Maybe it’s intriguing, maybe it’s stale, but Alabama and Clemson will play yet again and in yet another final, after the Crimson Tide’s 45-34 win over Oklahoma in an Orange Bowl semifinal that seemed a fait accompli most of the way here at Hard Rock Stadium, following a Cotton Bowl national semifinal that seemed a fait accompli most of the way over in Texas.
Game summary: Alabama 45, Oklahoma 34
Somehow, by Jan. 7, within the mere first five years and 15 games of a playoff concept generally viewed as a boom, Alabama and Clemson will have played each other in all four U. S. mainland time zones. They will gather two Mondays from now in Santa Clara, Calif., for their third national championship match in the past four years and their fourth playoff match in the past four years.
“I guess it is (the biggest rivalry), because it’s, like, the third year, huh?” Alabama defensive end Raekwon Davis said. Told it’s actually the fourth, he said, “Fourth year? . . . I mean, that’s crazy.”
Among sequel-mad entities, there have been 35 films of “Godzilla,” eight of “The Fast and the Furious,” eight of “Rocky,” 11 of “X-Men” and 11 of “Halloween,” which is also a semi-holiday that doubles as Nick Saban’s birthday. Whether the country can stomach a fourth installment of its college football Godzillas is up to the citizenry, but the Orange Bowl deepened a reality reestablished in Texas.
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That includes the team exulting on the Orange Bowl field around midnight as the confetti started to rain and left tackle Jonah Williams said, “I think we have a really high standard at Alabama where it’s championship or bust.”
In long-jumping ahead 28-0, Alabama reeled off drives of 75, 55, 61 and 48 yards. It had its usual and various demonstrations of its stunning football talent. It lived up to running back Damien Harris’s assessment: “There are so many things that make this team special.”
This Tide (14-0) had quarterback Tua Tagovailoa restored to his typical and otherworldly precision, completing an absurd 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns and zero interceptions. “I mean, he has an extremely accurate ball,” Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray said, just after the Heisman Trophy runner-up (Tagovailoa) had greeted in postgame the Heisman winner (Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray). “He said, ‘I love you,’ ” Tagovailoa said. “I told him I love him too.”
This Tide had a start so fast and decisive that by the time Oklahoma’s offense trotted out for its third possession with its 577.9 yards per game and 8.75 yards per play, both No. 1 in the country, it had zero yards and a 21-0 deficit that would reach that 28-0. Said Kyler Murray, “At that point, you can’t even look at the scoreboard. It is what it is, you just go out there and play.” Said Saban, the Alabama coach who is seeking his seventh national championship and sixth in Tuscaloosa, “I think it was really important in that game that we got off to a great start.” Said Kenneth Murray, “Everybody here realizes that the slow start is what killed us in the end.”
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This Tide had highbrow receivers and running backs everywhere, with Henry Ruggs III making a one-handed, 10-yard catch on third down in the back corner of the end zone, and frightening running back Josh Jacobs, from Oklahoma, catching a swing pass from Tagovailoa, zipping 27 yards and going bull-in-a-china-shop on a pitiable safety near the end zone on the way in for six. “Initially when I got the ball,” Jacobs said, “when I saw it was one defender to beat, I tried to beat him any kind of way I could, and it just happened to be running him over.”
This Tide had Murray unusually hemmed-in early on amid fast and furious sorts such as Anfernee Jennings, who ripped him down by his sleeve, and Christian Miller, who sacked him from the back of the pocket. Murray would recover to get to an uneven 19-for-37, and quotable Alabama nose guard Quinnen Williams would say of Murray, an Oakland Athletics signee, “Oh, man. In person, he’s really fast, like, really fast, like, inside-the-park-home-run fast.” But Murray would wind up saying, “Sometimes . . . you get a feel for the game and it’s just too late.”
This Tide had a telltale opening play, when Alabama took the ball, and Tagovailoa caught the snap, his recent ankle surgery deemed a success. He tucked the football into the gut of Harris. He pulled it back from said gut. He threw this gorgeous matter 15 yards upfield, threading it into the wee window of space necessary. It went through two defenders to DeVonta Smith. Smith gained 50 yards.
Finally, this Tide had what Saban called “one little lull in the game when we got ahead 28-0,” when they slowed and made some goofball penalties. Soon enough, late in the third quarter, two Alabama defenders chased helplessly as Murray lofted a 49-yard beauty that met up with Charleston Rambo just as the latter coursed into the end zone. That created the mild amusement of a 31-20 score, which lasted the nine more plays it took Alabama to move another 87 yards.
“When you get up 35-0,” linebacker Dylan Moses said of a game that only seemed like 35-0, “of course if you’re human, you’ll get like that (a little relaxed).” So having won the initial battle against Oklahoma, Alabama went ahead and showed it also could win the ensuing battle against itself, to reach the battle against the usual.
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