Alabama vs. Clemson: How the teams match up for the CFP championship game

Times staff writer Gary Klein examines how Clemson and Alabama match up in advance of Monday night's College Football Playoff championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

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Clemson run game

vs. Alabama defense

Running back Wayne Gallman and quarterback Deshaun Watson give top-ranked Clemson an uncommon duo of highly productive runners.

Gallman, a third-year sophomore, has rushed for 1,482 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Georgia native is coming off a 150-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Tigers' Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma.

Watson, a sophomore, has rushed for 1,032 yards and 12 touchdowns. His playmaking ability on the run makes the 6-2, 210-pound Watson a potential nightmare for Alabama's outstanding defense.

Running back Zac Brooks has rushed for three touchdowns.

Alabama is ranked second nationally in total defense and is No. 1 against the run. The Crimson Tide has given up only 70.8 yards rushing per game.

In its 38-0 Cotton Bowl victory against Michigan State, Alabama held the Spartans to 29 yards rushing.

All-American end A'Shawn Robinson, nose guard Darren Lake and end Jarran Reed are the starting linemen, All-American Reggie Ragland, Denzel Devall, Dillon Lee and Reuben Foster the linebackers.

Edge: Alabama

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Clemson passing

vs. Alabama secondary

Watson is accurate from the pocket and on the run. He has completed 68% of his passes, 31 for touchdowns, with 12 interceptions.

His favorite target is receiver Artavis Scott. The sophomore has 89 receptions, five for touchdowns.

Tight end Jordan Leggett has a team-best seven touchdown catches and receiver Charone Peake has five.

Gallman has 18 receptions, one for a touchdown.

Alabama will try to disrupt Watson and the passing game with waves of defensive linemen who helped the Crimson Tide record 50 sacks, the most in major-college football.

End Jonathan Allen has a team-best 12 sacks, which ranks ninth nationally. Linebacker Tim Williams has nine. Neither is listed as a starter on Alabama's depth chart.

The Crimson Tide has given up 13 touchdown passes and gives up 186 yards passing per game.

Strong safety Eddie Jackson has returned two of his team-best five interceptions for touchdowns. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey has three interceptions, Cyrus Jones and Minkah Fitzpatrick two and cornerback Geno Matias-Smith one.

Fitzpatrick returned his two interceptions against Texas A&M for touchdowns of 33 and 55 yards, becoming the first player in Alabama history with two pick-six plays in the same game.

Edge: Clemson.

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Alabama run game

vs. Clemson defense

Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry has rushed for 2,061 yards and 25 touchdowns for an offense that has averaged 204.4 yards rushing per game.

Henry, 6-3 and 242 pounds, averages 147.2 yards per game and 5.7 yards per carry. He has run for more than 200 yards four times this season.

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin deployed Henry mainly as a decoy against Michigan State, but Henry still rushed for two touchdowns. His stiff-arm move on one of the scoring runs put a Spartans defender on the ground.

Kenyan Drake has rushed for 407 yards and a touchdown. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough each have rushed for a touchdown.

Clemson is giving up 124.4 yards rushing per game.

Middle linebacker B.J. Goodson has a team-best 98 tackles, 14 for loss. All-American end Shaq Lawson has a nation-best 23 1/2 tackles for loss, end Kevin Dodd 18 1/2.

Safety T.J. Green and linebacker Ben Boulware also are top tacklers.

Edge: Alabama.

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Alabama passing

vs. Clemson secondary

Alabama quarterback Jake Coker is coming off the best game of his career. The senior, who transferred to Alabama from Florida State before last season, completed 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns, without an interception, against Michigan State.

Coker, in his first season as a starter, has completed 67% of his passes, 19 for touchdowns, with eight interceptions.

Freshman receiver Calvin Ridley has 83 catches, seven for touchdowns, and has amassed 1,031 yards. He averages 12.4 yards per reception.

Sophomore ArDarius Stewart has 61 catches, four for touchdowns. Senior Richard Mullaney, a graduate transfer from Oregon State who played at Thousand Oaks High, has 37 catches, five for touchdowns.

Tight end O.J. Howard has 33 catches, Henry 11.

Clemson ranks ninth nationally in pass defense, giving up 177.2 yards per game. The Tigers have allowed 17 touchdown passes.

Lawson has 10 1/2 of Clemson's 43 sacks.

Mackensie Alexander is regarded as the Tigers' top cornerback and has not been challenged often. He is expected to match up against Ridley.

Fellow cornerback Cordrea Tankersley has a team-best five interceptions.

Edge: Clemson.

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Special teams

Alabama's Jones has returned four punts for touchdowns, including one against Michigan State.

Crimson Tide kicker Adam Griffith has made 22 of 30 field-goal attempts and Punter JK Scott averages 44.4 yards per kick.

Alabama has blocked five kicks and three punts.

Clemson kicker Greg Huegel has made 25 of 29 field-goal attempts, including three in the Orange Bowl victory.

Punter Andy Teasdall averages 39 yards per punt and the Tigers rank 32nd nationally in punt-return defense.

The Tigers have blocked three kicks and a punt. They rank 107th in kickoff return defense.

Edge: Alabama.

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Coaching

Alabama's Nick Saban is the highest-paid coach in college football for a reason: He's won four national titles, including three at Alabama.

Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is coaching his final game at Alabama before moving on to be head coach at Georgia. Offensive coordinator Kiffin has revived his career with a second outstanding season under Saban.

Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney has the Tigers in a game to decide the national championship for the first time since winning their lone title in 1981. The former Alabama receiver and assistant coach is in his seventh full season as Clemson's head coach.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables, a member of Oklahoma's 2000 national championship staff, is completing his third season at Clemson. Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott are completing their first season as co-offensive coordinators.

Edge: Alabama.

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Final score

Alabama 31, Clemson 20

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 11, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "CFP CHAMPIONSHIP: HOW ALABAMA AND CLEMSON MATCH UP" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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