Alabama rolled into the Cotton Bowl determined to wipe away the memories of last season’s College Football Playoff flop, and it was no contest.
Jake Coker played the game of his career, hooking up with Calvin Ridley for two touchdowns, as the second-ranked Crimson Tide aired it out to beat No. 3 Michigan State, 38-0, on Thursday night and advance to the national championship game.
“I think last year when we came to this game, I think we were just happy to be in the game,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said. “This year we wanted to take the game.”
Alabama (13-1) will face No. 1 Clemson (14-0) on Jan. 11 in Arizona looking for its fourth national title in nine seasons under Saban.
“Just got to keep the focus we had in preparation for this game,” Coker said.
The Tide looked like a team with no weaknesses against overmatched Michigan State (12-2). Coker was nearly perfect. The senior completed 25 of 30 passes for a career-best 286 yards. Freshman Ridley was brilliant, streaking by defenders on deep throws and outfighting them on jump balls. He caught eight passes for 138 yards.
Jonathan Allen and the ferocious Tide defensive front sacked Connor Cook four times and allowed the Spartans only one trip into the red zone — which ended with Cyrus Jones intercepting a pass at the goal line.
Jones added a high-stepping 57-yard punt return touchdown for the Tide, which hardly even had to use Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. The big tailback was just a role player against a Spartans defense stacked to stop him. He ran for 75 yards and scored two touchdowns. The last made it 38-0 halfway through the fourth quarter.
Last season the Crimson Tide couldn’t get past the semifinals, upset by Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
“If we lost by five points they might be saying some nice things about you, but we wouldn’t feel any better,” Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said.