SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Tua Tagovailoa isn't unflappable.
Nick Saban isn't perfect.
And neither is Alabama, which saw what could've been its greatest team in the Saban era fall decisively 44-16 to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night.
After tangling with Clemson, the 2018 Crimson Tide can't be called one of Saban's greatest. Great teams don't stumble so often and as thoroughly as Alabama did in this one.
On top of that, Clemson was just better. The Tigers certainly have the record to prove it — they're the first 15-0 major college team since Penn in 1897. With two national titles in three years and two other top-five finishes since 2015, the new kings of college football are hardly an undeserving champion.
Alabama tripped up from the start of the fourth meeting in four years between the two teams. A puzzling first half saw a rattled Tagovailoa throwing two interceptions, including one that was returned for the game's first touchdown. The second interception happened when Tagovailoa impatiently tried to throw deep into triple coverage. Instead, he wound up giving Clemson a short field for another touchdown.
Alabama also missed an extra point, kicked off out of bounds, and committed a false-start penalty at the Tigers' 1-yard line, ruining what seemed like a sure touchdown drive. All that added up to a 15-point first-half deficit, only two more than what Alabama overcame against Georgia in last year's title game.
Against Clemson, however, not even a fourth-quarter appearance by beloved backup quarterback Jalen Hurts could save the day.
The Crimson Tide never could put much pressure on star freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns. With crimson shirts rarely chasing him around, Lawrence and his cast of receivers did everything to Alabama's young defensive backs but grab them by the ankles, turn them upside down and shake them for loose change.
How nervous did the Lawrence-led attack seem to make Saban? In the second quarter, trailing 21-16, Alabama went for it on fourth-and-one at his own 34 rather than punt the ball to Clemson. Early in the third quarter, trailing by only 12 points, Alabama faked a field goal on fourth-and-six, apparently deciding that three points weren't going to help. The poorly designed Mac Jones run behind the blocking of kicker Joseph Bulovas failed.
To add insult to injury, Clemson's most devastating receiver wasn't familiar old-hand Hunter Renfrow but instead was freshman Justyn Ross, a Central-Phenix City star who picked Clemson over Alabama in an intense recruiting battle last year. He caught six passes for 153 yards, including a 74-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that essentially slammed the door on the Tide's hopes.
Two years ago in a championship game loss, Alabama could argue whether Clemson committed a pick penalty on its game-deciding touchdown pass with one second to go. On Monday, there was no single Clemson play or Alabama mistake that you could take out and say that would've reversed the momentum enough to change the result.
Round IV of Alabama/Clemson belonged squarely to the Tigers.