Thoughts, Observations, and Stats to Watch For in The National Championship Game

The day we’ve been waiting for is finally here. College football will finally crown its national champion: Alabama or Clemson.

So, which team will win? While I won’t answer that until the very end, here is a list of thoughts, observations, and stats to pay attention to in tonight’s contest.

  • The defenses will dominate. Alabama is second nationally in total defense (256.8 ypg), with Clemson finishing just behind them at number six (301.6 ypg).
  • Exactly how good is the Crimson Tide defense? Pretty darn good by looking at the stat sheet. Alabama’s defense leads the nation in scoring defense (13.4 ppg), rushing defense (70.79 ypg), and sacks (50). It has also raised its level of play against top competition, holding Leonard Fournette (the nation’s leading rusher) to just 31 yards on 19 carries.
  • The Tiger defense is also rock solid. Clemson’s D is second nationally in third-down conversion percentage (25.74%) and first in tackles for a loss (117). It comes into this contest off a solid effort against Oklahoma, when the Tigers held Oklahoma — which averages more rushing yards per game and yards per carry than Alabama — to a season-low 67 yards rushing.
  • Also worth noting: the defense compiled those stats without Shaq Lawson (23.5 TFL), who exited the game in the second series with an injury. That means even if — and it’s a big if — he can’t go, we should still expect the Tiger defensive line to get the job done.
  • Of course, Clemson’s biggest challenge will be stopping Derrick Henry. The Heisman Trophy winner has been absolutely awesome against top competition, averaging 149.6 yards per game, 5.2 yards per carry, and a total of 10 TDs in five games against ranked foes this season.
  • Alabama will need to establish the running game on early downs to avoid having to pass on third down. While Jake Coker has been extremely efficient on first and second down (over 70% completions), he’s completing only 58.8% of this throws on third down, with only 30 of his 57 completions going for first downs.
  • Clemson’s defense is allowing opponents to complete just 46.6% of their passes on third down, and is second nationally in third-down conversion percentage defense (25.74%).
  • The Tigers will have to mix things up in the running game (quarterback runs, read options, jet sweeps) to get the job done against Alabama’s stellar front seven, which held its opponents to a paltry 2.39 yards per carry this year. More impressively, the Tide defense has allowed only two teams (not running backs, but teams) to eclipse the century mark this season. Expect to see a lot of quarterback runs from Deshaun Watson, who is averaging almost 20 carries per game against ranked opponents (only 10 against unranked foes).
  • Although the run defense has been stellar, it’s the Alabama secondary that could make the difference in this contest. The Crimson Tide D ranks 11th nationally in interceptions (18), and third in pick-sixes (4). That’s just the type of thing that could make a difference in a close ball game.
  • Completely random stat: Clemson has not trailed by more than 7 points this season.
  • Overrated: Alabama’s experience factor in the national championship game. The Crimson Tide haven’t played for a national championship since January of 2013.
  • Underrated: Clemson’s record in the postseason in the last three years. During that time, the Tigers upset three top-10 teams: No. 9 LSU, No. 6 Ohio State, and No. 4 Oklahoma.
  • 4-0: Nick Saban’s record in the national championship game. It’s also Clemson’s record against teams that finished in the top 10 of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
  • Enough with the numbers, which team will win? TSS writer Mike Abelson makes the case for Alabama, while I provide five reasons why Clemson will win.

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.