Alabama vs. Clemson — Everything You Need to Know About the National Championship Game
The nation’s two best college football teams face off for the national title on Monday night in a rematch of last year’s thrilling championship game, when Alabama edged Clemson, 45-40.
College Football Championship Presented by AT&T
January 9 at 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
No. 1 Alabama (14–0) vs. No. 2 Clemson (13–1)
How They Got Here:
Isn’t Alabama always here? The defending national champion Crimson Tide won the SEC title and were never challenged by an opponent this season, save for a 48-43 road win over Mississippi in September. They barely broke a sweat while rolling over No. 4 Washington, 24-7, in the Peach Bowl National Semifinal on New Year’s Eve. ’Bama brings a 26-game winning streak into the national championship. They lead the nation in total defense and scoring offense. This is a juggernaut that seems close to a lock to win its 16th national title, and fifth just since 2009.
Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson quarterbacked Clemson to its second consecutive ACC title and national championship game appearance. The Tigers opportunistic and speedy defense frequently clamped down on teams, much like it did during the team’s 31-0 beatdown of No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl National Semifinal last weekend.
Alabama holds a 13–3 lead in the all-time series. Clemson hasn’t beaten the Tide since 1905.
When Alabama Has the Ball
Perhaps the biggest adjustment Alabama will have to make in this game is on the sideline, where Steve Sarkisian takes over for Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator. Kiffin is off to Florida Atlantic University, and Sarkisian must step in and keep the Tide rolling.
Led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 'Bama offense puts points on the board fast. Their defense often gives them a short field, and Hurts finds a way to inflict damage on the opponent. However, he has thrown nine interceptions this year and rarely has seen the type of pressure that the Clemson defense will bring.
Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough, who ran for 180 yards in the win over Washington, could be a key to neutralize the Tigers’ pass rush. If Scarbrough can gash away and set up second-and-short situations, ‘Bama can experiment. That will mean trouble for Clemson.
The Tigers’ defense ranks 12th in points allowed, yielding just 18.4 per game. They rank ninth in yards per game allowed with 314. If Clemson can find a way to hurry, harass and sack Hurts often, they could get the Tide in an unfamiliar position: playing from behind.
When Clemson Has the Ball
Deshaun Watson is the biggest offensive talent in this game. He’s thrown for 4,173 yards and 38 touchdowns with 17 interceptions this season. He’s also the team’s second-leading rusher with 586 yards and eight touchdowns. He accounted for three total scores against Ohio State, a total he’d love to match against Alabama. His favorite target is Mike Williams, the All-American wide receiver who will draw lots of attention from the Tide defense.
The downside of Watson being the Tigers’ second-leading rusher is that it shows how weak their running game can be — something that won’t help them against a defense that’s given up just three rushing touchdowns all season.
Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick has a team-high six interceptions. He will be needed to keep Watson and Williams in check, but the ‘Bama defense is the nation’s best overall. If it can keep this game from turning into a track meet like last year’s, the Crimson Tide should roll to an easy win.
Keys to the Game
Clemson has to score, score, score and then score some more. Head coach Dabo Swinney has to give the Tide defense multiple different formation looks and adjust throughout, otherwise Nick Saban and Co. will figure it out and shut them down.
The Tigers also have to take chances against Hurts and try to force mistakes. The more that Clemson plays like they have nothing to lose, the greater the chances are that they won’t — even though everyone expects them to. However, if ‘Bama gets up early, this one could be over quickly.