Game Preview: CFP National Championship, No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Clemson (FREE)

By Stan J. Griffin: January 5, 2017

As both Nick Saban's No. 1 Alabama football team and Dabo Swinney's No. 2 Clemson Tigers have shown significant improvement defensively in 2016 after being very solid on that side of the ball last season as well, the numbers suggest that we may not see another 45-40-type shootout similar to last year's meeting between the two teams when they meet in a College Football Playoff National Championship Game rematch on Monday.
But that does not necessarily mean there will not be another epic game for the ages when the 14-0 Crimson Tide and 13-1 Tigers clash in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium (7 p.m. CT, ESPN).
It is a matchup chock full of historical story lines for both Saban and the tradition-rich Alabama program and one that is also brimming with all kinds of emotional intangibles.
Alabama seeks its fifth national title in eight seasons, while Saban will be looking to tie Paul W. "Bear" Bryant with his college football-leading sixth national championship of the poll era.
Clemson, meanwhile, is of course seeking major payback from last year's loss to the Tide in Glendale, Ariz., is looking for its national title since 1981 and Swinney's first one overall and Tiger junior quarterback Deshaun Watson will be looking for another huge performance against Alabama and perhaps another confirmation that it was he, and not Louisville's Lamar Jackson, who should have captured this season's Heisman Trophy.
All that aside, however, there is little doubt that the nation's finest two teams will be battling for the ultimate prize in Tampa, in what will likely be another tight and very physical affair.
Saban said Wednesday that there are many reasons why Swinney's team will present such a formidable challenge to his top-ranked squad once again.
""We're playing against a really, really good Clemson team, a lot of skill players, a lot of team speed, a great quarterback, (Watson), is, I think, maybe arguably the best college football player in the country. He's got a lot of experience, he's very productive as a passer. He's athletic as a runner. They have quarterback runs when they want to use them and he's very effective at it. He's got really, really good receivers starting with (redshirt junior) Mike Williams, who's got a whole bunch of receptions and over 1,000 yards receiving. They have really good balance on offense, their offensive line is good and defensively they're very talented upfront. Make a lot of sacks, hard to score on, one of the top defensive teams in the country and they're good on special teams. So, this is a team that doesn't have a lot of weaknesses so I think you have to be fundamental in your execution and not make mental errors that are going to give them opportunities because they will take advantage of it and that will really be important for us in this game."
After accounting for 478 total yards in last season's title game against the Crimson Tide, Watson returns for another shot at knocking off the Tide with his team in the role as underdogs once again.

The dynamic Gainesville, Ga. is still the main straw that stirs this Clemson team as he passed for 4,173 yards this season, along with 38 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while completing just over 67 percent of his throws.

He has also carried the ball 145 times for a total of 583 yards and eight scores.  He navigates a Tiger attack that averages just under 40 points a game and just over 502 yards per contest.
Williams has been his main target as he has hauled in 90 passes for 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns, while junior Artavis Scott has 73 receptions for 608 yards and five touchdowns.

Other dangerous targets include sophomore Ray Ray McCloud and senior tight end Jordan Leggett, as well as redshirt sophomore Hunter Renfrow, who had a big game against Alabama a year ago.
Redshirt junior Wayne Gallman has had another strong season to pace the Clemson running game as he has 214 carries for 1,087 yards and 16 touchdowns. He averages just over five yards per tote.
McCloud has 21 punt returns for 176 yards with a long return of 74 yards while Scott has 20 kickoff returns for 458 yards and a long return of 77 yards.
Defensively, Swinney's team is led by senior linebacker Ben Boulware with 121 tackles, while redshirt sophomore linebacker Kendall Joseph has added 115 and sophomore safety Van Smith 111. Redshirt senior defensive tackle Carlos Watkins leads the Tigers with 12.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks while redshirt freshman defensive end Clelin Ferrell has 11.5 tackles for loss.
Senior safety Jadar Johnson leads the team with five interceptions senior cornerback Cordrea Tankersley has four.
Redshirt sophomore Greg Huegel has converted 14 of his 19 field goal attempts with a long make of 47 yards, while redshirt graduate Andy Teasdall has punted the ball 53 times for an average of 38 yards with a long kick of 67 yards.
For the Crimson Tide, it seems obvious that the best strategy for it to knock off the Tigers again and repeat as national champions is to keep the contest from evolving into a shootout while making the game as much of a low-scoring defensive struggle as possible.
The Alabama offense struggled mightily in its last game against Washington, has had a week to get used to the sudden coordinator switch from Lane Kiffin to Steve Sarkisian and may not have the firepower to match Clemson in a high-scoring tilt if Tide freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts continues his struggles through the air.
After setting an Alabama bowl record with 180 yards in the Chick Fil A Peach Bowl a week ago, sophomore tailback Bo Scarbrough may be called on for an even bigger workload against Clemson, and the same also may be true for fellow backs Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs.
The Tide may need to simply keep it on the ground early and often in Monday's game as it is unlikely Hurts will have much time to throw against an aggressive overall Clemson stop unit and a particularly stout defensive line.
Dominating the time of possession battle offensively should also reduce the pressure greatly for Tide defenders such as Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and the Alabama secondary.
Keeping Watson and his explosive supporting cast off the field period is priority number one for this Tide team.

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Stan J. Griffin

I am a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where I currently reside and work. I am doing regular sports and feature writing for the Tuscaloosa-based Druid City Living and also am the Alabama beat writer for Crimson Magazine. I am a 1993 graduate of the University of Alabama, where I wrote for The Crimson White. I have an extensive background in newspaper journalism, having served as a sports editor and reporter for the Delta Democrat Times, St. Clair News-Aegis, Andalusia Star-News and the St. Clair County News.

I also have my own sports blog site, The Sports Connection, which I partner on with a friend of mine, and we began this site in November of 2012. I write blog on a variety of sports subject, and have also had guest contributors write their own blogs for the site. I have interviewed prominent sports figures for the site, including Paul Finebaum of the new SEC Network.


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