Friday, 1 January 2016
Alabama vs. Clemson: Your College Football Playoff Championship matchup snapshot
The raw stats
Total offense: Clemson 511 yards per game (11th nationally), Alabama 423 ypg (51st)
Total defense: Clemson 296 ypg (seventh), Alabama 258 ypg (second)
No. 1 Clemson has been praised for its balance, and for good reason. Dabo Swinney's undefeated Tigers are solid in rush offense, pass offense, rush defense and pass defense. They may not be spectacular in all four facets, but there is no obvious weakness.
No. 2 Alabama, on the other hand, is playing vintage Nick Saban football. The Crimson Tide are competent in the passing game, great at running the football, and nearly unbeatable on defense. Alabama is first nationally in rushing yards allowed, and if the Cotton Bowl was any indication, they are somehow improving.
When Clemson has the ball
Clemson: 222 ypg rushing (22nd), 289 ypg passing (24th)
Alabama: 74 ypg allowed rushing (first), 184 ypg allowed passing (17th)
Clemson's running attack has improved dramatically, as Heisman finalist quarterback Deshaun Watson's production improved and halfback Wayne Gallman continued rolling up yardage. The Tigers ran for 312 yards against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, 319 in their ACC Championship Game win over North Carolina, and 236 against rival South Carolina.
The only defense that Clemson has faced with anywhere near Alabama's ability against the run was Boston College, though, and the Tigers managed just 112 yards on the ground in that contest.
While the Crimson Tide pass defense is certainly no easy target -- the Crimson Tide is fifth nationally in pass efficiency allowed, third in sacks and 19th in interceptions, in addition to a top 20 ranking in passing yards allowed -- it's far easier to pass against Saban's defense than to run against it. If you have any doubt of that, ask Michigan State.
When Alabama has the ball
Alabama: 208 ypg rushing (28th), 214 ypg passing (73rd)
Clemson: 129 ypg allowed rushing (24th), 167 ypg allowed passing (fifth)
The Clemson defense is no slouch, but its strength in pass defense could be nullified by Alabama's game plan. The Crimson Tide have gone downfield in the passing game less than almost every team this season. Alabama averages fewer than 11 yards per completion, good for 111th nationally.
Rather, Alabama uses the short passing game to prevent defenses from overloading the box against Heisman winning running back Derrick Henry. In other words, while the Tigers might well be able to prevent Alabama from beating them downfield, Alabama might not need to.
Clemson: -3 (23 gained, 26 lost)
Alabama: +7 (24 gained, 17 lost)
Like all close games, this could be decided on mistakes. Surprisingly, Clemson has not been good at holding onto the ball this year, with the Tigers' 26 giveaways ranking 104th nationally. Watson has only thrown 11 interceptions, but has thrown interceptions against comparable pass defenses from Louisville and North Carolina.Historical record
Alabama leads 12-3
Clemson and Alabama have only played once in the last 40 years, a 34-10 Crimson Tide win in the 2008 season opener. Alabama has a 12-game winning streak over the Tigers stretching back 110 years.
Clemson's last victory over Alabama came in 1905. There were no forward passes in that game. There might not be many in this game, either.
Record against the other team's mascot ;)
The Crimson Tide have already beaten two tigers this season, having rolled over LSU and Auburn in November.
Clemson, on the other hand, has not faced a Crimson Tide all year, though they might have watched the Denzel Washington movie of the same name during a team movie night.