Only a team as absurdly loaded as Alabama could lose the best player in college football for half the game and not break a sweat. Then again, after the whooping Heisman winner DeVonta Smith put on Ohio State in the first half of Monday’s College Football National Championship in Miami, the final 30 minutes hardly mattered.
Smith, who surprised many by returning for his senior season, exited the game after jamming his hand early in the third quarter, but not before torching the Big Ten champs for 215 yards and three touchdowns on 12 catches, accomplishing all those feats before halftime. Smith’s 12 catches broke the National Championship record set by former Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow (now of the Las Vegas Raiders) in 2017.
After spending most of the third quarter in the medical tent, the slender 22-year-old eventually retreated to the locker room, where he received X-rays. Smith, whose 3,965 receiving yards are the most in SEC history, appeared to be in good spirits on Alabama’s sideline, donning street clothes and a bandage on his injured hand as the Crimson Tide put the finishing touches on their 18th national championship and sixth under Nick Saban. Including his previous stint at LSU, that gives Saban a combined seven titles, the most of any coach in the history of college football and one more than Alabama legend Bear Bryant.
Smith wasn’t the only player hobbled during Monday night’s title game. Teammate Jaylen Waddle, who hadn’t played since breaking his ankle in late October, courageously suited up for the Tide, though the hobbled receiver largely functioned as a decoy, managing three catches for all of 34 yards. The Buckeyes were also short-staffed with Trey Sermon, coming off a monster showing in a semifinal win over Clemson (193 rushing yards), suffering an apparent collarbone injury on his opening carry. Next man up Master Teague performed admirably in Sermon’s absence, contributing two touchdowns in the losing effort.
Monday’s 52-24 rout of Ohio State capped a perfect 13-0 season for Alabama, whose last title came in 2017. Heisman finalist Mac Jones was near perfect in Monday’s finale, crushing the Buckeyes for 464 yards and five touchdowns—tying the championship record set by Joe Burrow last year—on elite 36-of-45 passing. Running back Najee Harris chipped in with 158 yards (79 rushing, 79 receiving) and a trio of touchdowns in a game where the outcome was never in doubt. Steve Sarkisian, who is headed to Austin to coach the University of Texas next year, pressed all the right buttons in his final game as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, overseeing a prolific attack that produced 621 yards of offense.
Smith, who cemented his status as an early first-round pick with Monday night’s heroics (assuming his hand injury isn’t serious), was named the game’s Offensive MVP while Christian Barmore earned Defensive honors for the Tide. After impressing with six touchdowns in Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl triumph on New Year’s Day, Justin Fields was largely held in check Monday night, completing just 17-of-33 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown while adding another 67 yards with his feet. There's no shame in losing to an undefeated SEC heavyweight loaded with future pros, though Fields' untimely clunker in the National Championship will certainly quiet any chatter of him potentially going ahead of Clemson star Trevor Lawrence in the upcoming NFL Draft.