Trevor Groves

#1 Clemson Suffers Its First Loss in a National Championship Heartbreaker

#1 Clemson had won 17 consecutive games and 51 straight when entering the 4th quarter with a lead, but Alabama had one big play too many and handed the Tigers their first loss of the season in the National Championship Game.

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Clemson fought valiantly and held a fourth-quarter lead, but late special teams plays by Alabama proved to be the difference in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game as the Crimson Tide prevailed, 45-40. The Tigers finished the terrific 2015 season with a 14-1 record.

“What a year,” said Head Coach Dabo Swinney. “I’m incredibly proud of our team. Obviously we wanted to win the game and we came up a little short, but at least the nation saw tonight why we’ve been so successful. This was a team that had incredible will to win and heart, and gave us everything that they had. It won’t be 34 years before we’re going to be back, I promise you that.”

Deshaun Watson was brilliant in defeat, accounting for a National Championship Game record 478 yards of total offense and four touchdowns through the air. The sophomore signal-caller finished in fine fashion, becoming the first quarterback in FBS history with at least 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season. Defensively, Kevin Dodd was a bright spot with a career-high five tackles for loss.

The Tigers lost for the first time in their history when producing at least 500 yards of total offense. Clemson finished with 550 yards to Alabama’s 473, but the Crimson Tide scored on a kickoff return for touchdown in the fourth quarter that provided momentum. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry finished with 36 carries for 158 yards for the Tide.

Henry struck first, scoring on a 50-yard scamper in which he went untouched over the right side of the defense. But Clemson answered quickly when Watson found former walk-on Hunter Renfrow on a beautiful 31-yard pass into the right corner of the endzone to knot the score at 7-7. The two connected again a drive later when Watson hit him in the middle of the endzone to give the Tigers a 14-7 cushion after the first quarter. Renfrow finished with a season-high seven catches.

Watson was intercepted on the Tigers’ ensuing possession, which gave Alabama great field position. The Tide took advantage, with Henry plunging in from a yard out with 9:35 remaining in the second quarter. Neither team scored again, with Alabama blocking a 44-yard field goal attempt by Greg Huegel in the final seconds.

The Crimson Tide posted the opening score after halftime. Following a Clemson three-and-out, Jake Coker lofted a 53-yard touchdown pass to O.J. Howard after busted coverage allowed him to run wide open down the right sideline.

As he did all night, Watson had the answer. First, he drove the Tigers down for a field goal. Then, he weaved through traffic time and again to set up Clemson’s go-ahead score, a one-yard rushing touchdown by Wayne Gallman that made the lead 24-21 heading into the final quarter of play.

Alabama tied it on a field goal early in the period, and then executed a perfect surprise onside kick to recover at midfield. Two plays later, the Tide went up 31-24 on a second touchdown pass from Coker to Howard. After the lead stretched to 38-27 on the kickoff return for a touchdown, Watson went back to work. He got Clemson in scoring position, and hit Artavis Scott on an easy touchdown completion that cut the deficit to 45-40, but it was too late for a Tiger comeback.



  • Clemson finished the season with 14 wins, a school record.

  • The Tigers’ 17-game winning streak was snapped Monday. It was the school’s longest in history (eclipsing the previous best by two games).

  • Monday’s game was the first the Tigers did not win after leading going into the fourth quarter since the 2010 season. Clemson was a perfect 50-0 since 2011 under that scenario heading into the National Championship Game.

  • Clemson is now 13-5 against the top 20 winningest programs in FBS history since 2011.

  • The Tigers’ senior class finished their careers with a 46-8 overall record.

  • Clemson’s offensive line allowed just two sacks Monday to the nation’s No. 1 sack-producing team in Alabama, who had 50 entering the championship game.

  • The Tigers posted 550 yards of total offense, most against Alabama all season. But it was the first time in history Clemson lost when producing at least 500 total yards (85-1-1).


  • Deshaun Watson made history by becoming the first FBS player ever with over 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.

  • Watson broke Vince Young’s National Championship Game record for total offense. Watson posted a career-high 478 yards of total offense, breaking his own career high of 473, set earlier this season in a road win over Syracuse.

  • Watson threw four touchdown passes to give him 35 for the season. His total was second in Clemson single-season history only to Tajh Boyd’s 36 in 2012.

  • Watson had 405 passing yards, his second game with at least 400 this season (420 vs. Boston College).

  • Watson finished the 2015 season with a school-record 5,209 yards of total offense.

  • Hunter Renfrow scored two touchdowns, giving the freshman five for the season.

  • Renfrow had a career-high seven catches in the game.

  • Jordan Leggett caught his eighth touchdown pass of the season, matching him with Dwayne Allen (2011) and Brandon Ford (2012) for Clemson’s single-season record by a tight end.

  • Kevin Dodd recorded career highs for both sacks (3) and tackles for loss (5). His five tackles for loss set a Clemson postseason record.

  • Dodd pushed his final season tally to 23.5 tackles for loss, the ninth-best single season mark in Clemson history.

  • Dodd also finished with 12 sacks, placing him in a tie for sixth in a single season in Clemson history with Vic Beasley (2014).

  • Shaq Lawson produced two sacks in the first half, making his final season count at 12.5 It tied him with Gaines Adams (2006) for the fourth-most sacks in a season in Clemson history.

  • Lawson finished his junior campaign with 25.5 tackles for loss, sixth-best single season in school history.

  • Dodd and Lawson became the first duo in Clemson history to both post at least 20 tackles for loss in the same season.

  •   Andy Teasdall had a season-long 57-yard punt in the second quarter. He also had his only touchback of the season in the third quarter. Top Stories