Clemson vs. Bama Prediction: Dust Up In the Desert


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Clemson vs. Bama Prediction: Dust Up In the Desert

It’s the Dust Up in the Desert, and it’s for the bragging rights as the best team in all of College Football. That’s right, the Clemson Tigers are playing for the National Championship, and they’re doing it against the program with the most success in recent years.

Clemson vs. Alabama. For all the marbles. It doesn’t get any better.

NO. 1 CLEMSON VS. NO. 2 ALABAMA

National Championship Game

WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
WHEN: Kickoff: 8:32 p.m.
TV: ESPN (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Heather Cox)
CLEMSON RADIO NETWORK: (Don Munson,Rodney Williams,Patrick Sapp)
ESPN RADIO: (Mike Tirico, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe)

*When #1 Clemson faces #2 Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship on January 11 it will be Clemson’s first appearance in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game. This will be the first time this year there has been a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game, the first time since the championship game at the end of the 2013 season.

WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL

I’m sure you’ve heard the name Derrick Henry. Alabama’s talented running back won the Heisman Trophy and is a workhorse back who makes his living breaking tackles. Henry has carried the ball 359 times for 2,061 yards – a 5.7 yards per carry clip – and 25 touchdowns. Henry averages 147.2 yards per game on the ground. The Tide back shattered the SEC single-season rushing record previously held by Herschel Walker (1,891). Quarterback Jacob Coker has been better than average of late - over his last 10 games, Coker is completing 73.1 percent (179-for-245) of his passes for 1,703 yards and nine touchdowns compared to four interceptions. His 286 yards in the Cotton Bowl Classic were a career-high mark for the quarterback, eclipsing his previous mark of 263 against Arkansas on Oct. 10, 2015. In his most recent contest against Michigan State, he set career-highs for completions with 25 and yards, throwing for 286 total.

Coker’s top target is Calvin Ridley, who has 83 receptions for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns.

The key for Clemson, however, is stopping Henry and making Coker win the game through the air. The Tigers have been – for the most part – stellar against good running backs, but Henry runs behind arguably the nation’s best offensive line and is hard to bring down with the first hit. Defensive end Shaq Lawson hurt his MCL against Oklahoma and his status is up in the air – can he play enough to keep Alabama honest? Reserve end Austin Bryant is undersized (weight) and could get pushed around by the offensive line. Can he do enough to set the edge if Lawson can’t go?

I like the matchup through the air – stop Henry and you stop Bama.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL

When Alabama’s defense is on the field against the Clemson offense, two of the nation’s best units will be on the field.

The Tigers are led by standout quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson broke the ACC record for total offense in a season in the Orange Bowl. He had 187 yards passing and 145 rushing for 332 yards total and now has 4731 for the season. The rushing yardage total was an Orange Bowl record, breaking the 127 gained by Tajh Boyd for Clemson against Ohio State in 2013. Watson broke the ACC total offense mark of 4600 yards set by Phillip Rivers of NC State in 2003.

Watson also broke the Clemson total offense record in the win over Oklahoma. Tajh Boyd had that mark with 4410 yards in 2012, Watson has 3699 yards passing and 1032 rushing for his 4731 this year, an average of 338 yards per game. If Watson gets 301 passing yards against Alabama he will become the first player in FBS history with 4000 yards passing and 1000 yards rushing in a season.

Superlative running back Wayne Gallman is also on a tear – he has had at least 100 yards rushing in three straight games. In wins over South Carolina, North Carolina and Oklahoma, Gallman has averaged 146.3 yards per game. It is the third time this year he has had a streak of three straight 100-yard rushing games. His nine 100-yard rushing games are a record for a single season.

However, Alabama’s defense isn’t just good against the run, they’re downright stingy. Alabama has given up just 991 rushing yards this season on 430 carries. That’s an average of 2.30 yards per carry, the best mark in the nation. In their last two games, opponents have rushed 47 times for 44 yards.

The key for Clemson? Staying with the run and keeping the defense honest. The Tigers can have success running to the outside and we might see more of the fly sweep than we’ve seen in recent weeks. Watson also needs to have success on the ground, hopefully drawing the safeties and linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

SPECIAL TEAMS

Cyrus Jones has returned 41 punts for a total of 518 yards for an average of 12.6 yards per return with a 57-yard return against Michigan State, a 69-yard touchdown at Mississippi State and 43- and 72-yard returns against Charleston Southern. The four returns for a touchdown is a single season Alabama record. Kenyan Drake isn’t quite as dangerous on kickoff returns, but is still averaging over 22 yards per return. Field goal kicker Adam Griffith is 22-of-30 this season with a long of 55 yards, and punter JK Scott is averaging over 44 yards per punt. Griffith has 51 touchbacks in 93 attempts.

Clemson has been better in recent weeks, and kicker Greg Huegel handled the kickoffs and extra points against Oklahoma and was outstanding. Andy Teasdall has gotten better in the punt game, and the Tigers even had a trick play that set up the Tigers’ first touchdown against the Sooners.

However, the return game has been non-existent and that’s where the Tide have the edge.

ADVANTAGE: ALABAMA

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

If you’ve listened to ESPN all week, you know that this Alabama team would beat the 1985 Chicago Bears by 11 touchdowns and do it with their third string. There’s no doubt, this group is really good and that defense is salty. These Tigers understand they’re not supposed to be here and they get it that no one expects them to win. It’s the same story they’ve heard all season.

Oklahoma was supposed to run all over them. Oklahoma got run over.

This Clemson team is 14-0 for a reason. They’re also very good. This one will be tight. It will be physical. It will come down to the wire. But Clemson has Watson and a team that plays with a chip on its shoulder. There are doubters everywhere, but this group thrives on that doubt.

Watson will be good enough and the defense will make enough plays. Special teams will be good enough. It’s the Dust Up in the Desert, and when the dust settles there can be only one.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 27, ALABAMA 23


GUEST PREDICTIONS
Mickey Plyler - 6AM-9AM EST on WCCP 105.5FM - 27-23 Clemson

Tony Crumpton - Associate Editor - 31-28 Clemson

Nikki Hood - TigerNet Writer - 28-20 Clemson

Pigskin Prophet - 24-19 Clemson


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