SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Justyn Ross was one of the main reasons Clemson beat Alabama on Monday night in the national championship game. The freshman receiver caught six balls from his fellow freshman Trevor Lawrence for 153 yards, one touchdown and at least three “HOLY COW!” moments.
But in some ways, the beating began a year ago.
Because Lawrence was a highly coveted high school player at Central High in Phenix City, Ala., hard by the Georgia border. Alabama badly wanted to keep him home, and when Nick Saban wants something that badly, he usually gets it.
But he didn’t get Ross.
On Monday, he paid for the recruiting loss. There was the 74-yard pass with 8:26 left in the third quarter, when Ross literally left Alabama corner Savion Smith on the ground (and soon, carted off the field) for what may have been the back-breaking play of the game, extending Clemson’s lead to 37-16.
There were also two acrobatic catches that would have made Odell Beckham Jr. applaud. And, just as telling, there is this:
Ross, like Lawrence, has at least two more years at Clemson before either can even ponder the NFL draft. Good luck, America.
“I mean, we tried to cover No. 8,” Saban said, so flustered that Ross’ name became his number. “He caught the ball, made a big play.”
Earlier in the week, Saban had been a bit more expansive.
“We thought he was one of the best players in Alabama a year ago and certainly recruited him with as much enthusiasm as possible,” “We just came up short. It’s no surprise to me that he’s having an outstanding year,” he’d said. “And we’d love to have him here, but we’ve got to try to prepare to play against him.”
That was the idea, anyway.
The result? That was something else entirely.