TAMPA, Fla. — Christian Wilkins ripped his shirt off, threw his arms in the air and started belly dancing by the national championship trophy, his 310-pound frame moving with perfect fluidity as he celebrated. Then he did a toe-touch. And then he extended into a full split as he bounced up and down.
"Hey, I mean, I was just inspired. We won the championship, I don’t know what I was doing," the sophomore defensive end laughed following Clemson's 35-31 national title victory over Alabama on Monday night.
"I just let it all out tonight. We won. We’re the national champs. I had to have a little fun."
Wilkins' pure joy Monday night was a far cry from where he was this time a year ago: in utter despair sitting in an Arizona locker room after Alabama took last year's title. It was then, with tears in his eyes, when he promised he would not leave Clemson without delivering a championship.
After the Fiesta Bowl, he reiterated that vow, indicating the national title game would be won or lost in the trenches. If Clemson was going to have a chance, the defense's ability to limit Alabama's run game was going to be vital.
He was right.
While Clemson’s defense had its moments of frustration when it came to containing sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough and freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts on the ground, Brent Venables’ unit was able to keep the Crimson Tide at bay when crunch time hit and it mattered most.
Scarbrough lit up the Tigers early, with 25 and 37-yard touchdown runs in the first and second quarters, respecitvely. By halftime, he had more rushing yards on his own (76) than Clemson had as an entire unit (50).
But it was at the break when the Tigers made some adjustments. When it was all said and done, they forced seven three-and-outs on the night. They held Alabama to a paltry 2-for-15 conversion rate on third down.
And to cap it all off, the nation’s leader in tackles for loss added seven more Monday night.
"The two big plays, just missed tackles. We had some bad leverage on those two long runs but other than that we had a really good game plan," said senior linebacker Ben Boulware — the defensive player of the game.
"We knew if we shut down the running game it would be very difficult for them to win. They base their offense on the running game and everyone knows that."
Indeed, the Alabama offense is highlighted by Hurts and Scarbrough, who, together finished the season with a combined 1,766 rushing yards for 24 touchdowns. But while Alabama entered the half with 143 rushing yards on 21 carries, the second half saw the Crimson Tide only tally 13 carries for 78 yards.
Part of that had to do with a Scarbrough injury. But the other part was directly linked to a top-10 defense once again pulling through for the Tigers. Now they're national champions.
"I am so happy," Boulware said.
"To see the fruits of our labor and see all the hard work pay off — we trusted in each other and this is was the result of that tonight. I am so happy for our fans and everyone who has been part of our program. Clemson has waited 35 years for this national championship."