DeVonta Smith ran into the end zone at Hard Rock Stadium untouched — again — and pointed his right index finger toward the sky. The Heisman Trophy winner, a likely top-five pick in this year’s NFL Draft (hello, Miami Dolphins?), arguably the single-handed best player in college football during this arguably most challenging college football season, had done it again.
He was the best player on the field, on an offense that featured three of the top five finalists for the Heisman. He was nearly impossible to defend, an almost weekly occurrence.
It led to an often-seen conclusion over the past dozen years at the end of a college football season: Alabama hoisting a national championship trophy.
Behind Smith’s 12 catches, 215 receiving yards and three touchdowns — all in the first half — the top-ranked Crimson Tide capped their undefeated, 13-0 season with a 52-24 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff National Championship in front of a socially-distanced crowd of 14,926.
The only thing that stopped Smith: A injured finger on his right hand early in the third quarter, one that relegated him to the sideline two plays into the second half and into the locker room shortly afterward. He returned to the sideline midway through the fourth quarter wearing a gray Alabama T-shirt and a Heisman Trophy mask.
By that point, though, the game was basically decided. A season like no other — one played under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, one who’s start seemed uncertain let alone its finish — had an ending that was all-too-familiar.
Alabama was on its way to its sixth title since 2009 under Nick Saban, who won his seventh overall title and broke his tie with Bear Bryant for most national titles by a college football head coach.
It’s the Crimson Tide’s third title in the College Football Playoff era, also winning in 2015 and 2017. And it’s Alabama’s second perfect season under Saban, who guided the Crimson Tide to a 14-0 record in 2009, when the Alabama dynasty began.
Smith is the latest big-name player to help Alabama’s cause, punctuating a season in which Alabama diverged from its usual smash-mouth running and defense-oriented style that has become commonplace for the bulk of Saban’s tenure.
His 12 catches were a title-game record in the seven-year College Football Playoff era, besting Hunter Renfrow’s 10 from the 2017 title game. His 215 yards bested former Crimson Tide tight end OJ Howard’s record of 183 first-half yards set in 2016 and were six shy of tying the record for most receiving yards in a full game. He’s the first to score at least three receiving touchdowns in a College Football Playoff title game.
Again, he did all of this in the first half.
“Well,” Saban said at halftime, showing a half smirk, “he’s done a great job of making plays for us.”
Like his first touchdown of the night, a 5-yard catch-and-run on a beautiful play design by offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Quarterback Mac Jones faked the handoff while Smith runs toward the backfield as if he were running a reverse. Smith stops, changes course and starts running unopposed toward the flat. Jones lobs a pass, Smith catches it and scampers unchallenged into the end zone.
And his second touchdown, another 5-yard catch-and run. This one went to the right side and squeaked past a pair of Ohio State defenders as he ran into the end zone.
And his third touchdown, the 42-yard score on a seam route. Linebacker Tuf Borland was the closest Ohio State defender to Smith on the play.
That fails to include his non-scoring plays — like his 22-yard catch-and-run on Alabama’s first drive to start a 12-play, 78-yard touchdown drive; his 32-yard catch to start Alabama’s second drive, which culminated in his first touchdown of the evening; and his 44-yard catch down the right sideline in the second quarter after burning past Alabama’s Shaun Wade.
It helped give Alabama a 35-17 lead over Ohio State at halftime, a lead that grew to 45-24 after the third quarter.
But Smith’s absence merely served as a reminder that Alabama has so many more weapons for quarterback Mac Jones to choose from.
Running Najee Harris, who finished fifth in Heisman voting, scored three touchdowns. That includes a 26-yard touchdown catch in which Harris hauled in a floating pass on a wheel route, juked a defender and nearly hurdled another as he fell into the end zone.
Jaylen Waddle, who returned to the field after fracturing his ankle on Oct. 24, caught three passes for 34 yards. Slade Bolden caught his first career touchdown.
Jones, who finished third in Heisman Trophy voting, finished with 464 yards and five touchdowns on 36-of-45 passing.
Ohio State (7-1), down 13 players before the game started before losing running back Trey Sermon one drive into the game, kept up with Alabama for about 25 minutes of regulation.
The Buckeyes matched Alabama’s first two touchdowns with rushing touchdowns from Master Teague III — first from 8 yards out and then from 4 yards out — to keep the game tied 14-14 with 11:43 minutes left in the first half.
But Alabama outscored Ohio State 21-3 over the final stretch of the first half, with Smith hauling in two of the Crimson Tide’s three scores, to essentially put the game out of reach.