Monday night’s National Championship was full of big plays with the majority of them coming from the No. 2 team in the nation, the Clemson Tigers. More specifically, those big plays came from freshmen and sophomores who will be returning to Death Valley for the 2019-20 season.
In under two minutes from the opening whistle, sophomore A.J. Terrell returned Tua Tagovailoa’s third pass attempt of the game for a touchdown, giving Clemson the early lead. After Clemson’s first offensive drive resulted in a three-and-out, their second series ended much different. Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was facing a third and 14 when he delivered a strike down the right side of the field to sophomore Tee Higgins for 62 yards to set up the Tigers at Alabama’s 17-yard line. On the next play, sophomore Travis Etienne broke a few tackles on his way to the end zone. Although he was held in check for most of the first half, freshman Justyn Ross hauled in two catches for 24 yards on Clemson’s last drive before the break.
Ross was far from silent in the second half. After Alabama failed on a fake field goal attempt on the first drive of the second half, the Tigers only needed three plays to score. The first two plays only netted two yards, but Lawrence found Ross on a deep ball for 74 yards, and the Tigers stretched their lead to three touchdowns. On the next scoring drive, Ross had two highlight catches both on third downs to keep the drive alive. To cap it off, Lawrence threaded the needle through three ‘Bama defenders to Higgins from five yards out to give Clemson a four-touchdown lead. Neither team scored for the remainder of the game.
After a year away from home, the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy will return to Clemson, tucked away in the Allen N. Reeves Football Complex. The facility only opened three years ago and now holds two championship trophies. After the performances put on by the young guns in the big game, the future looks bright for the Tigers.
Freshman kicker B.T. Potter only saw a few seconds of game time, but he might have made the biggest impact. Potter is the kickoff specialist for the Tigers but is not the primary placekicker. Potter had eight kickoffs but only one was returnable. The rest were touchbacks.
In the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship, Alabama’s Kenyan Drake returned a kick 95 yards to the house, which was one of the key plays down the stretch that gave the Crimson Tide the title. They did not have a chance on Monday night to flip momentum on a kickoff. Potter will return to Death Valley next year and should take over the place kicking duties from Greg Huegel.
The week after Kelly Bryant decided to transfer from Clemson, freshman quarterback Chase Brice was thrown into the game against Syracuse after an injury sustained by Lawrence. Brice led the Tigers to a comeback victory, defined by the 94-yard drive that ended in a Etienne touchdown.
During that drive, Brice converted a huge fourth and six on a pass to Higgins and later added on a 17-yard run. If Brice wasn’t able to lead the Tigers to victory, they might not have even made the playoff.
When ESPN’s Maria Taylor asked him about how many future championships he plans on winning at Clemson, Lawrence answered, “probably three more, hopefully.” This is not a farfetched claim from him considering every player highlighted in this article is an underclassman that will be returning next fall.
Not even mentioned were freshmen edge rushers Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry and sophomore receiver Amari Rodgers, who had almost 900 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in 2018, including a 58-yard punt return in which he found paydirt against Boston College. According to ESPN, Thomas and Henry were both top-six recruits in the 2018 recruiting class. Joining the Tigers next year will be the sixth ranked recruiting class in the nation, claimed by 247Sports. Like Head Coach Dabo Swinney has said time and time again, the best is yet to come.