ARLINGTON, Texas — Only one team remains between Alabama and its 16th national championship.
Before we get into the Clemson matchup, though, we need to break down the Crimson Tide’s 38-0 win over Michigan State on Thursday night.
A slow start — something that’s become commonplace for Lane Kiffin’s “O” — was the only black mark on this side of the ball. Jake Coker played the game of his life, completing 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and a pair of well-placed touchdown passes to Calvin Ridley.
He lit up the Spartans defense all night, relegating Heisman Trophy-winning back Derrick Henry (20 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns) to second fiddle.
Ridley continued to show why he’s worthy of Julio Jones’ and Amari Cooper’s roles in the ‘Bama offense, while the offensive line did a strong job of holding Michigan State’s sack-happy rush at bay.
A positive sign moving forward: tight end O.J. Howard’s reemergence in the passing game.
There’s not a better defense in the country, and the Tide proved it again on Thursday.
Michigan State had one brief moment of hope right before half, when quarterback Connor Cook completed a pair of long passes to creep toward the end zone.
But cornerback Cyrus Jones snagged the next pass for a goal-line interception, preserving a shutout that wasn’t seriously tested in the remaining 30 minutes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Jones also made a huge play here, returning a punt 57 yards for a 24-0 Alabama lead in the third quarter. The play effectively broke Michigan State’s will to compete, and the Tide coasted from there.
Kicker Adam Griffith (1-for-1 from 47 yards, 5-for-5 on extra points) was solid — minus a kickoff out of bounds — and punter JK Scott managed a 56-yard punt to back up the Spartans early.
The intangible of the week was “focus” and Alabama’s coaching staff had its players at laser levels. Not only did the Tide show up to play; they showed up to dominate.
Kiffin’s pass-happy gameplan worked to perfection over the final three quarters, while Kirby Smart’s defense was, once again, unbreakable. Alabama has plenty of talent, but it also has perhaps the country’s best collection of coaches.
The SEC champions just took down the Big Ten champions, 38-0. This was a Michigan State team that prided itself on a will to survive all year. After three quarters, that will was broken. Given the stage and what was at stake, that was this college football season’s most impressive performance.