TAMPA, Fla. — Breaking down the College Football Playoff National Championship between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson at 5:17 p.m. PST Monday at Raymond James Stadium:
Deshaun Watson showed what he could do against the Crimson Tide in last year’s title game. Though the Tigers lost, Watson kept them in the game by passing for 405 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 73 yards. Alabama’s Jalen Hurts has a lot of talent — he’s the first freshman quarterback to start under coach Nick Saban — but isn’t at Watson’s level yet.
Damien Harris leads the Tide with 1,013 yards, averaging an astounding 7.2 yards per carry. But the Tide can just as easily go to Bo Scarbrough, who has 719 yards and nine touchdowns on a 6.6 average. Scarbrough was the feature back in the national semifinal against Washingon, totaling 180 yards and two touchdowns on 19 rushes.
Clemson goes a little deeper with players such as Mike Williams the main target at 90 receptions for 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns. Deon Cain has only 33 catches, but he averages 19.1 yards and has scored nine touchdowns. Alabama doesn’t have a receiver who matches with Williams’ production or Cain’s big-play ability.
Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson won the Outland Trophy and is a unanimous first-team All-American. On the other side, right tackle Tim Williams was named a Freshman All-American by ESPN and USA Today and a second-team All-American by CBS.com. The Tide also averaged 5.7 yards per rush.
The Tide’s Jonathan Allen took home the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards for best defensive player and the Ted Hendricks Award for top defensive end. Clemson’s Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins were named to various All-America teams, and Wilkins was a finalist for the Nagurski. But Alabama is so stingy against the run, allowing opponents just 2.0 yards per carry and only three touchdowns.
Clemson’s Ben Boulware won the Jack Lambert Award, and he was a second-team All-American on most lists. Alabama’s Reuben Foster was named a Nagurski finalist, and received All-America honors along with teammate Tim Williams. The Tide have the nation’s best overall defensive front that helped record 50 sacks. They are a terror for opposing offenses.
Strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has had a strong season for Alabama, making several All-America teams, and the Tide as a team intercepted 16 passes and allowed 182.0 yards passing per game. Clemson had similar numbers at 20 interceptions and a 183.8-yard average. Tigers cornerback Cordrea Tankersley also appeared on a handful of All-America lists.
Alabama is stronger in this area with Adam Griffith having made 20 of 27 field goals, and JK Scott averages 47.4 yards per punt. Plus, the Tide average 15.7 yards per punt return.
Both teams can claim to be the more motivated. Clemson lost last year’s title game to the Tide, but Alabama’s defense is ticked off at not playing better. Coaching often is key, and as good as Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has been, it’s tough to go against the Tide’s Nick Saban.
Bruce Marshall, The Gold Sheet: “The Tide, on the ropes in September versus Mississippi and locked nil-nil with Louisiana State into the fourth quarter in early November, is not unbeatable. Perhaps Saban can reach into his bag of tricks, as he did 12 months ago when his ’Bama team was on the ropes. But from our view, the table is better set for Tiger revenge, albeit in an expected lower-scoring slugging match than last year’s fireworks in Glendale. Clemson 26, Alabama 23
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