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Alabama-Clemson Part IV: Previewing the National Championship Game

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 05: A detailed view of the National Championship Trophy on display during the College Football Playoff National Championship Media Day for the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers at SAP Center on January 5, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

by Andrew Pasquini – Sports 1140 KHTK

This preview could have been written back in August before the season started. These two teams were ranked one and two in the preseason Associated Press college football rankings. Both teams finished their seasons 14-0 with convincing wins in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Now, for the third time in four years, the Alabama Crimson Tide meet the Clemson Tigers in the National Championship Game.

The meeting Monday night will actually be the fourth time the two teams have met in the College Football Playoff, with Alabama beating Clemson in the 2016 championship game, 45-40. Clemson extracted its revenge against the Crimson Tide the following year, led by Deshaun Watson, winning the 2017 championship, 35-31. The most recent matchup between the two was the 2017 Sugar Bowl when then fourth-ranked Alabama defeated the top-ranked Clemson Tigers 24-6 to earn their third-straight National Championship Game appearance, which they would win 26-23 over Georgia.

Alabama is led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy on an offense that averaged 47.7 points per game and 527.6 yards per game. Tagovailoa has thrown for 3,671 yards with 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions, while completing 69.5 percent of his passes. Jeudy has been Tagovailoa’s favorite receiver with the sophomore hauling in 63 receptions for 1,176 yards and 13 touchdowns. While Jeudy has been Tua’s favorite target, four different receivers including Jeudy have at least 40 receptions and five different receivers have at least six touchdown receptions.

Alabama’s pass offense averages 310.5 passing yards per game but their rushing attack has been just as consistent all season. The Crimson Tide has been led by Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs, and Najee Harris who average 202 rushing yards per game. Harris has been the feature back with 139 carries for 819 yards and nine touchdowns. Jacobs and Harris have been solid splitting the rest of carries combining for 217 carries, 1,317 yards, and 15 touchdowns.

Alabama’s offense has made it look easy but face their toughest test of the season against the Tigers defense. Clemson has allowed just 12.9 points per game and 274.6 yards per game. While defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence might miss Monday’s game due to a failed drug test suspension, the Tigers defense is led by edge rusher Clelin Ferrell. Ferrell has been a nightmare in the backfield leading Clemson with 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 18 tackles for loss. Not too far behind Ferrell is senior defensive end Austin Bryant who had 8.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. While they face a solid Alabama offensive line who allowed Tagovailoa to be sacked just 12 times this season, Clemson’s front seven holds a tough job getting at Tagovailoa and keeping him uncomfortable.

As good as Alabama has been on offense, Clemson might have been better. Freshman Trevor Lawrence took over the starting quarterback job from Kelly Bryant a few weeks into the season. Lawrence has been good for 2,933 yards with 29 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a completion percentage north of 65 percent. Lawrence has spread the ball out well just like Tua has, with four different receivers having at least 40 receptions and 11 different players with at least one touchdown reception. The receivers have been led by Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers who combined for 108 receptions for 1,395 yards and 15 touchdowns.

While Alabama features three running backs, Clemson has one and he’s a good one. Clmeson’s rushing attack averages 256.3 yards per game and 112.3 of that comes from sophomore Travis Etienne. Etienne averages a staggering 8.3 yards per carry with 1,573 yards on 190 carries and 22 touchdowns. He stands at 23 touchdowns from scrimmage (22 on the ground and one receiving) and has accounted for 28.4% of Clemson’s touchdowns this season.

If Clemson can get something going on offense against a tough Crimson Tide, it would probably be on the ground through Etienne. Alabama allows 120.3 yards per game on the ground compared to 190.2 yards through the air. Alabama is led defensively by defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who has been almost as effective as Ferrell but plays in the trenches. Williams has eight sacks and 18 tackles for loss from the interior of Alabama’s defensive line.

Alabama and Clemson have by far have been the two most dominate teams in college football all season. Monday might will be the rubber match between these teams in the national championship and could be the best game of the four game set. In the two previous matchups between the two teams, the lower seed has won but that changes in Santa Clara.

Prediction: Alabama over Clemson