On Monday night, 2020 Heisman-winning Alabama WR DeVonta Smith caught 12 balls for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of the national title game against Ohio State. Smith was knocked out for the game with a broken finger on the second play of the third quarter.
But by that point, the top-ranked Crimson Tide were already driving towards a field goal that would extend their lead to 38-17, en route to an eventual 52-24 win over the No. 3 Buckeyes. In securing Nick Saban’s seventh national championship, and sixth at Alabama, the Tide snuffed the torch of the last remaining undefeated FBS team residing outside of Tuscaloosa.
Following the most bizarre season in college football, there will be no debate about the 2020 champion. Alabama made that quite clear this evening.
It’s Bama’s first title since the 2017 season, when true freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa hit a seldom-used fellow freshman named DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard touchdown in overtime to beat Georgia 26-23. Little did we know.
Three years later, in the same game, following Smith's injury, Alabama QB Mac Jones kept on trucking. Despite playing half the game without his favorite target, Jones finished 36-of-45 for 464 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions, with roughly half of his numbers coming after halftime.
Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle, who had been sidelined since breaking his right ankle against Tennessee on Oct. 24, also made an appearance in the title game. Waddle returned to practices in the lead-up to the game, but was clearly far less than 100-percent during it.
Even after his first reception, scarcely touched before retreating out of bounds, Waddle headed back to the sidelines hobbling. But he toughed it out to the end, finishing with three catches for 34 yards, with additional and inarguable utility as a decoy. No matter how pronounced Waddle's limp, Ohio State's defensive backs made sure to mark his location pre-snap.
Ohio State’s problems seemingly started even before kick. Roughly an hour before, it was reported that the Buckeyes would be playing without starting NT Tommy Togiai, starting DE Tyreke Smith, and first-team kicker Blake Haubeil due to positive COVID tests.
Rumors of positive Ohio State tests last week briefly had this game under consideration for postponement. But the Buckeyes' unavailability report ended up listing 13 players in all, with no position-group falling below threshold, though defensive line and kicker were wafer-thin.
The Buckeyes’ defensive line, generally one of the most fearsome in the nation, wasn’t as active without Togiai and Smith. While Ohio State did hold Najee Harris to 79 rushing yards on 3.9 YPC, Alabama kept the pocket clean of Buckeyes for Jones, who shattered the record for passing yardage in a national title game.
Things went from bad to worse for the Buckeyes when star RB Trey Sermon suffered an apparent left collarbone injury in the opening minutes of the game, on his very first carry. With Sermon unable to raise his hand, he underwent X-rays and was immediately taken to Broward General Hospital for further examination.
Sermon’s loss at the game’s outset was devastating for the Buckeyes. The former Oklahoma Sooner had exploded for a combined 524 rushing yards in wins over Northwestern and Clemson the last two games.
Master Teague, inactive for last week's game against Clemson with an injury, was thrust back into a bell-cow role with Sermon felled. He provided 65 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, a respectable-but-non-explosive 4.3 YPC while being a non-factor in the passing game (one catch for one yard).
Ohio State unsurprisingly couldn’t fully replace Sermon’s skillset. Same with that of All-American guard Wyatt Davis, who was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury.
And that took what had been a balanced offense against Clemson and centralized a lot of the pressure for keeping up with Alabama's relentless assault of the scoreboard onto Justin Fields, who had suffered throwing thumb and rib injuries in the previous two games.
Fields finished 17-of-33 passing for 194 yards and a touchdown. Alabama CB Patrick Surtain, a presumed top-15 pick, did a fabulous job on Buckeyes WR Chris Olave, holding Fields’ go-to receiver to eight catches for 69 yards after Olave entered the game having gone over 100-yards receiving in five of six games played this season.
Alabama was nearly flawless in capping off a perfect 13-0 season. There was only one moment during the night when Crimson Tide fans got nervous. With around 12 minutes left in the second quarter, and Alabama up 14-7, Ohio State LB Baron Browning came off the edge on a blitz untouched and knocked the ball out of Mac Jones’ hands. Browning recovered the ball.
Shortly thereafter, Master Teague punched it in from four yards out to square the score at 14. The Buckeyes appeared to have momentum.
Against Clemson in the semis the game before, Ohio State, a touchdown-plus underdog as they were heading into this very game, had also been down 14-7. And similarly, they had scored a touchdown to jive the score 14-14. In that game, the Buckeyes put on the afterburners from there and outscored the Tigers 35-14 the rest of the way to easily pull away in a dominant 49-28 win.
A different story, tonight. After the Teague touchdown, Alabama outscored Ohio State 38-10.
A season that at one point looked like it wouldn't get played ends with Nick Saban passing legendary HC Paul "Bear" Bryant for most national championships won with seven.