NEW ORLEANS — Alabama's 6-2, 308-pound nose guard caught a pass before Hunter Renfrow did during Monday night's Sugar Bowl semifinal.
It was that kind of night for Clemson's erstwhile 'Bama-killer, who famously caught four touchdown passes in two national championship games against the Crimson Tide.
Clemson faithful will never forget the former walk-on's last second TD grab from Deshaun Watson to give the Tigers' their second national title last year.
But neither did the Alabama defense, which made Renfrow a priority Monday night and held the 5-10, 180-pound junior to five catches for 31 yards, none for touchdowns, in a 24-6 win at the Superdome.
Tide nose guard Da'Ron Payne caught a 1-yard TD pass to give Alabama a 17-6 lead in the third quarter before Renfrow had snared a Kelly Bryant pass.
"They just out-played us, honestly," said Renfrow, who had caught 17 catches passes for 180 yards and the four scores in the last two meetings with Alabama. "We got behind the chains and they played a lot of two-man coverage where it was tough for us to go make plays."
It was a team effort, for sure. Alabama sacked Bryant five times and picked him off twice; it could easily have been four interceptions. And the Tide held the Tigers to 64 rushing yards on 33 carries.
"I just don't think we had a very good mindset, honestly," Renfrow said. "We didn't come out to play as well as we should have. The first kickoff, they smacked us in the mouth and we didn't really get back up after that."
Renfrow was sometimes shadowed by All-America safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. On Clemson's first third-down try, it was weakside linebacker Anthony Averett on Renfrow, breaking up the pass from Bryant.
Bryant went again for Renfrow on third-and-7 on the Tigers' second possession. Renfrow cut inside defensive back Tony Brown from the slot, but Bryant's pass was knocked down by nose guard Payne.
On his third target, Renfrow dropped a short pass. And by the time he caught a pass, Alabama led by 24-6.
"I know I had a missed assignment on one drive where we could have scored," Renfrow said. "And that was kind of the story of the night. It kind of piled up on us. If we had made the plays that were there, we would have had a chance."
Deon Cain was the Tigers' top pass-catcher, with six grabs for 75 yards. But Clemson's longest pass was for just 19 yards, and Bryant finished 18 of 36 for 124 yards.
Still, Clemson was within 10-6 when Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings' hit on Bryant forced an interception picked off Payne.
Payne converted that turnover into a TD with a one-yard catch from Jalen Hurts for a 17-6 Alabama lead in the third quarter.
On the next Clemson play, Tide cornerback Levi Wallace deflected a Bryant pass meant for Cain, and linebacker Mack Wilson picked it out of the air and ran 18 yards for a TD and a 24-6 Alabama lead.
"A great team effort by our entire defense," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "The front guys did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. The linebackers did a great job of adjusting. The secondary guys did a pretty good job of covering all day.
"So this was really a great team effort. And the guys played about as hard as any of our defensive teams that I can ever remember in this particular game."