Clemson vs Alabama
When: 8:00 PM ET, Monday, January 7, 2019
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME STORYLINES
SANTA CLARA – Two stalwarts of the College Football Playoff era square off for a fourth consecutive year when No. 2 Clemson takes on top-ranked Alabama for the national title Monday in Santa Clara, California. After splitting a pair of championship-game matchups following the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the Crimson Tide dispatched the Tigers 24-6 in the semifinals last year, and both emerged as early favorites to reach the title game. “I think as the season evolved, just knowing how well Clemson played all year long and how they were pretty dominant in their league, it was no surprise to me that they would end up where they are right now,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters. “You’re always looking at the next game and not looking too far ahead and all that, but it’s no surprise to me that they’re in the championship game, as well.”
The first two meetings – Alabama’s 45-40 win in January 2016 and Clemson’s 35-31 triumph in January 2017 – were classics that went down to the wire, and both coaches expect a similar outcome between two evenly matched teams on Monday. “When you look at this game, I think both teams are kind of mirror images of each other, to be honest with you – really good defenses, dynamic quarterbacks, very talented running backs and explosive skill, and just kind of built in the trenches. We’re so similar,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters. “So it’s going to come down to just execution and mentally being sharp and making those two or three plays that you don’t know when they’re coming. So you just have to truly play every play like it’s the play.” Both teams rank in the top five nationally in total offense, scoring offense and scoring defense, while Clemson is fifth Alabama 13th in total defense.
Clemson will be without star defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella for a second straight contest after the trio tested positive for ostarine prior to the national semifinal game. Galloway and Giella are reserves who play sparingly, but Lawrence is a critical piece of the Tigers’ dominant defensive line. Alabama suspended tight end Kedrick James and offensive linemen Elliot Baker and Deonte Brown for unspecified NCAA violations prior to the semifinal game, but the latter (five starts) is the only one of the three who played a key role this season.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Alabama -5.5
ABOUT CLEMSON (14-0): Swinney made the bold decision to go with Trevor Lawrence as his starting quarterback four games into the season, and the move has paid off as the freshman has piled up 2,933 passing yards with 27 touchdowns and four interceptions. Lawrence’s big arm gives the Tigers a downfield threat on every play, but running back Travis Etienne (1,572 yards, 22 TDs) is the workhorse on offense. Despite losing Dexter Lawrence, the defense still was dominant in last week’s 30-3 victory over Notre Dame and possesses four players who have recorded at least 10 tackles for loss, including Clelin Ferrell (18 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks).
ABOUT ALABAMA (14-0): The Crimson Tide have evolved from the team that was content to run the ball and slug out a low-scoring win, as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (3,671 passing yards, 41 TDs, four interceptions) leads a high-powered offense. Alabama’s best shot at attacking the Tigers is through the air as five receivers have made at least six touchdown receptions, with Jerry Jeudy (1,176 receiving yards, 13 TDs) leading the way. Alabama’s defense might be the most susceptible unit on the field, having given up 454 and 507 total yards, respectively, in its last two games, so getting stops in the red zone and forcing turnovers will be key against Clemson’s explosive offense.