INSTANT ANALYSIS: Payne, Alabama defense spark Sugar Bowl win over Clemson
NEW ORLEANS — It turns out those whispers didn’t fall on deaf ears. Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne has been calling for his shot near the goal line all season. During Monday night’s Sugar Bowl, his wishes were answered.
With Alabama facing second-and-goal from the Clemson 1-yard line in the third quarter, the 6-foot-2, 308-pound defensive tackle lined up on offense out of the jumbo formation. What happened next came as a surprise to everyone. Instead of blocking, Payne shuffled to his right, getting open for a wide-open 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The play swung momentum in Alabama’s favor and ultimately led to a 24-6 blowout over No. 1 Clemson as the Crimson Tide advanced to its third straight College Football Playoff National Championship Game. No. 4 Alabama (12-1) will play No. 3 Georgia on Jan. 8 inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for the national title.
Georgia advanced to the game after beating No. 2 Oklahoma in double overtime in the Rose Bowl. The matchup is only second time two teams from the SEC will play in the national championship game. Alabama beat LSU 21-0 to claim the 2011 national title.
Payne’s touchdown gave Alabama a 17-6 lead late in the third quarter. It came on a drive following the defensive tackle's first career interception as he picked off Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant before returning the ball 21 yards to the Tigers 42-yard line. Payne, who usually comes in to block in the jumbo package, was asked last week if he thought he’d ever get a shot at a touchdown near the goal line. His response: “hopefully.”
“I’ve been asking for one, but I think that’s just been a little whisper,” Payne said.
Following the touchdown, the Crimson Tide put the game away on the next play from scrimmage as linebacker Mack Wilson returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 24-6. Alabama’s defense held on from there, holding on to gain redemption for last year’s national championship defeat to the Clemson.
Here are some notes from Monday night’s Sugar Bowl:
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