First-year Clemson QB Bryant harried by 'Bama defense

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Kelly Bryant had the difficult challenge of taking over for Deshaun Watson.

He played well enough to get Clemson to a third straight College Football Playoff meeting with Alabama -- and then it all went wrong.

Bryant was intercepted twice -- with both turnovers leading to Alabama touchdowns -- and was sacked a season-high five times in a 24-6 loss in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night.

Clemson's previous two meetings with Alabama were thrilling, relatively high-scoring national title tilts that came down to the wire. Watson threw for more than 400 yards in each of those games -- a 45-40 loss two seasons ago and a 35-31 victory last season.

This season, they met in a CFP semifinal with Bryant hoping to lead the ACC champs past an Alabama squad that made it this far despite finishing second to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference's West Division.

Coming in, Bryant had accounted for 3,504 yards and 24 touchdowns from scrimmage this season -- 2,678 yards and 13 TDs through the air, and 826 yards and 11 TDs on the ground.

But unlike the previous two meetings, Alabama coach Nick Saban had a month to prepare, as opposed to one week before the previous two championship games.

Bryant finished with 18 completions on 36 passes for 124 yards. He also was held to 19 yards rushing against Alabama, whose swarming defense unsettled him much of the night.

Clemson's offense finished with 188 total yards after averaging 448.1 yards and 35.4 points per game.

Both of his interceptions occurred on altered or tipped passes.

The first came when edge pass rusher Anfernee Jennings hit Bryant's arm as he released the ball, which fluttered into the arms of defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne.

Later, Bryant's pass intended for Deon Cain was tipped by Levi Wallace and intercepted by middle linebacker Mack Wilson, who ran it back 18 yards to make it 24-6 in the third quarter.

Bryant was nearly intercepted again, one play after Jennings had taken the QB down for the fifth time in the game. Bryant's pass over the middle almost looked as if it were intended for Alabama's Wilson, who saw a chance for his second interception of the game bounce off his hands.

Still, it was a third-down play, leading to Will Spiers' seventh punt of the semifinal.

Bryant's New Orleans nightmare ended with a fourth-down incompletion from the Alabama 5-yard line with 1:43 to go. But even if he had finally gotten the Tigers in the end zone, it would have been far too late.