Welcome to a second championship game between SEC schools.
Alabama swarmed Clemson in the second half of the Sugar Bowl on Monday night to down the No. 1 Tigers 24-6 and advance to play Georgia in the National Championship Game on Jan. 8.
The 2018 College Football Playoff, featuring Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama, was the first time two teams from the same conference had made the four-team field. And wins by both the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide mean the conference is guaranteed a ninth national champion in the past 12 seasons.
LSU and Alabama met in the BCS Championship Game after the 2011 season. Alabama, which didn’t win its division thanks to a regular-season loss to the Tigers, won that game 21-0. Dating back to 1998, the first year of the BCS, the SEC is the only conference to have two teams play each other for the title.
It’ll be a third-straight national title appearance for the Crimson Tide and sixth in eight years. Nick Saban’s teams have won four of those five previous appearances. The only loss came a year ago in an epic game vs. the Tigers.
Alabama was chosen over Ohio State for the fourth and final playoff spot in the College Football Playoff. The Tide, at 11-1, got the edge over an 11-2 Ohio State team largely because of the Buckeyes’ loss at 7-5 Iowa. While Ohio State won the Big Ten East and defeated previously unbeaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, Alabama made the playoff thanks to one fewer loss.
With hindsight being 20/20, the decision by the playoff committee looks pretty good. The Buckeyes handled USC in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29, but Alabama’s defensive blitz in the second half Monday night was vintage Crimson Tide.
Defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne was a key catalyst. Trailing 10-6 in the third quarter, Clemson was driving to take a potential 13-6 lead. But Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was hit as he threw the ball and his pass fluttered into Payne’s hands.
Alabama drove close to the goal line on its ensuing offensive drive and inserted Payne into the game as a fullback. Thanks to a little help on a very good block that might have also been offensive pass interference, Payne snuck out of the backfield and into the end zone where he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Alabama defensive back Mack Wilson caught a deflected Clemson pass and raced into the end zone for a 24-6 lead. Defensive players for the Tide had scored touchdowns just 13 seconds apart.
After Alabama made the playoff over Ohio State, Nick Saban noted that his defense — which had suffered a bunch of injuries since Week 1 — would hopefully be healthier by the time his team’s third playoff game in three seasons against Clemson rolled around.
Yeah, Alabama’s defense looked pretty fresh. Bryant, who had played with poise throughout his first season as Clemson’s starting quarterback, was flushed and flustered by Alabama’s relentless pass rush. He didn’t get much help from Clemson’s running game, which averaged less than two yards a carry.
The Tigers had just 188 yards of offense. The ACC champions finish the season 12-2.
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