GLENDALE, Ariz. — Bend, don’t break. It’s not the Alabama way, with defenses stifling teams at the line of scrimmage and blanketing receivers in coverage. That was the Crimson Tide defense against No. 3 Michigan State, utterly dominating the Spartans in a 38-0 rout in the semifinal matchup.
Monday night, Clemson put up 550 yards on Alabama’s defense, and Heisman-finalist Deshaun Watson was responsible for 478 of those, with 405 coming in the air.
The Tigers converted 6 of 14 third downs and put up 40 points on the unit that has been the identity for this Alabama team. Going into the game, many had Alabama’s defense as the best in the country, led by a vicious front seven.
But, when it needed to, the defense made stops in the 45-40 win to claim the national title, Alabama’s fourth in seven years.
“Michigan State was pound and grind and this game here was more side to side, sidelines, lot of running,” senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “And they did a great job of it, but my team, we fought to the end. They went up on us. The leaders wouldn’t let guys get their heads down. We knew we were still in it, had a chance there. I’m happy to be here with my team.”
The defense knew what it was getting into before the game. Former Alabama defensive coordinator and current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart prepped the team for the force that is Watson.
“Coach Smart preached to us the whole time that it was going to be a tough, physical game, and they was going to make shots on us, and they did, but we weathered the storm,” Ragland said.
Watson came into the game, having finished third in the Heisman voting. His 478 yards were the most in a national championship game by any one player.
He completed nearly 64 percent of his 47 pass attempts and threw an interception. He was sacked twice in the second half, both by linebacker Rashaan Evans. Watson netted 73 yards but had 93 total. The two sacks and two tackles for loss accounted for the 20-yard difference.
“He’s a smooth operator out there,” Ragland said. “He kept his team in the game with his feet and he made some great passes, but at the end, my team held it down and we got to him. We kind of wore ‘em down. We did a great job.”
Even with the win and a 16th title, Alabama coach Nick Saban had critiques about the performance the next day. He was still happy about the win.
Smart said you have to be happy to win in different ways than what you’re known for because of how football has evolved. People are going to put up numbers and score.
“To do, let’s say, what we did with Michigan State is just a little bit of a misnomer,” Smart said. “It just doesn’t happen anymore. People score points, especially ones with athletic quarterbacks. You gotta be able to defend them or at least hold them under their averages, and you gotta be able to score on offense.”
And the offense did score. It was able to push ahead for a 12-point lead late in the game. It shrank to five with 12 seconds left, but the defense had done its job.
“Our defense, they held on and made plays when we needed them most,” tight end O.J. Howard said.
Source:: The Crimson White Sports