SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban blamed himself for choosing to run a fake field goal instead of settling for a 39-yard attempt early in the third quarter. It was a busted play that proved momentous in a 28-point loss to the Clemson Tigers in the national championship on Monday night.
Three plays after Clemson snuffed out the Crimson Tide’s fake field goal attempt, Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence connected with Justyn Ross for a 74-yard touchdown that pushed the Tigers’ lead to 22 points and effectively ended hopes of an Alabama rally.
“We thought we had a really, really good fake, and somebody didn’t block a guy they were supposed to block, and so it didn’t work,” Saban said. “So it was a bad call. It’s always that way.”
Trailing 31-16 at the start of the second half, Alabama went 51 yards in 12 plays before its drive stalled out at the Clemson 22. The Tide’s field goal team then got into formation for the kick.
Mac Jones, the holder and a backup quarterback, held the ball and allowed kicker Joseph Bulovas to run past him as a lead blocker. Then Jones took off behind him but was met in the backfield by Clemson defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney, who slipped away from two blockers and brought Jones down for a loss of 2 yards.
“We just needed 6 yards, and the guy squirted through and got me, so you can’t do much about that,” Jones said. “But that’s pretty much what it was.”
That was the fourth time in the game that the Crimson Tide tried to convert a fourth down. It was the first one that came up short.
“We’d been running it in practice a lot, and we were going to run it if we had the right look, and we got the look that we wanted,” Bulovas said. “We were down by a couple scores at that time, so we were trying to create a spark in the first place.”
Instead, the play gave more life to the Tigers, who quickly seized on the mistake and used it to build — at the time — the biggest lead against any team at Alabama coached by Saban.