Defense gets spotlight in title game

Jason Getz—X02835
Dec 31

The teams with the best defensive lines in college football will play for the national title. Funny how that works out.No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson are heading for the first rematch of the BCS/playoff era, each coming off a suffocating defensive performance in the national semifinals. Last season’s title tilt was a 45-40 thrill ride that went to the Tide; take two in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 9 might be more of a bare-knuckled brawl, a fight for yards and first downs.As Alabama coach Nick Saban goes for history, trying to win his sixth national title to tie Bear Bryant’s career record, he has the nation’s leader in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense. In a 24-7 suffocation of Washington, the Tide scored its 11th defensive touchdown of the season and held the Huskies to season-lows in yards and points.”We’ve studied every snap that they’ve had this year, and the tape doesn’t lie when you watch that much tape,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen. “I mean, that’s as good a defense as there is out there in college football, and they played like it. … They’re so good against the run and they might be better pass rushers. I don’t know.”Clemson might have one-upped Alabama by following up Saturday night with a 31-0 victory over Ohio State, the first time the Buckeyes have been shut out since 1993 and the first time a team coached by Urban Meyer had ever been held off the scoreboard.”Really indescribable,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “That’s a credit to our staff and great preparation. Guys buying in. Extra film time. Guys just getting their tails prepared to go play and then winning the matchups. We were dominant up front.”Clemson had 11 tackles for loss, including three sacks, against Ohio State. Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell form your basic NFL front, which is one of the reasons the Tigers are third nationally with 8.8 tackles for loss per game.Alabama’s defense might be the best Saban has ever had. It might be the best the Tide has ever had. Defensive end Jonathan Allen scoops up fumbles and national awards at about an equal pace. Rueben Foster won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.Alabama allows 2.0 yards per rush, which is almost a full yard better than the second-best rushing defense in the country.So, yes, this rematch has the potential to be another shootout, but it seems more likely to be a grind and a grudge match. Alabama is going for its fifth national title in eight years. Clemson is trying to win its first since 1981.”We’ve done about everything that you can do multiple times,” Swinney said. “But we have not been able to win it all.”May the best defense win.