sure of that.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide scored 10 points off turnovers, including Ryan Anderson’s interception return for a touchdown late in the first half, and Scarbrough’s 68-yard TD run in the fourth quarter clinched a victory over Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal Saturday.
Scarbrough finished with 180 yards and two scores, garnering MVP honors.
Alabama (14-0) moves on to Tampa for a shot at its second straight title and fifth in the last eight years under Saban. The Tide will face either Ohio State or Clemson — who were meeting later Saturday at the Fiesta Bowl — in the Jan. 9 championship game.
No. 4 Washington (12-2) reached the College Football Playoff with a remarkable turnaround season after struggling much of the last two decades — including an 0-12 debacle in 2008.
But Jake Browning and the Huskies’ balanced offense were no match for Alabama’s top-ranked defense, even after an impressive drive gave them an early 7-0 edge.
The Tide began to exert its dominance late in the first quarter when John Ross caught a screen pass, only to have the ball stripped away by Anthony Averett. Jonathan Allen recovered, giving Alabama possession at the Washington 40 and setting up Adam Griffith’s 41-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
Anderson made an even bigger defensive play with just over a minute to go in the half. With blitzing linebacker Reuben Foster bearing down on him, Browning desperately heaved a pass into the flats for Lavon Coleman. Anderson stepped in to pick it off, knocked Coleman over in the process and was off to the end zone on a 26-yard return that made it 17-7 at the half.
For Alabama, it was the 11th defensive touchdown of the season.
Nothing could have been more fitting.
Any hopes of a Washington comeback were snuffed out by Scarbrough, a starter at most schools but a backup for the deep, talented Tide. On a simple running play to the left, he appeared to be stopped by two players just short of the line of scrimmage.
But Scarbrough somehow managed to stay on his feet and — boom! — he was gone. Streaking down the field in front of the Alabama bench, he avoided another defender with a subtle deke, cut back toward the middle of the field at the Washington 30 and outran everyone to the end zone.
Scarbrough also scored Alabama’s first touchdown with a bruising, 18-yard run.