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National championship game primer: Can Clemson get anything on the ground?

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Fans watching Monday night’s national championship game should keep these three names in mind: Akeem Judd, Rawleigh Williams III and Alvin Kamara.

Those are the only three players to score rushing TDs against Alabama this season. There have been 230 rushing attempts against the Tide since Kamara scored on a 7-yard run early in the second quarter of the seventh game of the season. Those 230 carries have netted 447 yards – or 1.9 yards per attempt.

Suffice to say, if Clemson averages 1.9 yards per carry Monday night, Alabama is going to win its second consecutive national title and its fifth in eight seasons.

Clemson averages 175.4 rushing yards per game, with 28 rushing TDs. Clemson is coming in off its best four-game rushing stretch of the season; the Tigers have averaged 222.8 rushing yards per game, with 12 TDs, in the past four games. When the Tigers run that well, they are tough to stop because of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s passing ability.

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“I would feel a lot better if they wouldn’t run the ball,” Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said Saturday during the national championship game media day. “I mean, if you know they are not going to run it, it’s a lot easier as a play-caller. Yeah, you’ve got to make them one-dimensional.”

In last season’s national title game, Alabama held Clemson to 145 rushing yards, which was the Tigers’ third-lowest output of the season. Still, Clemson did run effectively, a big reason the Tigers rolled up 550 yards of offense in a 45-42 loss to Alabama.

Tigers players know it’s important to produce on the ground. They also know it will be difficult.

Clemson center Jay Guillermo called the Tide’s defensive front “extremely salty. Don’t give you anything. You’ve got to take it.”

Guillermo thinks Clemson can indeed take it.

“We feel like we’re a good-enough offensive line. If we can come in and play with our technique, execute, footwork, hands, and just let me get up there and direct traffic, I think that we can be successful,” he said Saturday. “But it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be one of those games where things, once again, don’t just open up and happen. You have to make them happen. It starts with all of us up front.”

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Here’s a closer look at the national championship game.

CFP national championship game

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.
TIME/TV: 8 p.m., ESPN/Chris Fowler (play-by-play) and Kirk Herbstreit (analyst)
PLAYERS ON SPOT: Who else but the quarterbacks? It’s impossible to win titles with poor quarterback play. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has accounted for 4,759 yards and 46 TDs, and is as dangerous as any player in the nation. His propensity for picks – he has thrown 17 this season and 32 in his three-season career – is worrisome when Alabama’s opportunistic defense is on the other side. And Alabama’s Jalen Hurts has accounted for 3,540 yards and 34 TDs. He has struggled a bit in his past two games. He rushed for 1 yards against Florida in the SEC championship game and passed for a season-low 57 yards in last week’s win over Washington. The Tide easily won both. If he struggles against Clemson, the Tide easily could lose.
TOP INDIVIDUAL MATCHUPS: Keep an eye on both right tackles – Sean Pollard for Clemson and Jonah Williams for Alabama. Both are true freshmen. Pollard could have issues with Alabama DE Dalvin Tomlinson and edge rusher Ryan Anderson. Anderson has eight sacks and a team-high 17 tackles for loss. Williams must worry about Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell, who has six sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hurries; Ferrell had a sack and three TFL last week in Clemson’s 31-0 rout of Ohio State.
THE KEY STAT: The are two eye-raising stats associated with Alabama; one is the rush defense, the other is the incredible amount of non-offensive TDs (15) the Tide has scored this season. Alabama has scored 11 touchdowns on defense and four on punt returns. The Tide has six interception-return TDs and that bears watching Monday night because Watson has thrown 17 interceptions – tied for second-most nationally. He threw two picks against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes did nothing with them; an interception against Alabama is a different situation.
OFFICIATING CREW: from the Big 12.
THE LINE: Alabama by 6.5.
THE PROJECTED SCORE: Alabama 27-24.

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(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)

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