during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.

If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a million times. On a night when a defensive line shuts down a running back, a quarterback is forced to do everything by himself. He throws 47 passes. He runs 20 times, mostly on improvised scrambles. He runs for his life. He gets torn to bloody pieces.

Again, you’ve seen this movie throughout your life as a football fan.

Monday night in Glendale, Ariz., Deshaun Watson did indeed throw 47 passes and run 20 times — 67 plays entrusted to his arms or legs. Clemson had to put this game in the hands of its quarterback because it had no other choice.

Alabama’s defensive front was too strong to get bullied by Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman, who cruised for 150 rushing yards in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, collected only 45 rushing yards against the Crimson Tide. Clemson’s offensive coordinators, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott, figured out in the second half that they needed to get the ball to Gallman in open space as a receiver, but the pure power game was not an option.

Watson had to do almost all the work. That scenario normally turns into a disaster, but he turned it into 40 points and one of the great losing performances college football has ever seen in a national championship game. His display belongs in the same category as Matt Leinart’s effort for USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl against Texas. That game, 10 years ago, felt a lot like Bama-Clemson in the latter stages… but without the comeback victory from a do-everything quarterback wearing orange and white:

No, Deshaun Watson couldn’t finish a comeback the way Vince Young did… because his defense didn’t give him a chance. Yet, that’s not Watson’s fault. His stat line is amazing enough: 30 of 47, 405 yards, four touchdowns, one interception, and a team-leading 73 rushing yards for 478 yards of total offense… without a running game to help him out.

Amazingly and improbably, the stats don’t tell the full story. Watson was better than the jaw-dropping numbers indicate.

Defense — or rather Offense — Exhibit A is here:

Watson threw an absolute dime into a tight space with two defenders nearby. In an earlier era of college football history, with simplified rules governing the legal reception of a pass, this would have been a fifth touchdown for Watson:

Another reason Watson’s performance exceeded his already gleaming statistical output is that he left the Crimson Tide’s able pass rushers in the dust. It’s not just that Watson was regularly able to escape Alabama linemen and linebackers; he made first-class spin moves to wiggle out of trouble. It’s not as though Watson easily jogged out of the pocket to avoid pressure; he unearthed difficult escape routes to transform plays.

So many quarterbacks, up against a Nick Saban-Kirby Smart defense, are in huge trouble when they throw 47 passes and accumulate 67 touches. Deshaun Watson? He made things look very easy… and could have scored another touchdown on the play shown above.

In Saban’s three previous national championship game victories at Alabama, his three victims — Texas, LSU, and Notre Dame — scored a combined total of 35 points. Notre Dame’s 14 came in garbage time, well after Alabama had put that particular game in the ol’ deep freeze.

On one night, Deshaun Watson outscored the Longhorns, Tigers, and Fighting Irish combined. Darts like this — which were par for the course on Monday night — shredded Alabama’s secondary in a national championship setting:

After this game, Saban smiled the satisfied smile of a champion and legend, as well he should have. His onside kick decision entered the pantheon of all-time great coaching moves. He had his offense ready to adjust when Clemson’s front took away Derrick Henry in the second half.

On defense, though, Saban finally ran into a quarterback who had the answers. When you score 40 on Alabama and make Saban rage on the sidelines during the course of a game — you could see it often during the ESPN Megacast — you have left quite the impression.

Deshaun Watson didn’t win a national title in the desert. Don’t blame him, though. He certainly did everything he could to make it happen for Clemson.

We know that winners become immortals in sports… and on rare occasions, brilliant losers manage to live forever as well. There should be no doubt that Deshaun Watson’s performance in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game will never be forgotten.

About Matt Zemek

| CFB writer since 2001 |