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Bama-Clemson Round 1 swung on a Tide trick play. Dabo Swinney says he was ‘pissed’

The trickiest play of Nick Saban’s career meant yet another national title, and now it’s time for the rematch.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last season’s National Championship swung on a trick play that seemed uncharacteristic for Alabama. But once you dug into the preparation it involved, it made total sense. The Tide spotted a Clemson weakness, and then spent the entire game waiting for the perfect moment to sink their teeth into it.

What happened: in the fourth quarter, Alabama kicked and recovered a surprise onside kick, which helped make the difference in a title game that was decided by only five points. It was perfectly plotted and executed, resulted in a 51-yard touchdown two plays later, and ultimately determined an entire season.


The reactions immediately afterward:


It was brilliant and memorable not only because it changed 2015’s most important game, but also because it went against character for both teams. Nick Saban’s Alabama is measured, deliberate, and cautious. Dabo Swinney’s Clemson embraces joy, chaos, and surprise. The Tigers had attempted an onside kick while up by 32 points just a few weeks earlier. Because of that, and because of Bama’s meticulous planning, it wasn’t just a play that worked — it was a play that showed just how far the young coach had to go in order to catch up to the game’s modern master.

Swinney’s thoughts on the matter, 361 days later and ahead of the teams’ rematch in the 2016 season’s National Championship:

Saban spent a little more time on the subject, when asked.

“Well, look. Dabo does a great job. They have a great coaching staff,” he said Sunday in response to a question of whether Bama anticipated Clemson would try any tricks in Round 2. “They've done a great job of recruiting a lot of good players and they've done a good job of developing those players, and systematically, what they do on offense, defense, and special teams are very, very challenging. And I think that we need to be ready for whatever might happen and whatever the situation might be.

“But I think even without any new wrinkles, it's been a very challenging week for us in terms of our team getting ready for what they do because they do a fantastic job.”

In the Peach Bowl semifinal, Bama dominated Chris Petersen’s Washington, despite his reputation for devious trick plays. The Tide have so many smart coaches (and additional analysts) on staff that catching them by surprise requires a miracle, and as last year’s game proved, they might end up surprising you instead.