ARLINGTON, Texas — Alabama isn’t interested in style points. The Crimson Tide are obsessed with championships.
They are one step closer to another.
No. 2 Alabama punched its ticket to the College Football Playoff national championship game by dismantling No. 3 Michigan State 38-0 on New Year’s Eve in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.
The Crimson Tide (13-1) will face No. 1 Clemson (14-0) for the national title on Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz. The Tigers took care of Oklahoma 37-17 in the earlier semifinal Thursday.
Alabama, the first two-time CFB playoff participant, is playing for its fourth national championship under coach Nick Saban. The Tide last took home college football’s top prize in 2012.
In a contest where neither side got much of an early offensive foothold, the Southeastern Conference champions pulled away behind big plays from quarterback Jake Coker and a suffocating defense.
Coker was an efficient 25-for-30 passing for a career-high 286 yards and two touchdowns. The senior didn’t try to do too much at first, but he took several well-timed shots down the field that proved effective.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner, banged out for 75 tough yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley caught eight balls for 138 yards and two scores, both coming during a third-quarter barrage.
The Crimson Tide turned a 10-0 halftime lead into a 31-0 rout with three touchdowns in the third. Scoring grabs of 50 and 6 yards by Ridley were sandwiched around cornerback Cyrus Jones’ 57-yard, punt-return touchdown.
Unlike the Tide, the Big Ten champ Spartans (12-2) weren’t able to figure anything out when they had the ball. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was under constant duress, and the running game was nonexistent.
Cook completed 19 of 39 passes for 210 yards in his final collegiate game. The senior was sacked four times and intercepted twice.
Michigan State’s 239 total yards were a season low. The Spartans were shut out for the first time since 2000.
It appeared that defense would rule the day for both sides until Alabama began to open it up throw the air more than halfway through the second quarter.
Alabama took a 10-0 lead into the half, with Coker setting up two scores with passes of 50 to Ridley and 41 yards to tight end O.J. Howard, respectively. The former set up Henry’s 1-yard touchdown, with the latter leading to kicker Adam Griffin’s 47-yard field goal.
Up until the first touchdown, the deepest penetration was Alabama reaching the Spartans’ 45-yard line.
The teams combined for eight punts through the first two quarters. The Spartans took it inside the Alabama 45 only once in six possessions, with that trip reaching the red zone before an interception.
Cook had Michigan State in position to score in the final seconds of the half, but he was picked off by Jones at the goal line.
NOTES: Alabama RB Derrick Henry’s second-quarter score set an SEC single-season record for touchdowns with 24. He also scored in an NCAA-best 19 consecutive games. … Alabama coach Nick Saban coached at Michigan State from 1995-99, with current Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio serving as one of his assistants. … Both teams had plenty of familiarity with AT&T Stadium. Alabama played there several times, including a season-opening win over Wisconsin. Michigan State won last year’s Cotton Bowl against Baylor. … The attendance was 82,812.