The third act in this trilogy of games belonged to Alabama as the Crimson Tide got some measure of revenge for the National Championship game loss a year ago. The 24-6 win was a fair reflection of a one-sided affair. Here is the Bama report card:
Rushing Offense: C
This was not a game that Alabama won with its offense. The running game was okay against Clemson but no better than that. The Crimson Tide as a team rushed for 141 yards on 42 carries as the Tigers defense did a good job of stopping the game-breaking runs that Alabama loves to find with its attrition based running game.
It was telling that only three players had carries in this game. Damien Harris was the workhorse back, rushing for 77 yards on 19 carries. Jalen Hurts did his thing, scrambling when plays broke down and using designed runs to scamper for 40 yards on 11 carries. Bo Scarbrough though was far less effective than he was in one half of the 2017 showpiece game, rushing for just 24 yards on 12 carries.
Against Georgia, this unit will have to be better. Against Clemson though, they did enough to complement a defense that was playing lights out football.
Passing Offense: B-
The Alabama passing offense did exactly what was needed in this game. Even if what was needed was a one-yard touchdown pass to a 308-pound defensive lineman.
Hurts was solidly efficient through the air, passing for 120 yards and a couple of touchdowns on 16-of-24 passing. There was a long of passing at – or even behind – the line of scrimmage, those long handoff type plays that are almost guaranteed completions with little risk of disaster. It would have been nice to see the ball moved down the field more, but Nick Saban knew that his defense was playing well enough to keep Clemson in check. Alabama simply didn’t need to be anything more than efficient.
The Hurts pass to Da’Ron Payne was one that the Crimson Tide had clearly worked on a lot during the massive gap between their last game and this. That Payne got to touch his toes inbounds – just like an actual wide receiver – only added to the sight of him scoring one of the most important “big man” touchdowns in this history of Alabama football.
Rushing Defense: A
The Alabama rushing defense was not the most eye-popping of the two defensive units on Monday night, but their dedication to task was the reason that Clemson never got started on offense.
The Crimson Tide held a team that averaged almost 450 yards of offense per game over their previous 13 outings to just 188 yards. They held a rushing attack that had torn through the ACC to just 64 total yards at an average of 1.9 yards per carry.
Clemson thought that they might have a shot in this game because of the issues Alabama has had with dual-threat passers in recent years. That ended on this night as the electric Kelly Bryant was held to 19 yards on 19 carries (when sacks are taken into account). Bryant could not get started against an Alabama defense that ran down every scramble and closed every rushing lane.
Passing Defense: A
As good as the rushing defense was – and it was very good – it was the Alabama passing defense that took over this game.
Clemson had exactly one sustained drive all night and that came with under six minutes to play in the final quarter with the contest already decided. Even then Clemson couldn’t finish, with the Alabama defense tightening and forcing a turnover on downs with goal to go.
The game though was owned by the ‘Bama passing defense. Each of the five sacks delivered to Bryant felt important. The pressure was getting to the Clemson passer and when he threw an interception to Payne – while being hit – it was almost no surprise. Alabama turned the outstanding field position into Payne’s touchdown.
Bryant’s next pass sealed the game in Alabama’s favor when he tossed another interception. His intended target Deon Cain was crushed on contact with the ball and linebacker Mack Wilson returned the looping gift 18 yards for a score. Clemson was never going to rally from 18 points down against this defense.
Special Teams: C
It was just an average day at the Alabama special teams units against Clemson. Kicker Andy Pappanastos was 1-of-2 on his field goal tries, making a 24-yard attempt, but his miss mattered little in the end. There were no major issues with the punt or kick return teams, but there was also little to get excited about with either unit.
Perhaps the biggest special teams performance of the day was from punter JK Scott. Scott kicked the ball six times for 213 yards and he was a big factor in maintaining Alabama’s field position edge. Scott was not often tasked with kicking the ball huge distances to get Alabama out of trouble; it was more a case of keeping Clemson on the back foot.
You cannot give Nick Saban a month to prepare for a game and expect to beat Alabama. This was a defensive masterclass of the highest order as Saban and his charges took Bryant out of the game as a factor early on. The pressure that Alabama forced onto Clemson was turned up and up throughout the first half and it was no shock when the Crimson Tide then scored 14 points in less than half a minute to ice the Tigers.
Saban also gets points here for his ability to motivate. He somehow took a single loss late in the season to an outstanding Auburn team – on the road in a rivalry game no less – and turned it into a picture where Alabama was suddenly the underdogs. This is the same Alabama team that has dominated college football for the past decade. It was a masterstroke and once again proved Saban is the best in the world at what he does.