Alabama vs. Clemson: Live 2019 National Championship Updates
How to watch: ESPN has the broadcast at 8 p.m. Eastern, but you can stream it here.
A Message for Dexter Lawrence
Christian Wilkins has 90 drawn in black on his face. Haven’t confirmed this, but pretty safe a guess that that’s a reference to his teammate Dexter Lawrence — #90 — who was suspended from last game and this one after testing positive for a banned substance, which he has denied intentionally taking.
Weather Not a Factor
The weather in the Bay Area was nasty over the weekend — downpours of rain and strong winds. But it has blown through in time for this game. Official game-time weather: 61 degrees, winds of 5-10 mph. Shouldn’t be a factor.
Goliath vs. Goliath
No. 1 Alabama (14-0) and No. 2 Clemson (14-0) were dominant this season even by the standards of college football national championship contenders. Alabama’s average margin of victory was 31.4 points per game, while Clemson’s was 30.6. Between them they defeated teams ranked third, fourth, sixth, 11th, 17th, 18th and 21st in the latest Associated Press poll.
Clemson Needs to Find Justyn Ross
Two players who were in high school at this time last year could be the key for Clemson. True freshman Justyn Ross grabbed the stage at the Cotton Bowl, finishing with 148 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Ross has developed chemistry with another freshman, Trevor Lawrence, and has at least 58 receiving yards in each of the Tigers’ last four games.
Alabama and Clemson Take the Field
It rained all weekend but it is a beautiful late afternoon, complete with nice breeze. Down on the field it looked as though the stadium will be mostly filled — there has been some anxiety that the game, featuring two Southern teams who made up two of the previous three title games, would fail to sell out. While Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa received loud, sustained applause when he was introduced, the biggest cheers of the night so far came a couple minutes later when Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins was announced. As for celebrities, former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, a proud Clemson alumna, was on the Tigers sideline.
Clemson vs. Alabama Top Story Lines
Here are the factors that could make the difference between Clemson winning its second national title in the last three seasons, or Alabama winning its sixth in the last 10.
Slow down Bama’s big plays.
The signature offensive play call of this year’s Alabama offense is two or three of its young, speedy receivers running deep, into one-on-one coverage, and being delivered the ball perfectly by Tagovailoa. Meanwhile, in the closest Clemson came to losing this season, a two-point victory over Texas A&M, six Aggies players had receptions of more than 20 yards. If the Tigers give up more than a couple of those big plays, they are toast.
Special special teams.
In the 2016 title game, Alabama successfully executed a surprise onside kick (scoring its go-ahead touchdown on that drive) and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown — and won. In the 2017 title game, there were no special teams theatrics — and Clemson won. Do the math.
Take the ball from the Tide.
Alabama had one of college football’s best turnover margins, while in its closest game, the 35-28 victory over Georgia last month, its margin was minus-two thanks to interceptions from each of its quarterbacks. It is pretty difficult to conceive of Clemson winning the game without winning the turnover battle.
Clemson’s rushing attack.
While true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence gets all the deserved attention, that means he will also get plenty of note from Alabama’s staff, starting with the former defensive back named Nick Saban. When Alabama drops back six defenders to prevent Lawrence from slicing up the secondary, it will be time for Clemson’s underrated rushing offense — ranked 10th in the country — to shine.
Hit Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa.
Clemson will look to hit starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, hard, because if the Heisman Trophy runner-up has a weakness it is, well, weakness: he has spent time in the injury tent during a few games this year, and even had to leave the Southeastern Conference title game last month for an ankle injury that required surgery. Yes, backup Jalen Hurts entered the game to win it anyway, but if Alabama thought Hurts was the more effective quarterback, then Hurts would be the starter. He’s not.
A close game?
The last two times Alabama and Clemson met for the national title — in January 2016 and January 2017 — the average margin of victory was just 4.5 points. Expect another close one tonight.
Alabama’s fast starts.
In last month’s semifinal at the Orange Bowl, No. 4 Oklahoma (12-2) lost to Alabama by a close margin, 45-34. But the Sooners were effectively finished once Alabama jumped to a 28-0 lead in the second quarter. This outburst was typical for the Crimson Tide offense, which led all 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in first and second quarter points. Clemson must not get into a deep hole versus an offense that, with its always-potent rushing attack, knows how to hold a lead.
Clemson down a star.
Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence was suspended for the semifinal at the Cotton Bowl as well as this game after he and two other Tigers players tested positive for a banned substance called ostarine (they have denied intentionally taking it). This did not seem to matter against Notre Dame, which averaged just 2.5 yards per carry, but Clemson had better hope that reflected their ability to cover up for their missing star.
Beware postseason Saban.
Including national title games held under the Bowl Championship Series, Nick Saban is a crazy 10-2 in playoff games. The two losses came to teams with quarterbacks who outscored the Tide with an ability to throw the deep ball — quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence. Everyone buckle up!