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O.J. Howard, surprise hero of Bama-Clemson Round 1, just burned the Tigers again

Bama’s so loaded, it can spring veteran former five-stars on you in a National Championship outta nowhere.

O.J. Howard has done it again. With his team leading in the third quarter with a slim three-point edge, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts found his tight end deep downfield for a beautiful 68-yard touchdown.

ESPN

Now, we’ve seen Howard exploit Clemson’s defense before. In fact, it was around this time last year in the 2016 National Championship, otherwise known as Bama-Clemson Round 1.

Prior to Alabama’s first title game against Clemson, no one really knew who the Crimson Tide tight end was, outside of Bama fans and people who follow recruiting (he was a former blue-chipper, after all). But after the Tide’s 45-40 victory over Clemson, everyone wanted to know just who Howard was, after he helped deliver Nick Saban a fourth national title with Alabama.

Howard entered the game against Clemson with some solid stat numbers for a junior tight end, with 33 receptions for 394 yards and no touchdowns on the year, but nothing that would suggest he was about to take over the title game.

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin broke out the 6’6, 250-pounder as his secret weapon against Clemson, exploiting a secondary that was without one of its best players, and it worked like a charm. Howard finished with a career-high 208 yards and two touchdowns on the night. One of those scores came on a beautiful, 53-yard touchdown reception.

Howard became an overnight sensation:

In fact, Howard's 33 receptions in 2015 were the most of any Alabama tight end during the Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa. But Howard might have been the most-hyped tight end recruit ever, and it wasn't until the final game of his junior year that he truly showed his gigantic talent. Without Howard, Alabama might not beat Clemson, so I'm sure Tide fans will certainly say, "Better late than never."

"O.J., quite honestly, should have been more involved all year long," Saban said. "Sometimes he was open and we didn't get him the ball. But I think the last two games have been breakout games for him in terms of what he's capable of and what he can do. I would say it's bad coaching on my part that he didn't have the opportunity to do that all year long."

His performance was so good that it earned him the offensive MVP for the title game, and a parade back in his hometown of Autaugaville, Ala.

“That was one of the biggest things to happen to me,” Howard told SEC Country at media day Saturday. “To have your own parade and own day is pretty sweet. They had footballs with my name on it. It was cool to get that much support from my hometown.”

Clemson earlier this week acknowledged the lack of attention Howard got during the defense’s preparation.

"We completely ignored him, I know, last year," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said via ESPN. "So we did a terrible job at defending him, obviously. And if we do it again, we'll lose again."

Howard was thrilled to have the opportunity to perform well on such a huge stage.

"It was a great feeling to have so many opportunities in that game," said Howard. "On that stage, it’s amazing. Plays came my way, and I just made the most of it."

Howard entered with 41 receptions for 489 yards and two touchdowns heading into his last game. (He’s still only had one career game with more than 100 receiving yards: last year’s title game.)