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David Paschall | Chattanooga Times Free Press | January 3, 2019

CFP national championship: Alabama defense prepares for one more test against Clemson

Alabama and Clemson to resume college football's biggest playoff rivalry

The hardest hit during last Saturday night's Orange Bowl wasn't administered by Alabama junior inside linebacker Mack Wilson but endured by him.

MORE: CFP final: How Alabama, Clemson match up statistically

While chasing Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray out of the pocket, Wilson never saw receiver CeeDee Lamb coming in for a block and was quickly taken off his feet and fell to the turf. The 6-foot-2, 239-pound Wilson was able to finish the Crimson Tide's 45-34 victory that has placed them in Monday night's championship game of the College Football Playoff against Clemson in a matchup of 14-0 teams in Santa Clara, California.

"That was a good block," Wilson said this week in a news conference, "but if that was me doing the blocking, the other person would have never gotten up. I bounced right back."

Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Christian Miller wasn't as fortunate, sustaining a hamstring injury that has left him questionable for the title showdown. The 6-4, 244-pound Miller is third on the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and second with 8.5 sacks.

Alabama held its second of four on-campus workouts Wednesday for Monday's matchup, with Miller fully dressed for the practice but working off to the side during the portion open to the media.

"Christian is a guy who doesn't get enough recognition, but he's hard to block coming off the edge and has made a lot of plays for us," Wilson said. "Hopefully he'll be able to come back and play in this game."

MORE: Alabama-Clemson: All-time history and meetings

Said redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Quinnen Williams: "He means a lot to us. He's great on pass rush and setting the edge in general. I'm praying he gets healthy."

As Alabama enters its fourth consecutive appearance in the CFP title game, it's easy to forget the Tide entered the 2018 season with eight new starters on defense. They also have played all season without junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis and for most of the season without junior cornerback Trevon Diggs.

The Tide have displayed plenty of dominance defensively this season, shutting out LSU, 29-0, and Mississippi State, 24-0, on consecutive Saturdays in early November, but there also have been youthful reminders. Alabama gave up 31 points at Arkansas in early October and had plenty of turbulent moments versus Georgia in last month's Southeastern Conference championship game and again in the Orange Bowl.

MORE: College football national championship history

Alabama beat Georgia and Oklahoma despite allowing a combined 925 yards, though the Bulldogs and especially the Sooners had stellar offenses this season.

"I know we had a lot of questions coming into the year about how good we would be and how well we would play and who we lost and who we didn't have, but we felt like we had the guys to get the job done from the start," sophomore safety Xavier McKinney said. "I feel like we've worked hard all year and that we have tried to prove everybody wrong who kind of doubted us and still doubt us.

"We just keep going, and we're going to keep working hard and keep improving from here."

Now the Tide must face Clemson, which may not have the offensive pizzazz of the Sooners but is more complete due to its defense.

MORE: National Championship Game date, time, TV channel

That isn't to sell the Tigers short offensively, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence having thrown for 2,933 yards with 27 touchdowns and four interceptions and with running back Travis Etienne having amassed 1,572 yards while averaging 8.2 yards per carry this season. Lawrence has the luxury of a receiving corps that has dynamic talents such as Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross and also a reliable veteran in Hunter Renfrow.

"There is not much of a difference," Wilson said when asked about Clemson and Oklahoma. "They're both among the four best teams in the country, and we've still got to go out and play Bama football. Oklahoma may have a more elusive quarterback than Clemson does, but that's about the only difference I see."

Williams, Wilson and redshirt junior safety Deionte Thompson will be among Alabama's defensive players who will have to decide after Monday's game whether they are ready to enter the NFL draft. It's an annual dilemma facing college football's most dominant program of the last decade, and it's not much of a topic for discussion now.

"I'm not really thinking about that decision," Williams said. "I just want to dominate in this game. I want another ring. Those rings look good."

MORE: 3 stats tell us who will win the College Football Playoff

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 legal@newscred.com.

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