Alabama and Clemson have history with one another, even if it is recent. These 10 key numbers from this season and from the last two national championship games should play into the matchup at this year’s Sugar Bowl:
1. 44 sacks
Alabama has led the nation in sacks in the last two years, with 52 in 2015 and 54 in 2016. Now it’s Clemson’s turn. The Tigers have 44 sacks this season, the best mark in the country. Clemson’s defense has been in the top 10 in sacks for four straight years, with 45 in 2014, 48 in 2015 and 49 in 2016. Alabama’s sack output fell sharply this year after several players left for the NFL and many other players were injured. The Crimson Tide defense ranks 28th nationally with 31 sacks. Alabama’s offensive line has allowed 22 sacks this season, but gave up 11 of those against Auburn, Mississippi State and LSU down the stretch.
2. Third down battles
Clemson’s offense ranks 10th nationally on third downs, converting on 46.7 percent of attempts. Alabama ranks 21st nationally on third down defense, only allowing conversions 32.9 percent of the time. But Clemson’s offense has been trending higher toward the end of the season, converting 50.1 percent in the last four games. Alabama’s defense struggled on third downs late in the year, allowing 31 of 61 conversions in its last four games and 26 of 52 in its last three SEC games.
3. 184 plays
Clemson’s offense ran 184 plays against Alabama in the last two meetings, including 99 in last year’s national championship. The Crimson Tide offense ran 137 plays in the two games and was outgained in yardage, but the offensive efficiency of both teams was almost identical. Clemson averaged 6.1 yards per play on offense and Alabama averaged 6.2 yards per play.
4. Nos. 1 & 2
Alabama owns the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, allowing 11.5 points per game. Clemson owns the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, giving up just 12.8 points per game. The most points Alabama has allowed all year was 26 points in a loss to Auburn. Clemson gave up 31 points in a win at North Carolina State.
5. Seven returning starters
There are seven total players in this game who started both of the prior meetings between the two teams. Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, punter JK Scott and left guard Ross Pierschbacher started both national championship games. Clemson offensive linemen Tyrone Crowder and Mitch Hyatt and kicker Greg Heugel also started both games. Several other returning players, such as Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison, were major factors in both games but not listed as starters on the official box score.
6. 50 yards
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been held in check in the two national championship games against Clemson. He had six catches for 14 yards in the first meeting, then five catches for 36 yards last season. Ridley didn’t score a touchdown in either game. He hasn’t had a catch longer than 15 yards in their two meetings. In his 40 other career games, he has averaged 5.1 catches for 66.5 yards with 17 touchdowns.
7. 5 yards
Alabama has allowed five yards on punt returns on the entire season. There have only been four punt returns against the Crimson Tide this year, including a blocked punt against Texas A&M that was recorded as a punt return for three yards. Punter JK Scott’s 43.4-yard punt average isn’t gaudy, but he has dropped 22 of his 42 punts inside the 20 and booted 14 kicks longer than 50 yards. He’s done a good job of pinning opponents back and punting with hang time so his coverage unit can get downfield to prevent returns.
8. 0 turnovers
Alabama committed zero turnovers against Clemson in the two national championship games. Alabama has done an outstanding job of taking care of the ball all season in 2017. Alabama has given up just eight turnovers all season, tied for the fewest in the country. One of Alabama’s two interceptions thrown came from backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, one of its fumbles was by backup running back Ronnie Clark, and two of its fumbles came on special teams. That means the starting offense only threw one interception and lost three fumbles all season.
9. 40 wins
Clemson is the winningest program in the nation over the last three seasons, going 40-3. Alabama just one game behind at 39-3 and could tie it up with a win. The next closest program is Ohio State and Oklahoma, tied at 34-5.
10. 50-50 split
Both teams have split the carries between their top running backs almost exactly down the middle. Clemson’s top two backs, Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster, have 103 carries each. Alabama’s Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough have 110 carries and 108 carries, respectively. Harris and Scarbrough have combined for 1,455 yards and 19 touchdowns on 6.71 yards per carry, while Etinne and Feaster combine for 1,403 yards, 19 touchdowns and 6.81 yards per carry.
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