Tony Elliott laughed when he was asked if he thought Alabama was down this year.
“No,” Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator responded with a laugh. “I don’t think Alabama is down and if people are saying Alabama is down, then golly, they must not have watched the film we have watched over the last three years.
“It is just like where our program is and where we are trying to stay, they just reload.”
That’s why Alabama (11-1) is back in the College Football Playoff for a fourth consecutive year and why it is playing top-ranked Clemson for a third straight year. The Tigers and the No. 4 Tide have meet in the last two national championship games and this year they will meet in the semifinal round at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
On the defensive side of the ball, Alabama is first in the country in scoring defense (12.8 ppg.), second in total defense (257.8 ypg.), third in rushing defense (94.1 ypg.) and seventh in passing defense (163.7 ypg.).
Overall, the Crimson Tide defense is in the top 10 nationally in 11 different categories.
“You look at the guys they have inside, (Raekwon Davis) is 6-7 and 310 pounds. He is a monster,” Elliott said. “(Da’Ron) Payne is back and is as talented as ever. Then they plugged in some really talented young ends.
“It looks like (Rashaan Evans) is playing at a really high level and obviously Minkah (Fitzpatrick) won the award as the best DB in the country so they are definitely not down.”
Neither is Clemson’s offense.
The Tigers (12-1) are second in the ACC in scoring offense at 35.4 points per game, and like the past two years the offense is hitting its stride at the end of the season. In the last five games, Clemson has scored at least 31 points in every game.
Only Louisville and the Tigers are averaging at least 200 yards rushing and passing in the ACC.
“There are going to be some similar things that we do,” Elliott said. “Obviously, we are a little more balanced than we were last year. The last couple of years we really had to throw the ball to take advantage of the opportunities they are going to present.”
The key for Clemson, says Elliott, is to win the battle in the trenches. In both national championship games the Tigers did that and that’s why they have had the success that they have had.
“It is Alabama. They are the standard in college football,” the Clemson coach said. “They are very, very talented at all three levels. We are going to have to win the line of scrimmage.
“The (running) backs are going to have to run hard and get those dirty yards and Kelly (Bryant) is going to have to make those competitive throws.”
Clemson and Alabama will play in the Sugar Bowl (8:45 p.m.) on New Year’s Day in the New Orleans Superdome.