Alabama and Clemson, Part IV is set for Jan. 7.
The Crimson Tide are going for their third national title in the five year history of the College Football Playoff, and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence looks to become the first true freshman quarterback to win the national championship since Jamelle Holieway and Oklahoma went 11-1 and beat Penn State in the Orange Bowl in the 1985 season.
Before the game, here are three key points that will decide the game, along with a predicted score:
1. The Tigers need to nix the turnovers
Alabama’s closest game this year came against Georgia in the SEC championship. And what did the Bulldogs do best against the Tide? They forced two turnovers and had zero of their own.
If it can get in a rhythm, Alabama’s offense is virtually unstoppable. Just ask Oklahoma, which found itself in a 28-0 hole with less than two minutes played in the second quarter.
Giving that unit extra chances is just asking to be put out to pasture. The Crimson Tide defense averaged 1.5 turnovers per game this season — a fairly middle-of-the-road level — but they don’t need many to make all the difference.
2. Can Clemson bother Tua?
Another key factor from that Georgia game: Tua had his worst outing of the year, going 10-for-25 for 164 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. It was the only time this season where he completed fewer than 54.5 percent of his passes, and his 92.3 rating was the only time he had a rating under 200. And obviously Tua was injured multiple times throughout the game and left early in the fourth quarter, but the sophomore threw two of his four interceptions this season in that game.
With Clemson’s deadly pass rush, he’ll be bothered early and often. If the Tigers can keep the pressure on, life will be a lot harder for Alabama. The Tigers had six sacks and eight tackles for a loss against Notre Dame. But the Crimson Tide has only allowed 13 sacks this season — less than one per game. Which side falters will be a deciding factor in Santa Clara.
3. Alabama's decision: Lawrence or Etienne?
Before the final three games of the season, opposing defenses were usually able to keep one of the two at bay. Lawrence threw for 200 yards six times this season, and Etienne rushed for 100 eight times, but there were only two games in which each happened. The Tigers won by more than 20 in both of those games.
Alabama has the 20th-best rush defense and the 23rd-best pass defense this year, so containing one of the two should be very possible, but trying to key in on both could open some big holes for Clemson to exploit.
When Tua Tagovailoa is fully healthy, there isn’t a defense in the country that can contain him or the absurd depth at wide receiver the Crimson Tide boasts. Clemson will put up a fight early, but Alabama will gain separation down the stretch.
SCORE PREDICTION: Alabama 35, Clemson 23