What to pay attention to in the 2017 National Championship Game

The moment we’ve been waiting for is finally here!! Tonight, the Alabama Crimson Tide will face the Clemson Tigers for all the marbles.

What can we expect from this matchup? Here is a list of stats, observations, and things to pay attention to in the 2017 National Championship Game.

  • Expect Alabama’s offense to come out firing on all cylinders after a lackluster showing against Washington.
  • With that said, the Crimson Tide will have their hands full with the Clemson defense. The Tiger D is one of the top units in the country, ranking 19th nationally in run defense, 16th in passing defense, 7th in scoring defense, and 4th in yards per play. It also turned in a stellar effort against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, limiting the Buckeyes to a season-low 215 yards with a paltry 3.84 yards per play.
  • More importantly, Clemson recorded a shutout. That’s the first time that an Urban Meyer coached team failed to score.
  • On the other hand, Alabama’s running game has been at its best against ranked opponents this year. In five contests versus ranked foes, the Tide has run for an average of 232.8 yards per game. That includes a 269-yard effort against Washington, which ranks fifth nationally in yards per play.
  • However, it’s worth noting that Clemson limited Alabama to just 3.0 yards per carry last season. Given that the Tigers ranked second nationally in tackles for loss, it’s safe to say that the Tide will have to throw the ball effectively to win this contest.
  • That’s where things will really get interesting. Clemson’s secondary is one of the top units in the nation, ranking sixth in interceptions and eighth in passes defensed. Yet, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is an extremely accurate passer, completing 64.7% of his throws. As long as he has time to throw, he’s perfectly capable of picking apart any secondary.
  • But, will that happen? Clemson’s pass rush finished third in the nation with 49 sacks. While Alabama’s pass protection has been more than adequate this fall, it is still giving up an average of 1.71 sacks per game. This is definitely an individual matchup to keep an eye on.
  • I don’t know that there’s a more intriguing matchup than Deshaun Watson versus the Alabama defense. Watson is arguably the best quarterback in the nation, completing 67.3% of his throws (8th) for 4,173 yards (6th) for 38 touchdowns (6th). He’s taken his play to another level against ranked opponents this season, throwing for an average of 343.2 yards per game in six contests versus top 25 foes.
  • He also has an amazing 31-3 record as a starter. One of those losses was a 28-6 defeat against Georgia Tech when Watson led the Tigers to an early lead before exiting with an injury.
  • Of course, Alabama’s defense has proven time and again that it’s the best in the country this year. The Tide D leads the nation in scoring defense, rushing defense, and yards per play. It also knows how to score points, as it scored 11 touchdowns this season (5 fumble recoveries for a touchdown, 6 interception returns for a touchdown).
  • While those numbers are impressive, what really stands out about Alabama’s defense is how well it played against Washington. Facing a Husky offense that came into the game ranked in the top 10 in yards per play, the Tide D turned in another great outing, limiting UW to 194 yards and a paltry 2.9 yards per play. Alabama’s D was so dominant during that contest that many people turned the game off after Ryan Anderson’s pick six, because they felt like a 10-point lead was insurmountable.
  • How will the matchup between Watson and the Tide D play out this season? It’s tough to say. Watson certainly got the upper hand last year, throwing for 405 yards and adding another 73 on the ground. However, this year’s Alabama defense is much better than last year’s was. In addition to the numbers listed above the Tide D ranks 14th nationally in passing defense, 14th in interceptions, and second in sacks.
  • To keep the Tide defense honest, Clemson will have to run the ball effectively. That could be a problem against an Alabama defense that’s only allowed two teams (Ole Miss and Texas A&M) to crack the century mark this season.
  • Yet, that was the case heading into last year’s game as well. Clemson ran for 145 yards against the Tide D, which was the second highest total it allowed last season.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.