Alabama is heading to another national championship game in college football, and the Crimson Tide now know exactly who they are.
Monday night's 24-6 trampling of top-ranked Clemson in the Sugar Bowl was a dominating performance and an about-face from a mediocre November in which Alabama had to rally past Mississippi State and suffered a 26-14 defeat at Auburn. The Iron Bowl loss eliminated the Tide from the Southeastern Conference's Western Division chase, but they put the extended time to use in New Orleans against the reigning national champion.
"This game was sort of about our identity as a team, and I don't think anybody can question the relentlessness, competitive attitude that we played with," Alabama coach Nick Saban said early Tuesday morning. "It was a warrior-like mentality, and it was certainly what we needed. There are things we could have done better, but I'm really proud of the way our guys competed, and I think that was the difference.
"We were able to affect their quarterback and stop the run, and we got off the field early on third down quite a bit."
The Tide held Clemson to 64 yards on 33 rushes, a 1.9-yard average. The Tigers managed 188 total yards, with junior quarterback Kelly Bryant sustaining two interceptions.
"It was hard early, and we couldn't really get into a rhythm," Bryant said. "It was pretty frustrating. We stuck together, but give credit to Alabama."
Said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: "They were the better team, no question about it. Alabama is the No. 1 scoring defense for a reason."
Saban was quick to credit defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt for an excellent game plan and added Tuesday afternoon during a teleconference that the only similar defensive showing of that magnitude he could recall was the 21-0 blanking of LSU in the BCS title game after the 2011 season. LSU didn't cross midfield that night until midway through the fourth quarter.
"This was a little bit personal for us," Saban said.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts admitted before the Sugar Bowl that it was personal for him, having kept images on his phone throughout 2017 from Clemson's 35-31 victory over the Tide last January.
"We had the mentality of, 'You don't remember the wins. You remember the losses,'" Hurts said. "I think we never forgot what happened, but we wanted to take it in as a learning experience and learn from it."
Across the sideline this Monday night, Saban will face former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who has raced out to a 21-6 mark during his first two seasons as Georgia's head coach. Alabama has been installed as a 4-point favorite, the 110th time in the last 111 games the Tide have been favored.
The exception was a 2015 trip to Athens, in which Alabama was a 1-point underdog and routed the Bulldogs 38-10, but this Georgia team is dramatically improved from that one largely due to Smart.
"He's a very bright guy, and he took over a program that has been very successful and was actually successful when he took over the program," Saban said. "He's done a great job of taking it to the next level."
In its first two trips to the title game of the four-team playoff, Alabama had more than a week between its semifinal victory and the championship. This time around the gap is exactly one week, and Saban said Tuesday afternoon that he is not fond of the faster turnaround.
"It's very difficult to come from a bowl game and just have seven days to prepare," he said. "They're coming from the West Coast, and we're coming from New Orleans. Then we've got to be someplace else on Friday.
"Somebody has got to think about the players a little bit when it comes to these games and not just what's convenient for the media or TV or whatever."
Enduring the wrath
Saban was caught on camera several times from 2014 to 2016 shouting at former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, and he was caught Monday night letting first-year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll have it.
"I wanted to take the air out of the ball and shrink the clock," Saban said, "and we threw a couple of passes back-to-back that turned out to be negative plays."
Redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings left the Sugar Bowl with a sprained knee and was evaluated Tuesday in Birmingham, but Saban did not have an update on his status for Monday's game. ... Senior inside linebacker Rashaan Evans and senior punter JK Scott appeared in their sixth College Football Playoff games Monday night, and they are the only players to play in all six since the playoff's inception in 2014. ... Alabama's average lead after the first quarter this season is 11-2, and its average halftime lead is 21-4.
This article is written by David Paschall from Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.