Hunter Renfrow: The Tackle That Saved A Title

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TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: Linebacker Ryan Anderson #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide returns a fumble by running back Wayne Gallman #9 of the Clemson Tigers (not pictured) during the third quarter of the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Renfrow’s Tackle Saves the Day

It is no secret that Clemson receiver, Hunter Renfrow, had one of the biggest impacts on Monday night’s National Championship game. The former walk-on hauled in 10 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns including the game winning score that sealed the Tigers’ 35-31 upset victory over Alabama. However, it was Renfrow’s defense that had the biggest impact on the game.

On the opening drive of the second half, Alabama’s Ryan Anderson stripped Clemson’s Wanye Gallman at the Tigers’ 34 yard line. Anderson then recovered the ball and headed toward the end zone when Renfrow tackled Anderson at the 16 yard line.

Alabama’s following drive stalled and the Clemson defense forced the Crimson Tide to settle for a field goal. It is easy to look at the surface and see how only getting three points, instead of seven affected the game. If Anderson scores a touchdown on that fumble, then Renfrow’s last second touchdown only ties the game and sends it to overtime. However, Renfrow’s tackle meant more than just taking points away from Alabama. By stopping Anderson, Renfrow prevented Alabama from delivering a devastating momentum swing that plagued so many of the Crimson Tide’s other opponents.

Historic Defense

Heading into Monday night’s game, people considered Alabama’s defense to be the greatest of all time. Like other legendary units it was compared to, the Crimson Tide defense suffocated its opponent’s rushing attack. It rushed the passer with relentless ferocity. However, unlike any defense before it, when Alabama’s defense forced turnovers, it returned them for touchdowns.

The Alabama defense scored a record breaking 11 touchdowns off of turnovers. These “NOTs” broke the will of Alabama opponents and made up for the Tide’s consistency issues on offense.

This devastation was in full effect in Alabama’s 24-7 semi-final win over Washington. The Huskies held tight with the Crimson Tide for much of the first half. Even though its offense was sputtering, Washington kept the score close until the Alabama defense took matters into its own hands. Ryan Anderson intercepted a Jake Browning screen pass, ran over the running back trying to tackle him and cruised into the endzone. As a result, the Huskies found themselves down 10 at the half instead of just three. Washington would not recover and Alabama left the Georgia Dome with an easy win.

Turning the Tide

Going back to the National Championship game, one can see how large the momentum swing would have been had Anderson scored. Alabama held a 14-7 lead at that point of the game.  If Anderson scores, Alabama not only takes a 21-7 lead but also takes full control of the game. As a result, Dabo Swinney could have abandoned the running game in order to chase points. That strategy could have ended with Clemson facing more third and long scenarios. The Alabama pass rush would then be more effective in pressuring Watson knowing the running game had been eliminated.

However, because of Renfrow’s hustle, Alabama’s defense did not find the end zone. The Clemson defense then regained momentum by holding Alabama to a field goal. Clemson then only trailed by 10 going into the fourth quarter. And because the Tigers only faced a four point deficit with six seconds left, Clemson escaped with its second title.

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