INTERCEPTION APTOPIX CFP National Championship Clemson Alabama Football (copy)

Clemson's A.J. Terrell returns an interception for a touchdown in the opening minutes of Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship game in Santa Clara, Calif. Ben Margot/AP

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Clemson's cornerbacks suited up week after week through the course of the 2018 football season and, almost like clockwork, heard what was said about them.

Whether it was Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond lighting up the secondary for 430 yards in September or South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley doing the same thing almost three months later in late November, the chatter was always there. 

The Tigers never went out of their way to read it. But they did always hear it. 

"Everybody's got something to say," said A.J. Terrell, a sophomore cornerback. "You know what I'm saying?"

Monday night, when Clemson smacked Alabama, 44-16, to give the Tigers their second College Football Playoff National Championship title in three years, it was evident the cornerbacks were ready to rewrite the story. So they did.

Trayvon Mullen and Terrell, Clemson's starting corners, each had their best games of the season with game-changing plays that certainly only benefited their NFL futures coming one day at the next level. Both tallied monstrous interceptions that rattled the Alabama offense and its superstar quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, on the sport's biggest stage, while simultaneously shutting down the nation's No. 6 passing offense. 

In Terrell's case, his interception turned into a 44-yard pick-6 that put the Tigers on the board first in the opening minutes of the game. Disguising coverage to make Tagovailoa think he was in man, Terrell baited the Alabama quarterback into making a mistake and was right there to make him pay when he bit. Then, Mullen returned an interception 46 yards himself in the second quarter to set up the Tigers up for another touchdown.

Mullen also had a booming sack for a loss of 11 yards later in the same quarter, and when he was injured in the third quarter, backup Mark Fields was ready for his moment. Fields had a big pass breakup in the third quarter that led to a failed fake field goal by Alabama, something Clemson was prepared for thanks to a last-minute study of a Saban fake all the way back in 2002 earlier Monday. 

"The whole defense came to play. The whole team, all three phases," Mullen said. "Coach (Brent) Venables, he's a terrific coach. He puts us in a great position." 

And when he did Monday night, his corners pounced.

Lots of love for Etienne

Most of the students at Jennings (La.) High School wore orange Monday in support of Clemson's Travis Etienne. The sophomore running back was named ACC Player of the Year for 2018. He finished the night with three touchdowns: one 17-yard rush, one 1-yard rush and one 5-yard pass.

'Much too soon' for CFP expansion

Fans looking for an expansion of the five-year-old College Football Playoff to more than the current four teams will have to wait, evidently until the CFP's 12-year contract with ESPN ends with the 2025 season.

"As far as expanding the number of teams in the playoff, it's way too soon — much too soon — to know if that is even a possibility," Mark Keenum, chair of the playoff board of managers and president of Mississippi State, said in a prepared statement Monday.

The statement came after a San Jose board meeting that included the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, plus some university presidents.

Field looks good

The playing surface was in great shape Monday night because a new field was installed after the Redbox Bowl, an Oregon victory over Michigan State played at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 31.

The College Football Playoff also paid for a new field in Tampa just before Clemson’s 35-31 national championship win over Alabama in January of 2017.

A school record

Clemson's 31 first-half points against the Crimson Tide were a school bowl record, officially eclipsing the 27 first-half points the Tigers scored against Georgia Tech in the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl.

​Watson honorary captain

Deshaun Watson, the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who led Clemson to a 2016 national title win over Alabama, served as the Tigers' honorary captain. Watson's Houston Texans were eliminated in the NFL playoffs by the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.

Former Tide and NFL linebacker DeMeco Ryans was Alabama's honorary captain.

Big Ten crew

A Big Ten officiating crew worked the game. The referee was Mike Cannon.

Renfrow caps it off

Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow capped off his decorated career with 47 straight starts and 43 straight games with at least one catch, both of which are school records for the Myrtle Beach native. Renfrow, who will forever go down in Clemson history for his game-winning catch that delivered Clemson a 2016 national championship over Alabama two years ago, leaves the program as a former walk-on turned star now bound for the NFL.

Clemson's offensive line steps up 

Clemson's offensive line heard all week about how lackluster it was in the Sugar Bowl matchup of 2017, which would have been the most recent time these two teams had played one another before Monday. Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was sacked five times and the Clemson running game only put up 64 yards. 

As a means to motivate, Clemson coaches reminded the offensive line of that Monday. 

It worked — Trevor Lawrence was never sacked by the mighty Alabama defense, which was among the most impressive statistics of the night. 

"Our guys have done a great job up front, but there’s still a lot of rhetoric going into this game about the biggest mismatch being Bama’s D-line versus our offensive line. And I told those guys today before we came over here, I said, ‘Hey, for us to bury that rhetoric you’ve got to go out and prove it on the field.’ That’s exactly what they did tonight, and I’m so proud of those guys to be able to protect," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. "You can have all of the skill guys and a great quarterback back there, but if you can’t protect that’s what a lot of times Bama gets to those quarterbacks. So I give those guys a lot of credit." 

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.