Clemson rolls Alabama in national championship game to win second title in 3 seasons

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Clemson topped Alabama 44-16 on Monday to capture college football's national championship. The fourth meeting in as many years between these two powers was defined by Clemson's aggressiveness, Alabama's sloppiness and the play of the Tigers' true freshman quarterback. Here are three takeaways from the Clemson win.

1. Clemson wrestles away the crown

Alabama won the first. Clemson the second. Alabama took the third en route to another national championship. Part IV of this epic rivalry belonged to the Tigers, who took a 31-16 lead at halftime and shut down Alabama's attempts at a comeback to take the program's second title in three seasons under head coach Dabo Swinney. As in the first, Clemson wears the crown at the Crimson Tide's expense.

It was a matchup worthy of the stage and only fitting given the two teams at play, a pair of programs easily atop the Bowl Subdivision with rosters populated by waves of NFL talent. In Clemson, the Crimson Tide have found a rival with more than just staying power — the Tigers are Alabama's match and more. After Monday night's win, the question becomes whether Clemson, not Alabama, is the sport's dominant program.

2. Alabama, uncharacteristically sloppy and predictable

The first half saw Alabama's defense hit a new low: Clemson's 31 points tied for the most the Tide had allowed in the first half of any game under Nick Saban, tying Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, and given the stage and moment the performance easily ranks as the worst of the Saban era. Clemson running back Travis Etienne accounted for three touchdowns in the first two quarters alone, one on a neat shovel pass from true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. 

Tua Tagovailoa threw a pair of interceptions in the first half, one returned for a touchdown for the game's opening score. Alabama missed an extra-point try in the first half. The Tide committed a late-hit penalty to shorten the field on an eventual Clemson scoring drive. Saban rolled the dice on a fake field goal in the third quarter and failed. On the ensuing drive, Lawrence found wide receiver Justyn Ross for a long touchdown to push Clemson's lead to 37-16.

Alabama looked like the weaker team and played like it, too. And in several coaching decisions, Saban gave the impression that he knew that Clemson was the better team — that he needed to take chances, including going for it on fourth down at his own 35-yard line with 10 minutes in the second quarter, to keep his team in the game against a superior opponent.

3. Clemson had the best quarterback on the field

For all the deserved praise heaped on Tagovailoa during the regular season, the best quarterback on the field Monday played for Clemson, not Alabama. Lawrence capped a jaw-dropping true freshman season by throwing for 347 yards and three scores. While impressive, the numbers don't tell the whole story.

More:Alabama, Clemson fans attending national title game find great ticket prices on gameday

Lawrence remained poised in the face of Alabama's intimidation, delivering strikes through the heart of the Tide's secondary, down the sideline and in the red zone. Thanks to a balanced scheme concocted by Clemson co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, he was able to develop confidence early and then unleash the full arsenal of the Tigers' playbook in the second and third quarters.

Throughout the Saban era, Alabama had been stymied by one type of quarterback: the dual-threat, run-and-pass athlete who could keep the defense honest on the ground and also attack the Tide secondary through the air. Lawrence may be mobile, but he is decidedly the sort of pocket passer built to thrive on the next level. He beat Alabama with his arm and with his beyond-his-years awareness. In doing so, Lawrence showed why he is one of the best quarterback prospects to hit college football in recent memory.