On Monday night the last two National Champions meet once again to renew their rivalry. However, this time they are meeting in the semi-finals rather than for the title. When Alabama and Clemson face off in the Allstate Sugar Bowl they will be looking to pull off that rare sports feat: the great trilogy. Will it live up to the hype? Let’s look at the Alabama-Clemson Rubber Match.
The Alabama-Clemson Rubber Match
Great Sports Trilogies
Throughout the history of sports there have been some great trilogies. The three fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and the Triple Crown duel between Affirmed and Alydar always come to mind. Recently the NBA has given us three straight finals between Cleveland and Golden State. However, in college football two teams have never met like the Crimson Tide and Tigers with so much on the line in the postseason.
Only once in college football history have two clubs met three straight years in the postseason. From 1973-1975 USC and Ohio State met in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans won the first battle while the Buckeyes won the next season. In the 1975 game, behind quarterback Pat Haden, USC defeated Ohio State and Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin 18-17 in one of the best games in bowl history.
Looking At The Previous Two Meetings
Two years ago Alabama gave Nick Saban his fifth national title and fourth in Tuscaloosa with a win over Clemson. Trailing 24-21 entering the fourth quarter the Tide outscored Clemson 24-16 to win the game 45-40. Despite Deshaun Watson‘s historic performance of 478 total yards and four touchdowns Alabama was victorious in one of the best games in college football history.
Last season the two teams met again and fans everywhere said “no way they can top the first one.” Well they did just that and more as the Tigers returned the favor beating the Tide. Trailing 31-28 Watson hit Hunter Renfrow for a touchdown pass for the 35-31 win. In the process Clemson gave Dabo Swinney his first title and the school’s first since 1981.
How Alabama Got To New Orleans
The Tide finished the regular season 11-1 but were nowhere near as dominant as years past. A 26-14 late season loss to Auburn kept them out of the SEC title game for the first time since 2013. In fact there were many, especially in Columbus, who thought Alabama didn’t deserve a spot. Yet when the seeds came out they were number four.
Saban’s offense is once again led by quarterback Jalen Hurts. For the season Hurts has thrown for 2,005 yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception. In addition he has run for 768 yards and eight more scores.
Behind Hurts is junior running back Damien Harris. The Richmond, Kentucky native ran for 906 yards and 11 touchdowns. Harris also averages an incredible eight yards per carry. Alongside Harris is Bo Scarbrough who added 549 yards and eight touchdowns.
When Hurts throws the ball his main target is Calvin Ridley. For the season the junior has 55 receptions, four times more than the next Tide receiver. He also has recorded three touchdowns and 896 yards total. Another player to watch out for is Henry Ruggs III who has five touchdowns on seven catches in 2017.
Clemson’s Road To New Orleans
Swinney’s club lost a great deal off the title team including quarterback Watson, Wayne Gallman and Mike Williams. There were many who thought this would be a rebuilding year. However the Tigers simply reloaded and haven’t missed a step.
They ripped through the regular season with their only blemish a 27-24 loss at Syracuse on October 13th. Clemson regrouped and blitzed Miami 38-3 in the ACC Championship game to claim the top seed in the playoff.
Junior Kelly Bryant has stepped in and performed well filling the shoes of Watson. On the season Bryant threw for 2,678 yards and 13 touchdowns. Furthermore he has run for 646 yards and 11 more scores.
When Bryant looks to the air he has a 1-2 punch of junior receivers in Renfrow and Deon Cain. While his three touchdowns are down from 2016, Renfrow leads the team with 55 receptions. Cain has 52 catches and a team high six scores.
Who Wins The Sugar Bowl?
It’s prediction time in the Alabama-Clemson Rubber Match preview. There are so many intriguing match-ups coming into this game. One big one is going to be Renfrow versus Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Another is how well Hurts will fare against the nation’s sixth ranked defense. On the other side of the ball how will Bryant play in the biggest game of his career. Alabama is the nation’s toughest to score on giving up 11 points per contest. Interestingly, Clemson is second in the nation in scoring defense.
Third down conversions are going to be another key. In their last two losses to Clemson and Auburn the Crimson Tide have been horrible on third down. They went 2-for-15 in last year’s title game and 3-for-11 versus Auburn. Finding themselves consistently in third and long will make for a difficult evening for Alabama.
In the end Alabama-Clemson III will live up to the hype of the previous two. However, it will be more of a defensive battle. It is hard to pick against Saban in a big game and the Tide are the favorites despite being the four seed. This one goes down to the wire and Alabama marches on for a chance at another championship.
Alabama 28 Clemson 24
Thanks for Previewing The Rubber Match Between Alabama and Clemson with us at Last Word On College Football. What is your prediction on the game? Post your picks in the comment section below.
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