NEW ORLEANS – Da’Ron Payne had been lobbying for a few weeks. Alabama’s 6-2, 308-pound junior nose guard wanted Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to make use of his crazy good pass-catching skills.
“I think they listened to me,” Payne said with a laugh Monday night after Alabama’s 24-6 Sugar Bowl victory over Clemson. “I had been talking to Coach (Saban) lots about it. He said, ‘Just keep on working, and you might get it.’ And I tried my best to go out and practice and work hard and they finally gave it to me.”
Payne’s 1-yard touchdown reception gave Alabama a 17-6 lead in the third quarter.
Payne’s last lobbying effort was his most effective, an interception of a Kelly Bryant pass. He returned the ball 21 yards to the Clemson 42.
“When he made the interception,” Saban said, “there was no doubt that we were going to throw him the ball on the goal line.”
But Alabama isn’t advancing to a national championship game date with Georgia because they beat Clemson with finesse.
It was a lot of good old-fashioned intensity the Tigers could not match, a spirit born of a 35-31 loss to Clemson in the national title game last January in Tampa.
“I think this game was about sort of our identity as a team,” Saban said. “And I don't think that anybody could question the relentless competitive attitude that we played with, a warrior-like mentality out there. And it’s certainly what we needed.”
Alabama held Clemson without a touchdown. It was the first time the Tigers have scored in single digits since a 28-6 loss at Georgia Tech on Nov. 15, 2014, a game in which starting quarterback Deshaun Watson left early with a knee injury.
“We were able to affect their quarterback, stop the run,” Saban said. “We got off the field early in the game on third down quite a bit. We played the kind of game we wanted to play on offense.
“We wanted to run the ball. And 2-yard run wasn't a bad run because we didn't want to get in a lot of third-and-long situations. And we did a good job of keeping the ball in the game and scored when we had the opportunities to score.”
On defense, Alabama held Clemson to 64 yards rushing with Bryant getting 19 of those yards.
On offense, sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts completed 16 of 24 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 40 yards.
Hurts was preparing for next week before he left the Superdome.
“So Georgia came back?” he said when informed of the Rose Bowl result. “SEC championship. We have to get ready to play against a good SEC team.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff