CFP National Championship – Clemson v Alabama (Jan 7)

CFP National Championship

Clemson

Clemson has been one of the great teams under Dabo Swinney in the CFP playoff. They’ve made it to the vast majority of them, but have come up short much more than they would like. This is Clemson’s fourth appearance in the CFP Playoffs and their third visit to the Championship game. They have managed a 1-1 record in Championship games.

Offense

Clemson’s offense has been averaging more than 40 points per game and had only a slight dumb when they went over the Notre Dame speed bump. They “only” scored 30 against a top-4 team in the nation and conceded only 3. I don’t except them to hold Alabama to a score like that, they are too good at manufacturing points. Throughout the season, the Tiger’s have been relatively good at maintaining a balanced attach with just under 3600 yards rushing and 3800 passing. The touchdown numbers have a little more spread with 47 rushing and 34 through the air.

Passing: Clemson’s home and away splits are well… nonexistent for almost every category. They have a 0.1 difference in yards per attempt, a 7 point difference in QB rating, and a 0.2 attempts per game difference. Their yardage gains are consistently above 270 and even the interception numbers are the same. The only real difference between their home and away form is the number of touchdowns. Even that only varies by 6, surprisingly, with more touchdowns scored away from home (20) than at home (14). It will be interesting to see how they are able to stack up against Alabama’s defense after putting 3 passing touchdowns on Notre Dame.

Rushing: The Tiger’s run game has been very good both at home and away, although they’ve definitely been better at home. The touchdowns go from 28 at home to 19 on the road. They’ve only step down slightly from the 6.78 yards per attempt at home “down” to the 6.56 yards per attempt. The game plan has been dictated more by the opposition team on the road, culminating in a loss of about 7 attempts per game less. The yardage loss from 285 to 228 is mostly attributable to the lessening of attempts rather than a particular shortfall of the Tigers.

Defense

Passing: The Clemson defense has been lock down on the road this year. They’ve brought their reasonable 58% completion percentage at home down to a fantastic 47% on the road. The yards per attempt also drops almost a full yard from home (6.5) to their road statistics (5.8). Both the touchdown and interception numbers decrease slightly, but there’s a 50 yard difference between their average home and away form. That said, they do face 5 fewer attempts on average in the passing game on the road.

Rushing: If the passing defense has been lock down, the run defense has been be epic. They’ve managed only a hair over 2.5 yards per attempt at home, but on the road it’s been only a smidgen less than 2.3 yards. On the year they’ve only allowed 8 rushing touchdowns against, and only 3 of those have been allowed on the road. In addition, they allow less than 100 yards per game at either venue. In fact, they’ve only allowed 1,296 rush yards against all season on 539 attempts. On the road they have faced 5.5 more attempts than at home and have still managed to stutter every offense (including Notre Dame’s).

Alabama:

Alabama comes into the CFP National Championship with a pedigree that no other team has gotten close to since the inception of the 4-team playoff. They’ve made all 5 semifinals that have been held a feat no other team has accomplished although Clemson has made 4. Alabama has now made the final game 3 times (4 including this visit) and have won 2.

Offense

Passing: “Roll Tide” Alabama, have been rolling right over their opponents and they have done so very equitably without regard for venue. They’ve managed to score 50 touchdowns to this point in the season with 28 touchdowns at home and 22 touchdowns on the road. They have continued to be profound in terms of yards per attempt with a staggering 12.2 at home, and only a slightly less staggering 10.5 yards on the road. They’ve accumulated 4,559 yards on only 402 passing attempts with a 69.5 average completion percentage. The one blemish on their otherwise perfect season is a few interceptions, 1 at home and 5 on the road.

Rushing: The Alabama rushing attack has been very balanced by location with 257 carries at home and 277 carries on the road. They have been fantastic regardless of location. On the road they are averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns compared to 5 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns at home. Even the attempts are mostly the same, 37, at home and, 40, on the road. They’ve also allowed (one) more touchdown than Clemson and they’ve been more balanced between home and on the road (5 and 4, respectively). The tide are also facing a little over 6 less attempts on the road (31.4) more than at home (37.9). They’ve managed to hold their opponents to right about the century mark in the rushing game.

Defense

Passing: Alabama has been even more dominant defensively than Clemson has. The Tide has managed to keep their opponents completion percentage under 49% at home, and only just over 54% on the road. They have allowed about the same amount of yardage per attempt that Clemson has, they’ve limited it to 5.1 yards per attempt at home, and 6.9 yards per attempt on the road. They’ve been stellar at home allowing less than one touchdown per game at home (6 on the season) and just shy of 2 touchdowns per game (13) on the road. They have averaged one interception per game although they have more interceptions (+2) at home. Their opponents are averaging almost 100 yards game more on the road than at home — largely related to the increase in attempts (6) they face on the road along with the slight increase in yardage per attempt.

Rushing: Alabama has been allowing more yards in the ground game both at home and on the road than Clemson has. I’m just stating the facts, I’m not going to play the best conference game, over the full body of work Alabama is allowing almost a full yard more than per carry Clemson at home (2.5 compared to 3.9) and away (2.3 compared to 3).

The Game

The game is played at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California with kickoff at 5 PM PST/8:00 PM EST. The neutrals are expecting at least 60 points to be scored, and Alabama is the favorite to win another national Championship.

Keys to a win for each side

Clemson:

  • Put up or shut up. There’s always rivalry and debate about which conference is better. Now we’ll get to see it firsthand. Clemson needs to stay solid and prove that their limitation of opponents rushing game to 2.3 yards per carry is no fluke. Obviously, with this matchup between the top two teams in the nation, I am not expecting Clemson to hold them this low. My point is rather that they really need to put a damper on the Alabama running game unless they plan on Alabama winning, also. They’ve shown that they are able to be a substantial impediment to the run game, but this will be a whole new matchup. Clemson has held opponents under 100 yards consistently, and I think in this game, it’ll be a win if they can keep them under 150-175ish.
  • Run Kitty, Run. Clemson has charged forward via the run game. While the Crimson Tide still allow a decent number of yards per attempt, their opponent’s pass completion numbers are dreadful. As a result, they need to charge forward here. While both rush defenses are great; I feel like the passing defenses are better. I think it’s not going to be just Clemson that runs this game. They’ll pass some, but I think it will only be to give the backs (and the scheme) a break. Clemson is averaging 6.5+ yards per carry and even though Alabama is only allowing 3 on average that’s still enough to be regularly moving the chains.
  • Keep your focus. Clemson needs to make sure they keep their focus on both ends of the field. They’ve been able to win games this season despite mistakes — I’m not sure they’ll have that opportunity in this one. They need to make sound decisions maintain ball security, on the season Clemson is +5 in turnover margin but they’ve given the ball up 17 times. In addition to holding onto the ball — they can’t take plays off, especially on defense. Alabama will capitalize on these lapses and it could put the Tigers in an early hole.

Alabama:

  • Run the ball. Alabama is a prolific offense with either attack. However, with Tua’s likely return, I think Nick Saban will try to utilize the run game to minimize Clemson’s ability to get home to Tua. The Alabama rush game is definitely capable of being relied on, even against on of the more prolific defenses in collage football.
  • Flashes of brilliance. Don’t assume by any means that I expect Tua to not get his chances. Although Tua eventually lost to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray in the Heisman race he is an amazing quarterback. I fully expect him to get some opportunities (which he will likely capitalize on) even against the Clemson defense.
  • Nick Saban. Nick Saban coached teams are known for being hyper vigilant and exceptionally focused. They have been the subject of constant discussion all season about if they can do it again. Nick Saban is one of (if not, the) greatest coaches ever. It’s a huge bonus for any team to have a coach that’s been there before, even without the success he has. His players trust him implicitly because of his results, I expect him to keep the pressure on his guys and for them to be ready for every down.

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