Alabama vs. Clemson
▪ When/where: 7:35 p.m. Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
▪ TV/radio: ESPN; WHB (810 AM)
▪ The line: Alabama by 6 1/2
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▪ The series: Alabama leads 12-3
When Alabama runs
Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry is strong and durable. He bounces off tackles and wears down a defense. He wasn’t a focal point of the game plan against Michigan State. The passing game was. But look for the Crimson Tide to return to ground and pound, leading with Henry behind a solid offensive line.
When Alabama passes
Jake Coker got off to an uneven start this season but finished strong, completing 70 percent of his passes with only four interceptions over the final 11 games. The Crimson Tide has the best wide receiver in the game in freshman Calvin Ridley. The health of Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson remains a question. The Tigers have a pair of All-ACC defensive backs in safety Jayron Kearse and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley.
When Clemson runs
With all the attention on the running ability of quarterback Deshaun Watson, Tigers running back Wayne Gallman flies under the radar, but he’s a talent, rushing for 1,482 yards and 5.5 yards per carry. Alabama’s defensive front, led by A’Shawn Robinson, led the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 2.3 yards per carry.
When Clemson passes
Watson buys time with his ability to escape trouble and find receivers. Tight end Jordan Leggett is a favorite target, with a team-best seven touchdown receptions. Watson runs an up-tempo spread, the type of attack that has been effective against the Crimson Tide. But Clemson hasn’t played against a defense this physical. Alabama leads the nation in sacks per game (3.57) and has 18 interceptions (11th overall).
Very good kickers in this one. Clemson’s Greg Huegel went 25 for 29 on field goals, with a long of 47. Alabama punter JK Scott averaged 44.4 yards per kick. The Crimson Tide has a game-changer in punt return specialist Cyrus Jones, who leads FBS players with four punt returns for touchdowns this season. The hidden-yards edge belongs to the Tide.
Dabo Swinney, the former Alabama player and assistant coach, has changed the national perception of the Tigers. Once a program synonymous with blowing leads and underachieving, Clemson is the nation’s lone undefeated team. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the game’s gold standard. He’s bidding for his fifth national title, having won his first at LSU, and his fourth in seven years at Alabama.
Saban and his most of his staff know how to win national titles. This is a first for Swinney and his staff. But the Tigers have met every challenge, knocking off Notre Dame, Florida State and North Carolina on their way to the ACC title, then powering past Oklahoma in the second half of the Orange Bowl. They won’t be intimidated by the setting. The Crimson Tide is the best team in an SEC that has dominated the bowl season.
Bottom line: Alabama, 30-20
Alabama has been on a path to the title since getting smoked by Ohio State in the second half of the Sugar Bowl in the national semifinals last season. The Tide will break open a close game in the fourth quarter behind the strong legs of Henry.