MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — DeVonta Smith was uncoverable, Najee Harris unstoppable and Mac Jones impeccable.
With a performance that was both surgical and explosive, No. 1 Alabama beat No. 3 Ohio State, 52-24, in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Monday night.
The final game of a college football season in a pandemic ended in the most predictable fashion: Alabama (13-0) as national champion for the sixth time in the last 12 years under coach Nick Saban. It was Saban’s seventh title overall, breaking a tie with Alabama great Paul "Bear" Bryant for the most by a major college coach.
"To me, this is the ultimate team," Saban said. "There is more togetherness on this team than on almost any team we’ve ever had. They’ve had to overcome and to persevere so much through this season, and they have done it magnificently."
Only about 15,000 fans were at Hard Rock Stadium, capacity 65,326, to see the last magnificent performance of Smith’s college career. The Heisman Trophy winner had 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half.
Smith hardly played in the second half, leaving with a hand injury. He returned to the sideline in the fourth quarter with his right hand wrapped to the wrist, two fingers taped together, and wearing a Heisman mask. "Heavens knows what he would have done if he played the whole game," Saban said
Jones, who finished third in the Heisman voting, was 36-for- 45 for a CFP championship-record 464 yards and five touchdowns. Harris rushed for 79 yards on 22 carries and had seven catches for 79 yards, scoring three times to give him an SEC-record 30 TDs this season.
Justin Fields, playing what might be his last game before heading to the NFL, passed for 194 yards and a touchdown for Ohio State (7-1).
Ohio State coach Ryan Day acknowledged that Fields still was bothered by a shot to the ribs he took against Clemson that had him writhing in pain on the field.
"You know, he was not 100% tonight,’’ Day said. "He was working through it and made some really good throws and made some gutsy plays and kept us in the game there for a while."
On the Buckeyes’ first drive, they lost star running back Trey Sermon to an injury. In in a game in which they needed to be running at top speed, facing one of the great offenses in recent history, they sputtered too much. Ohio State has never allowed more points in a bowl game.
"I think there’s a feeling of, if you don’t score, you’re going to get behind and then the pressure mounts," Day said.
Fans can debate which team in the Saban dynasty is best, but none will be more memorable than this group. "Everybody is so together," Smith said. "People last year said the dynasty was over. We don’t stop. We just keep reloading."
"To me, this team accomplished more than almost any team,’’ Saban said. "No disrespect to other teams we had, but this team won 11 SEC games. No other team has done that. They won the SEC and went undefeated in the SEC and then they beat two great teams in the playoffs with no break. I think there’s going to be quite a bit to write about the legacy of this team."
Using an array of motion and misdirection, outgoing offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian had Ohio State heads spinning trying to track down Smith.
Sometimes it was simpler than that. On Smith’s third touchdown, he lined up in the slot, the closest to the line of three receivers on the left side. Smith cut quickly to the middle of the field and suddenly was matched up against a linebacker, whom he left in the dust for a 42-yard score with 41 seconds left in the second quarter.
Smith, who finished his freshman season by catching the 2017 national championship- winning touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa, ended his Alabama career as the leading career receiver in Southeastern Conference history and the most outstanding offensive player of his third title game.
Said Smith, "We all had a mission trying to end things the right way. We all went to work and it ended the way we wanted.’’
Fields, who is projected as a first-round draft pick, finished his second year as the Ohio State starter the same way he finished the first — with a loss. He went 20-2 as a two-year starter. "I was telling the younger guys that they have a lot of years left, and I was telling them to remember that and never, never let it happen again," he said.
As for Sarkisian, he is on his way to Texas as the head coach. Longhorns fans had to have liked what they saw from their new play-caller. If only he could bring Smith and his fellow Heisman contenders to Austin.
Great catch by Ruckert. Former Lindenhurst star Jeremy Ruckert made a brilliant one-handed catch for a 36-yard gain to set up Master Teague’s 8-yard touchdown run as Ohio State tied the score at 7-7. Ruckert beat Albama’s Christian Harris on the play before being tackled by Harris and Jeremy Battle.
Battle later was ejected for targeting when he blasted Ruckert in the facemask with the crown of his helmet to prevent a potential reception.