Clemson’s receiver trio comes up big vs. Bama in title game
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mike Williams took a few steps backward after the final snap, flopped to the ground and waited for the confetti to start falling.
It was his least acrobatic move of the night.
Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Jordan Leggett were every bit as integral to Clemson’s first national championship since 1981 as quarterback and offensive MVP Deshaun Watson.
Watson’s trio of dynamic receivers made big play after big play, clutch catch after clutch catch, and helped the Tigers upset Alabama 35-31 in the title game Monday night.
“This is what it’s all about right here, boys,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Williams, Renfrow and Leggett redefined Clemsoning, the disparaging term used in recent years to describe the Tigers inexplicably delivering disappointing performances. The phrase might as well be buried at Raymond James Stadium.
The trio of receivers should get the honor of throwing on the last few shovels of dirt.
Renfrow, a sophomore who turned down a scholarship offer from Appalachian State to walk on at Clemson, caught the game-winner. His 2-yard reception with 1 second left started a celebration that was a year in the making.
He finished with 10 catches for 92 yards and two scores, adding to his legacy against the Tide. Renfrow had seven catches for 88 yards and two scores in Clemson’s 45-40 loss to Alabama in last year’s title game in Arizona.
“I just knew I was going to have to give everything I had,” said Renfrow, who earned a scholarship in August 2015. “I’ve dreamed about it since I was a kid, all of us, and I couldn’t let these seniors go down like we did last year. Just love them, and just appreciative for the opportunity.”
The ending was such a frantic finish that Watson struggled to piece it together.
“Once I threw the touchdown, I just kind of ran off,” Watson said. “Honestly, it’s like a blur. The only thing I remember is Renfrow going to the sideline and I’m just sitting there and guys are coming over there. That’s all I really remember. It just happened so fast. It’s incredible.”
So were Williams and Leggett, who had as many meaningful moments as Renfrow in a sequel that turned out to be even better than the original.
The NFL-bound Williams, widely expected to be the first receiver selected in the draft, made two leaping catches in the final two touchdown drives. He had a 26-yarder in front of Marlon Humphrey and then a 24-yarder against fellow cornerback Anthony Averett on the final drive. He also drew a pass interference penalty in the final seconds that set up Renfrow’s go-ahead score.
Leggett may have had the play of the game, though. His diving reception on the final drive put Clemson on the 9-yard line with 14 seconds remaining. Without it, the game could have gone to overtime.
The trio torched Alabama’s vaunted defense in the second half, most of them on the receiving end of Watson’s 420 yards passing. Williams, Renfrow and Leggett were targeted on 13 of Watson’s final 15 passes.
Williams finished with eight receptions for 94 yards. Leggett had seven catches for 95 yards.
“I think they made some fantastic catches and some great throws and catches,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “And the last couple drives when they had the ball, we just didn’t make a play when we needed to. We needed to get a sack. We needed to get a takeaway. We needed to get a stop in the red zone, and they made the plays and we didn’t.”