Saturday, December 31, 2016

Clemson: 2016 Fiesta Bowl Champions



GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Deshaun Watson ran for two touchdowns and threw for another and No. 3 Clemson crushed No. 2 Ohio State 31-0 Saturday night in the Playstation 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 end 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.

THE TAKEAWAY

Ohio State: In a rebuilding year with only six returning starters, the Buckeyes reached the playoff. Hard to call that a disappointment, but Ohio State's issues on the offensive line and limitations in the passing game were badly exposed by a Clemson defensive line that features a bunch of future NFL players. Expect some Penn State fans to again start asking why their team was picked for the playoff instead of the Big Ten champion Nittany Lions, who beat the Buckeyes in October.

Clemson: The Tigers seemed to spend much of the season trying to explain why they were not running roughshod over opponents. Expectations were so high after last season ended with a stinging 45-40 loss in a classic national championship game against Alabama.


There were close calls for Clemson early in the season against Auburn and Troy, and the Tigers needed some luck to beat North Carolina State in overtime. Watson was throwing more picks and an offense that welcomed back star receiver Mike Williams was not quite the unstoppable juggernaut so many expected.

But the best Clemson was the Clemson that showed up in the desert. And that Clemson has always been the team best equipped to beat Alabama.

UP NEXT

Ohio State: The immediate concern for the Buckeyes is figuring out which underclassmen will jump to the NFL. The most notable players who have decisions to make in the next two weeks include Barrett, who will be a fifth-year senior next season; H-back Curtis Samuel; linebacker Raekwon McMillan and defensive backs Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley.

Clemson: Watson put on an all-time performance with 478 total yards against Alabama last season. This Tide defense is even better, but Clemson brings something new to the fight in Williams, who missed most of last season because of an injury. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior had six catches for 96 yards against Ohio State.

Alabama: 2016 Peach Bowl Champions



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 24-7 victory over Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal Saturday.

Scarbrough finished with 180 yards and two scores, garnering offensive 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.

"After we got into the flow of the game, I thought we did pretty well on defense," said Saban, who now has a chance to join Bear Bryant as the only coaches to win six national titles in the poll era.

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.

"We've studied every snap that they've had this year, and the tape doesn't lie when you watch that much tape," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. "I mean, that's as good a defense as there is out there in college football, and they played like it."

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.

"Bo's been playing pretty well for us the last three or four games," Saban said. "We wanted to play him more. He's hard to tackle. He's big and powerful. He's playing with a lot of confidence."

STYMIED HUSKIES

Washington was held to a season-low for points and yards, even after an impressive 64-yard drive on its opening possession capped by Browning's 16-yard TD pass to Dante Pettis.

The Huskies finished with 194 yards, below their previous low of 276 in a 26-13 loss to Southern Cal. That was also their lowest-scoring game of the season until they ran up against the Tide.

Washington scored at least 31 points in every game except its two losses.

The final two offensive plays pretty much summed up the Huskies' frustration. Browning was sacked for a big loss, and then threw his second interception on a desperation heave into the end zone.

UGLY ENDING


A scuffle broke out after Minkah Fitzpatrick's pick in the closing seconds, leading to a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against Alabama.

Several Washington players were shaken up while chasing down Fitzpatrick, but they all managed to walk off the field while the officials sorted things out.

UP NEXT

Alabama will face a familiar opponent in the national championship game.

A year ago, the Tide beat Clemson 45-40 in a classic title showdown at Glendale, Arizona. Two seasons ago, Alabama was upset by Ohio State 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, and the Buckeyes went on to capture the national championship.

"Both those teams are great football teams," Saban said. "It's going to be a very challenging game for us either way.

Georgia Tech: 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl Champions



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Dedrick Mills got a shoutout, some head nods and several high-fives as he walked toward the interview room at EverBank Field.

And those came from opposing players.

The freshman was an even bigger hit inside Georgia Tech's locker room and in the stands.

Mills ran for a career-high 169 yards and a touchdown, leading the Yellow Jackets to a 33-18 victory against Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday. It was the seventh-most rushing yards in bowl history, earning Mills the Most Valuable Player trophy and making some forget about his two suspensions this season.

"I think he can be a very special player," coach Paul Johnson said. "He's a very talented young man. We've got to try to help him grow up. Sometimes, you know, at that age, when you're 18, we all didn't make great decisions. It's our job to help him make the right decisions because he's got a bright future if he'll continue to work hard."

Playing without running back Marcus Marshall, who decided to transfer after the regular-season finale, Georgia Tech (9-4) turned to Mills to handle the workload against Kentucky (7-6). The newcomer from nearby Waycross, Georgia, delivered. With dozens of friends and family members in attendance, he carried a career-high 31 times as the Yellow Jackets won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in more than a decade.

"It wasn't that tough. It wasn't that tough," Mills said. "Behind the offensive line, running off their blocks, made it easier for me to find holes and get through them."

He got plenty of help, too, as Tech won its fourth consecutive game.

Senior P.J. Davis returned a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown. Fellow linebacker Terrell Lewis blocked a punt late in the first half that set up one of Harrison Butker's four field goals. Thomas added a 21-yard TD run in his final collegiate game.

"It's a great feeling," Thomas said. "Everything has to come to an end one day. Happy it ended like this. Looking forward to see what the future holds."

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have to replace two significant cogs in their flexbone spread option, with Thomas graduating and Marshall transferring. But Mills looks like he could be a force for at least two more years.

Kentucky: The Wildcats return 36 of 44 players on their two-deep roster, and with quarterback Stephen Johnson and running back Benny Snell blossoming late in the season, coach Mark Stoops could have a solid nucleus in place to make another bowl in 2017.

FINAL SHOT

Despite struggling most of the day, the Wildcats had a final shot in the closing minutes. Johnson scrambled for a 21-yard touchdown with 3:57 remaining and then connected with C.J. Conrad for the 2-point conversion to make it a one-score game. But Thomas found Ricky Jeune wide open on a third-and-4 play near midfield for 42 yards. Mills scored three plays later to seal Tech's victory.

"Just made an aggressive mistake," Stoops said.

TURNING POINT

Trailing 10-3, Kentucky was threatening to score when Jojo Kemp was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the 5 late in the second quarter. Tech responded with a 94-yard drive that included a fourth-and-inches conversion from their 15. Thomas' TD run capped the drive and made it 17-3.

Making matter worse for the Wildcats, they had a punt blocked on the ensuing possession and Georgia Tech turned it into a 52-yard field goal on the final play of the half.

Stoops was angered that officials didn't restart the clock after Thomas' first-down completion to Brad Stewart.


"I believe there was just some confusion," Stoops said. "Maybe some of them thought it was out of bounds when he was inbounds. They later told me he was inbounds. I just couldn't understand why they would, with one second, give them as much time as they wanted to line up."

VERBAL EXCHANGE

Stoops and Johnson exchanged words in the first quarter. Stoops initially seemed upset that two of his players were injured on consecutive plays. But Stoops said he took issue with something someone on Tech's sideline said.

"I have great respect for Coach Johnson, but nobody else over there is going to say a word to me," he said.

UP NEXT

Georgia Tech: Plays the final of three straight games against Southeastern Conference teams when it opens 2017 against Tennessee on Labor Day night in Atlanta.

Kentucky: Opens next season at Southern Mississippi on Sept. 2.

LSU: 2016 Citrus Bowl Champions



ORLANDO, Fla. -- For much of the first half Saturday, LSU sophomore running back Derrius Guice found little room to work as Louisville's defensive front filled the gaps and swarmed to the ball.

But the second half of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl was a different story.

The game slowed down and Guice took the time to let the blocks develop before hitting the holes. Finally he popped a 12-yard run off left tackle and then the big one came the next play when he burst up the middle, broke a tackle and then was off to the races for a 70-yard touchdown early in the third quarter that all but closed the door on the 15th-ranked Cardinals and sealed the 19th-ranked Tigers 29-9 victory at Camping World Stadium.

"As a running back you just have to be patient, you can't get upset, you can't get mad when things don't always go your way," said Guice, who earned the Citrus Bowl MVP after finishing his day with 138 yards and a rushing touchdown while also catching a 1-yard touchdown pass. "You just got to work and grind, go on the sidelines with the coaches and get everything fixed."

The spotlight has been on Guice since star running back Leonard Fournette announced earlier this month that he would not play in the Tigers' bowl game so that he can focus on getting his injured ankle healthy to begin his path toward an NFL career. Guice had filled in nicely for Fournette during the season and Saturday was no different as his clock-draining runs and the Tigers' (8-4) suffocating defense limited Louisville's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson.

"We had probably one of the best players in college football in Leonard Fournette get hurt, and he stepped in and didn't blink an eye," said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who won his first official game as head coach since being relieved of the interim title last month. "He is one of the best players in America and I totally expect him to be the best player in America next year and we're fortunate to have him."

Guice made explosive plays running the ball and catching it, but his most memorable play may have come on special teams in the fourth quarter when he took a kickoff return 50 yards, steamrolling Cardinals kicker Blanton Creque near the sideline in the process. It was the perfect capper on a breakout season while delivering a glimpse of is in store for next season.

"LSU is Army U so when one man goes down you've got to step up," Guice said. "I feel like I've done a great job of stepping up this year."

KEY MOMENT

The Tigers sacked Jackson eight times and linebacker Arden Key was responsible for two of the sacks.

Key sacked Jackson for a safety late in the second quarter and then on the opening play of third quarter, he sacked Jackson again to establish a school record for sacks with 12.

TAKEAWAY

LSU: The Tigers defensive front was too fast and too dominant for Jackson and the Cardinals offense. Louisville was 0 for 13 on third-down conversions well into the fourth quarter before converting its first.

LOUISVILLE: Clearly the Cardinals' offense had not seen the type of speed on defense in the ACC they encountered against the SEC's LSU. The Tigers got to Jackson early and often from their base defense and with a variety of blitzes. Defensively, the Cardinals (9-4) struggled without starting secondary members Josh Harvey-Clemons (safety) and Trumaine Washington (cornerback) along with sack leader James Hearns (linebacker) all missing due to injuries.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

LSU: The Tigers looked overpowering on both sides of the football and will certainly see their stock sore from No. 19 in the AP poll after a convincing win over Louisville.


LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals suffered their third straight loss to conclude the season, which certainly makes it appear their No. 15 ranking was inflated. Louisville may remain in the Top 25 but it will be just barely.

UP NEXT

LSU: Now that the bowl season is over, the Ed Orgeron era begins in earnest. Matt Canada has been hired as the new offensive coordinator and can begin to install his system. His biggest decision will be at quarterback where Etling is returning with experience but the Tigers have two recruits coming in in pro-style quarterback Myles Brennan and dual-threat quarterback Lowell Narcisse.

LOUISVILLE: Led by the tremendous talent of Jackson, the Cardinals could contend for the ACC title and College Football Playoffs next season. But coach Bobby Petrino will definitely have more playmakers to help Jackson. The offensive line also has to get better in its protection of Jackson. The Cardinals lose a couple of talented seniors off the defense but the core returns, giving Petrino a chance to have his best team since returning.