Countdown to kickoff: Sugar Bowl

Countdown to kickoff: Sugar Bowl

Football

Countdown to kickoff: Sugar Bowl

For third straight year Tigers and Tide meet in the College Football Playoff

NEW ORLEANS — Top-ranked Clemson will play No. 4 Alabama in the College Football Playoff at the Sugar Bowl Monday at the Superdome in New Orleans.

This is the third straight year Clemson and Alabama will meet with a lot on the line. The last two years, the two college football powers have played for the national championship. This year they will play for the opportunity to advance to another national championship game.

Here is all you need to know about the third meeting between the two.

Game information:

Where: Superdome, New Orleans

Records: Clemson 12-1, Alabama 11-1

When: Monday, 8:45 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 105.5 in the Upstate (Clemson Tigers Radio Network); Sirius XM Radio Ch. 84

Latest Line: Alabama favored by 3 points

Series: Alabama leads series 13-4

First meeting: 1900, Clemson won 35-0

Last meeting: Clemson won 35-31 in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Injury Report:  Out for Season: Richard Yeargin, DE, Neck; Logan Rudolph, DE, Shoulder; Cole Renfrow, TE, Knee; Greg Huegel, PK, Knee. Out this Game: Judah Davis, LB, Knee. Alabama: Out this game: Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, patella; Dylan Moses, LB, foot; Hootie Jones, DB, knee. Will play: LaBryan Ray, DL.

Three story lines

The winner of the game will advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 8 in Atlanta. The winner will play the winner of the Georgia and Oklahoma game from the Rose Bowl semifinal.

How will Kelly Bryant handle the pressure of playing on the big stage? Former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson thrived on the big stage during his Clemson career and played Alabama as well as any quarterback ever has against a Nick Saban defense. Bryant is 12-1 as a starter and led the Tigers to tough road wins over Louisville and Virginia Tech. He also led Clemson to a win over Auburn in Week 2 and was the MVP of the ACC Championship Game against Miami.

How will all the injuries on defense affect Alabama? The Tide will be without linebackers Shaun Dion Hamilton and Dylan Moses as well as defensive back Hootie Jones. Linebackers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are both back, but they have not played a full game since the season opener against Florida State. How will they respond in what should be a physical game?

Alabama players to watch

Minkah, Fitzpatrick, Safety: Fitzpatrick is in second place on the Alabama career interception return yards list. Fitzpatrick has 274 career return yards on nine total interceptions (30.4 ypr). Fitzpatrick already holds the career (4) and single-season (2) interception returns for touchdown records and longest interception return record (100 yards vs. Arkansas in 2016). Eddie Jackson (2013-16) is the UA career return yards leader with 303 yards on nine interceptions.

Raekwon Davis, DE: Davis recorded five tackles against Auburn on Nov. 25, giving him 28 stops in his last four games. The sophomore had a career-high nine tackles in back-to-back games against LSU on Nov. 4 and Mississippi State on Nov. 11. The 28 stops in the last four games gives the Meridian, Miss., native 59 for the season, which ranks second on the team and is tops among all defensive linemen in that category. Davis also leads the Tide in sacks with 6.5 (-30) and is second in tackles for loss with 7.0 (-31 yards). The performance against the Tigers continues a hot streak that began with the Ole Miss game on Sept. 30 as Davis has recorded 46 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss over the last eight games.

Damien Harris, RB:  Though he does not yet have enough career attempts to qualify for the SEC career yards per carry list (minimum 400 attempts), Damien Harris’ 7.0 yards per carry average ranks with the conference career leaders at the 300-carry mark. Harris’ current average over his first 302 career carries equals SEC career leader Bo Jackson of Auburn, who averaged 7.0 yards over his first 305 collegiate attempts.

Jalen Hurts, QB: Hurts has rushed for 768 yards through 12 games this season to move into third place on the Alabama single-season quarterback rushing list. Hurts already holds the school record after rushing for 954 yards as a freshman in 2016. That performance broke Steadman’s Shealy’s 37-year-old school record of 791 yards, set in 1979. Jalen Hurts’ 15 touchdown passes this season gives the sophomore 38 scoring tosses in his 27-game career, the fifth-most in Alabama history. He has thrown just one interception this season.

Alabama scouting report

Alabama enters the College Football Playoff as the only team in the country ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense (first), scoring offense (12th), rushing defense (third), rushing offense (10th), total defense (second), total offense (20th), pass efficiency defense (second) and passing efficiency (seventh). The Crimson Tide is outscoring its opponents by a margin of 27.6 points per game (39.1-11.5), outrushing the opposition by 171.2 yards per game (265.3-94.1) and has a total offense advantage of 207.8 yards per game (465.4-257.6).

Alabama leads the SEC and is tied for seventh nationally in turnover margin at +1.00. The Crimson Tide is tied for the national lead in the fewest turnovers this season with eight (six fumbles, two INTs) and is tied for second in the league with 20 takeaways for a plus-12 turnover margin in 12 games in 2017. The Auburn game on Nov. 25 was the 11th game this season Alabama created at least one turnover. Alabama has now forced one or more turnovers in 40 of its last 42 games dating to the start of the 2015 season.

Alabama is one of the most efficient teams in the nation at both throwing the football on offense and defending the pass on defense. The Crimson Tide rank second nationally in team passing efficiency defense (98.9), having allowed just seven passing touchdowns with 15 interceptions and a 54.6 completion percentage, while the 163.7 yards allowed per game is the seventh fewest in the nation. On the offense side of the football, the Alabama passing game is completing 62.0 percent of its passes for 200.1 yards per game with 23 touchdowns and just two interceptions for an efficiency rating of 161.08 that is seventh nationally and second in the SEC.

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