The first half of Tide-Tigers III hasn’t lived up to the first two installments that saw Alabama and Clemson trade national championship victories with a composite score of 76-75 Alabama. Instead, it’s been a Nick Saban kind of football game, as the Crimson Tide leads 10-3 at the break in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama completely dominated the first quarter. After the teams exchanged three three-and-outs to open the game, the Tide opened the scoring with a 10-play, 47-yard drive capped by a 24-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal. Alabama forced another Clemson three-and-out on the Tigers’ next possession — Clemson’s third of the first quarter — Alabama started at the Clemson 46-yard line and leaned on its running game, with seven plays covering 34 yards, all of them in the hands of Jalen Hurts, Damien Harris or Bo Scarborough before Hurts found Calvin Ridley wide open on a scramble for a 12-yard touchdown grab, putting the Tide up 10-0 to close the first quarter.
Sensing a now-or-never moment, Clemson turned to Kelly Bryant. After a 7-yard sack to open the drive, Bryant converted with runs of five and 20 yards and accounted for 53 of the Tigers’ 54 yards, setting up a 44-yard Alex Spence field goal to get the defending champions on the board at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter.
Alabama didn’t answer with points, but the Tide did chew more than four minutes off the clock and pin Clemson at its own 10 to start its next possession. It was the fourth time in five chances that Clemson started inside its own 17 (and the fifth began at the 24). Clemson moved out of the shadow of its own goal post but punted the ball back to Alabama, allowing the Tide to start a drive with the ball outside its own 40 for the fourth time in five tries. This drive covered 39 yards in 10 plays at 3:44, but Pappanastos’s 38-yard field goal doinked off the right upright with 17 seconds left.
Alabama out-gained Clemson 182-73 and held an 11-4 edge in first downs, but produced just 10 points in three red zone trips and, thus, leads by just seven. Hurts hit 10-of-13 passes for 87 yards and the game’s only touchdown and rushed five times for 32 yards. Harris carried a game-high 12 times for 55 yards.
Bryant completed 6-of-12 passes for 43 yards and led Clemson with eight carries for 21 yards. Running backs Tavien Foster, Travis Feaster and Adam Choice combined to rush five times for 10 yards.
Alabama will receive to open the second half.