The Sugar Bowl provided quite the change of pace from the Rose Bowl, which went to overtime for the first time in history and ended with a score of 54-48 in favor of Georgia. For starters, the Sugar Bowl has a heck of a lot more defense.
Alabama entered Monday’s game with the top defense in the nation, holding opponents to an average of 257.8 yards per game. The Crimson Tide didn’t allow Clemson to gain a single yard on offense in the first quarter, and in fact, Tigers’ quarterback Kelly Bryant was sacked just before the end of the period, meaning Clemson ended with -7 yards.
Things didn’t improve much for Clemson’s offense from then on. Alabama jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter, didn’t score in the second and fumbled at the start of the third, but no matter — the defense held the Tigers to just 73 yards of offense. Just when it looked like things were getting going for Clemson in the third quarter, Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne picked off quarterback Kelly Bryant and ran 21 yards to put the Tide on Clemson’s 42. Payne then had a one-yard touchdown reception to make Alabama’s lead 17-6.
It got worse for Clemson. On the Tigers’ very first play after Payne’s TD, Mack Wilson picked off Bryant and ran it back 18 yards for another score and a 24-6 Crimson Tide lead. As the third quarter wound down, Clemson was under 100-yard mark in total offense.