Let’s take a minute to marvel at that onside kick though. It was a thing of beauty.
Onside kicks are usually messy gambits—you rarely see one executed this perfectly. It surprised everyone, including the cameramen, who were a split second behind the ball. Alabama went on to score a touchdown—going up 31-24—and never trailed again.
We’ll never know, of course, what would have happened if Alabama had botched that kick or never attempted it in the first place, and it undoubtedly changed the momentum of the game. But the score shouldn’t have been tied 24-24 at that moment. Clemson played a much better football game than Alabama, but they kept giving up big plays. That, not an onside kick, is what ultimately cost them the game. Derrick Henry’s 50-yard touchdown never should’ve happened—Clemson contained the star running back for the majority of the game. Same goes for both 50-yard touchdown receptions made by Alabama TE O.J. Howard. If Clemson had avoided just one of these massive screw-ups, they would’ve won.