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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | December 30, 2018

Alabama-Clemson preview: How the two national championship teams match up statistically

Alabama heads to the national title game for the fourth straight year

After decisive semifinal wins, Alabama and Clemson are both back in the College Football Playoff national championship, matched up in the title game for the third time in four years.

MORE: National Championship Game date, time, TV channel

Ahead of the game, let's take a look at the tale of the tape for the main skill positions, defense, and special teams:

MORE: Alabama-Clemson series history

Starting quarterback

Trevor Lawrence is having a phenomenal true freshman season for Clemson, but it’s hard for anyone to compare to Tua Tagovailoa, who has put together one of the best seasons at quarterback in Alabama history.

  Clemson's Trevor Lawrence Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa
CMP 239 223
ATT 366 321
PCT 65.3 69.5
YDS 2933 3671
Y/A 8 11.4
TD 27 41
INT 4 4
RATE 154.8 205.2
RUSH ATT 54 53
RUSH YDS 157 199
RUSH AVG 2.9 3.8
RUSH TD 1 5

Backup quarterback

Both teams had a tough decision to make this season about who would start under center. For Alabama, last year’s starting quarterback Jalen Hurts was replaced by Tagovailoa, but Hurts has been an amazing backup for the Crimson Tide, leading a comeback win against Georgia in the SEC championship. Last year’s starter for Clemson, Kelly Bryant, lost the job to Lawrence and decided to transfer, leaving Chase Brice as the Tigers’ lone backup with any significant experience. 

  Clemson's Chase Brice Alabama's Jalen Hurts
CMP 32 51
ATT 51 68
PCT 62.7 75
YDS 442 765
Y/A 8.7 11.3
TD 5 8
INT 3 2
RATE 156.1 202.4
RUSH ATT 15 35
RUSH YDS 94 171
RUSH AVG 6.3 4.9
RUSH TD 0 2

MORE: College football national championship history

Top running back

This one is a bit misleading, since Alabama has three separate players with more than 100 rush attempts on the season. Joshua Jacobs has 593 yards and 11 touchdowns on 109 attempts, while Najee Harris has 724 yards and four touchdowns on 108 attempts, but Damien Harris leads the way for the Crimson Tide. Clemson has approached the run game much differently, giving Travis Etienne more touches than his top two backups combined, a choice that is easier to make when your top back racked up 1,500 yards on the season.

  Clemson's Travis Etienne Alabama's Damien Harris
RUSH ATT 190 139
RUSH YDS 1573 819
RUSH AVG 8.3 5.9
RUSH TD 22 9
REC 11 20
REC YDS 73 201
REC AVG 6.6 10.1
REC TD 1 0

Top receiver

Sitting behind Calvin Ridley in a more run-heavy offense last year, Jerry Jeudy didn’t get too many opportunities to shine. But with Tagovailoa slinging the ball this year, Jeudy has exploded in his sophomore campaign. And he’s not alone. The Crimson Tide actually have five players with more than 600 receiving yards this year, the first time they’ve had more than three in the Saban era.

  Clemson's Tee Higgins Alabama's Jerry Jeudy
REC 56 63
YDS 855 1176
AVG 15.3 18.7
TD 11 13

Defense

Only Mississippi State has held its opponents to fewer points per game than Clemson this year, though that was in two fewer games. And even without Dexter Lawrence against Notre Dame, the Tigers were a force, recording two turnovers, six sacks, and holding Notre Dame to 248 total yards and a conversion rate of 5-for-17 on third downs. Alabama isn’t anything to sneeze at either, as the Crimson Tide held Oklahoma to 14 points under its season average.

  Clemson Alabama
YDS/G 280.7 308.7
PTS/G 12.9 16.2
FR 10 7
INT 12 14

Kickers

Clemson’s Greg Huegel was perfect on extra points heading into the College Football Playoff, but had his first attempt blocked at the line, making him an unreal 71 for 72 on the year. Neither kicker has made a field goal longer than 49 yards in their careers.

  Clemson's Greg Huegel Alabama's Joseph Bulovas
XPM 71 74
XPA 72 79
XP% 98.6 93.7
FGM 10 13
FGA 15 17
FG% 66.7 76.5
LONG 49 49