Alabama steamrolls Michigan State 38-0 in Cotton Bowl

ARLINGTON, Texas – The only team to make a repeat trip to the College Football Playoff is heading to the title game.

Alabama flattened Michigan State 38-0 Thursday night in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl to set up a showdown with Clemson for the national championship on Jan. 11. It's the first shutout in over 50 years at the Cotton Bowl. The last team to shut out another was when LSU beat Texas 13-0 in 1963.

Thanks to a late second-quarter interception from Michigan State QB Connor Cook, Alabama headed into the halftime locker room with a comfortable 10-0 lead. Comfortable turned to insurmountable over the third quarter, as the Tide scored 21 points to snuff out any Michigan State hopes of a comeback.

Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones made the lead 24-0 on a 57-yard punt return with 3:19 to go in the quarter. The Spartans responded with a three-and-out and rather than give the ball to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, Alabama and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin went up and over the Michigan State defense on the first play.

It worked. QB Jacob Coker found WR Calvin Ridley for a 50-yard touchdown in single coverage to make the lead 31-0. The toss was the second time Coker and Ridley connected for a touchdown. Coker found him for a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter, a pass originally ruled incomplete. Upon review, it was apparent Ridley got a foot down in the end zone as he had wrestled the ball away from the Michigan State defender.

Coker finished the game 25-of-30 passing for 286 yards. It was easily his best performance of the season. Michigan State was hellbent on stopping Henry on the ground. And, for the most part, it did just that as Henry had 20 carries for 75 yards. But Coker found his receivers outside and over the Alabama defense time after time.

That comfortable 10-0 halftime lead could and should have been 10-3 or 10-7. After two great throws to put MSU to the Alabama 12 as the seconds wound down in the second quarter, Cook threw his next pass directly to Jones, who caught the ball at the Alabama 1 and returned it 21 yards. It soon became clear that the drive was Michigan State's last chance to assert itself as a contender for the game.

Still, there were likely some fretful Alabama fans at halftime. During the Sugar Bowl in last season's College Football Playoff semifinal, the Tide saw a 21-6 lead evaporate against another Big Ten team. Ohio State came back to win the game 42-35 and prevented Alabama from a trip to AT&T Stadium, where Thursday's Cotton Bowl was played, for the title.

But the third quarter proved there would be no title game denial Thursday night. And the Tide's win sets up a matchup between the CFP's top two teams, and possibly the best two defensive lines in college football. Alabama's defense smothered Michigan State's rushing attack and didn't give Cook any time to throw while Clemson wreaked havoc with Oklahoma's offensive line earlier in the day in the Orange Bowl.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!