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Monday, September 25, 2023

Alabama punches CFP championship ticket in Sugar Bowl

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The Alabama Crimson Tide are headed back to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game for the third time in as many years. Nick Saban’s team rolled through the defending national champions, the Clemson Tigers, 24-6 in the 2018 edition of the Sugar Bowl thanks to a burst of 14 points over 13 seconds in the third quarter.

An Alabama defense that was once thought to be depleted and banged up looked youthful, energetic and flat-out dominant. This defensive performance came thanks to 300-pound defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne’s interception — which led to his first career touchdown reception only a few plays later — and linebacker Mack Wilson’s pick six on the very next play from scrimmage.

Though the final score of this game may not look very close, the play of the two teams was not too far off. The main disparities were that Clemson continued to put themselves into tough situations with untimely penalties, poor execution on offense and consistently bad starting field position.

For Alabama’s offense, the Tide used a well-balanced scheme that produced 130 rushing yards and 120 yards through the air. Jalen Hurts seems to have developed into a solid passer, and an even better decision-maker with the football. The second-year starter went 16-24 and added two touchdowns while completing passes to nine different receivers in the game.

Clemson’s counter-part, Kelly Bryant, had a far less efficient outing, only completing 50% of his passes and throwing two costly interceptions. The Tigers did show some life right after halftime when Hurts fumbled the exchange on a read option to open the second half. However, it was short-lived momentum as Clemson went three and out on the Alabama 20-yard line and settled for a field goal.

Alabama is now set to take on SEC rival Georgia in next week’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Jan. 8. This game will mark the first time that two teams from the same conference will play against each other in the CFP National Championship.

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