January 10, 2017 1:15 AM
Sarkisian dials up magical drive but no win in Bama debut
JOHN ZENOR | Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. – Steve Sarkisian dialed up a timely trick play, a pass that worked to perfection and plenty of hand-offs to Bo Scarbrough.
The combination nearly added up to a triumphant debut for Sarkisian as Alabama's offensive coordinator — on the biggest stage in college football. Almost.
Eight days after jumping into the job, his offense struggled mightily in the second half but produced a go-ahead touchdown with 2:07 left that wasn't quite enough in Monday night's 35-31 loss to Clemson in the national championship game.
For a change, the nation's top defense couldn't overcome the Tide's offensive deficiencies. Deshaun Watson hit Hunter Renfrow for the winning 2-yard touchdown with 1 second left.
Sarkisian, a former USC and Washington head coach, was given the reins of the Tide offense a day after the Peach Bowl when coach Nick Saban ushered Lane Kiffin on to his new job at Florida Atlantic. That three-year pairing ended one game earlier than expected.
Mostly, Alabama stuck to the same offensive script — good and bad — as it had under Kiffin.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year, struggled to complete anything more than short passes most of the game. The Tide finished 2 of 15 on third downs, and only Scarbrough had much consistent success before going down with a right leg injury late in the third quarter.
The biggest test for Sarkisian came with four minutes left and Alabama facing its first fourth-quarter deficit since last year's title game against the Tigers. He passed that one with flying colors.
Alabama converted a fourth down with a Damien Harris run. Then Hurts threw a lateral to receiver ArDarius Stewart, a former high school quarterback who fired a 24-yard completion to tight end O.J. Howard.
Then Hurts did what he does best, running for a 30-yard touchdown that gave 'Bama back the lead.
Despite Alabama's inability to get any sustained drives going in the second half, the Crimson Tide offense played to mix reviews with Sarkisian on the sidelines.
Howard managed to get behind the Clemson defense on a terrific play call for a 68-yard touchdown from Hurts late in the third. Scarbrough ran for 93 yards and two long first-half touchdowns.
But Hurts was 13-of-31 passing for 131 yards to go with 63 rushing yards.