Damien Harris

Associated Press

As No. 1 falls, No. 2 Alabama claims 31st straight regular season win in gut check at No. 16 Mississippi State

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The top three teams in college football all went on the road Saturday, all against top-16 teams. No. 1 Georgia already lost, and No. 3 Notre Dame is in the process of going down. No. 2 Alabama went to No. 16 Mississippi State and trailed much of the night, was nearly doubled up on time of possession, and it didn’t matter. A late touchdown pushed Alabama over Mississippi State for a 31-24 win, the program’s 31st consecutive regular season win.

Alabama nearly found itself down 28-17 in the fourth quarter and missed a would-be game-winning field goal with two minutes remaining, but absorbed and survived those blows to take over at its own 32 with 1:01 remaining and a full holster of timeouts. The drive appeared in danger in facing a 3rd-and-15 at its own 43 with 31 seconds remaining, but Jalen Hurts found Calvin Ridley for his third long catch-and-run of the night, this time for 31 yards. That set up a game-winning 26-yard snatch-and-dash to Devonta Smith with 25 ticks left.

The win pushed Alabama to 10-0 overall, 7-0 in the SEC and an unquestioned No. 1 in every poll that matters with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 SEC) utterly controlled the first quarter, but found itself locked in a 7-7 tie. The Bulldogs accepted the ball to open the game and clicked off 11 plays, moved the ball to the Alabama 41, killed the first half of the frame and then punted, pinning Alabama at its own 5.

The Bulldog defense forced a three-and-out, and its offense pushed its way down the field on a 6-play, 57-yard touchdown drive punctuated by an 11-yard Aeris Williams run.

On the ensuing possession, Mississippi State forced a 3rd-and-5, where a conversion would have given Mississippi State the ball with a 7-0 lead while Alabama’s offense ran a total of six plays over the first quarter. Instead, Hurts found Ridley for a 63-yard catch-and-run, and Hurts rushed in a 1-yard score two plays later.

The next two drives played out the same. Mississippi State strung together an 11-play, 73-yard drive again capped by a Williams run. And again Hurts and Ridley connected, this time for 61 yards. Ridley finished the game with five grabs for 171 yards, and Hurts hit 10-of-19 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. Josh Jacobs rushed in from a yard out two plays later, tying the game at 14-14 with 9:26 left in the second quarter.

Alabama grabbed its first lead to open the second half, moving 63 yards in seven plays to set up a 30-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal. Mississippi State, however, picked up where it left off, reclaiming the lead on a 13-play, 69-yard drive that consumed more than 6:30 off the clock and concluded with a 2-yard Nick Fitzgerald rush. Fitzgerald completed 13-of-24 passes for 158 yards, and Mississippi State pounded out 49 rushing attempts, which gave the Bulldogs a near 18-minute edge in time of possession. 

The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s next possession and had a chance to seize complete control of the game after moving to a 1st-and-10 at the Tide 11, but Fitzgerald’s 3rd-and-7 pass sailed incomplete. Jace Christmann knocked in a 25-yard field goal to give Mississippi State its third touchdown lead of the night, a 24-17 edge with 14:13 to play.

And for the third time of the night, Alabama erased Mississippi State’s touchdown lead with an immediate touchdown of its own. The Crimson Tide rumbled 82 yards in 10 plays, in the process converting a 4th-and-4 at the MSU 34 with a 13-yard Hurts rush. Damien Harris tied the game two plays after that with a 14-yard rush.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood helped Mississippi State begin its next drive at its own 40 and the Bulldogs eventually penetrated to the Alabama 42, but Dan Mullen elected to punt on 4th-and-3 with 6:30 to play. Logan Cooke‘s punt sailed into the end zone, and Alabama had the crease it needed to grab control of the game.

Three straight Bo Scarborough rushes pushed the ball to midfield, and a Harris run placed it at the Mississippi State 33. Mississippi State forced a 3rd-and-8, but a pass from Hurts to Ridley drew a pass interference flag, staking Alabama to a 1st-and-10 at the MSU 16 with 4:05 to go. However, three straight Hurts run lost yardage, and a 41-yard Pappanastos field goal clanged off the left upright. 

Mississippi State moved into Hail Mary territory on its last gasp drive. Fitzgerald’s first heave from the Alabama 49 was fell incomplete, but he was given another chance after a pass interference flag. His second chance, from the 34, sailed out of the end zone, sealing the win for Alabama.

CFT Previews & Predictions: Alabama-Clemson Tale of the Tape

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WHO
No. 1 Alabama (14-0) vs. No. 2 Clemson (13-1)

WHAT
The College Football Playoff championship game, presented by AT&T

WHEN
8:00 p.m. ET

WHERE
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

HEAD COACHES
Alabama’s Nick Saban (114-18 in 10 seasons with the Crimson Tide, 205-60-1 overall; five national championships)
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (88-28 in nine seasons with the Tigers)

STATISTICAL LEADERS
Alabama
Passing: Jalen Hurts, 227-351 (64.7%), 2,249 yards, 22 touchdowns, nine interceptions
Rushing: Damien Harris, 1,013 yards; Hurts, 12 touchdowns
Receiving: Calvin Ridley, 67 receptions; ArDarius Stewart, 852 yards, eight touchdowns
Punt returns: Trevon Diggs, 10 yards per on 13 returns; Eddie Jackson (injured, won’t play), 23 yards per on 11 returns, two touchdowns
Kick returns: Diggs. 23.7 yards per on seven returns
Punting: J.K. Scott, 47.4 yards per, 20 of 54 inside 20
Kicking: Adam Griffith, 20-27 field goals, long of 48; 62-63 extra points
Tackles: Reuben Foster, 103
Tackles for loss: Ryan Anderson, 17
Sacks: Jonathan Allen, 9.5
QB Hits: Allen, 15
Interceptions: Minkah Fitzpatrick, six
Passes breakups: Anthony Averett, 14

Clemson
Passing: Deshaun Watson, 352-523 (67.3%), 4,173 yards, 38 touchdowns, 17 interceptions
Rushing: Wayne Gallman, 1,087 yards, 16 touchdowns
Receiving: Mike Williams, 90 receptions, 1,267 yards, 10 touchdowns
Punt returns: Ray-Ray McCloud, 8.4 per on 21 returns
Kick returns: Artavis Scott, 22.9 per on 20 returns
Punting: Andy Teasdall, 38 yards per, 21 of 53 inside 20
Kicking: Greg Huegel, 14-19 field goals, long of 48; 66-68 extra points
Tackles: Ben Boulware, 121
Tackles for loss: Carlos Watkins, 12.5
Sacks: Watkins, 10.5
Interceptions: Jadar Johnson, five
Passes breakups: Cordrea Tankersley, 10

STATISTICAL MATCHUPS
Alabama’s 11th-ranked rush offense (246.7 ypg) vs. Clemson’s 19th-ranked run defense (123.1 ypg)
CU’s 62nd-ranked rush offense (175.4 ypg) vs. UA’s top-ranked run defense (62 ypg)
UA’s 81st-ranked pass offense (214.2 yp) vs. CU’s 17th-ranked pass defense (183.8 ypg)
CU’s 7th-ranked pass offense (327.8 ypg) vs. UA’s 14th-ranked pass defense (182 ypg)
UA’s 15th-ranked scoring offense (39.4 ppg) vs. CU’s 7th-ranked scoring defense (17.1 ppg)
CU’s 13th-ranked scoring offense (39.5 ppg) vs. UA’s top-ranked scoring defense (11.4 ppg)

COMMON OPPONENTS
Auburn
Clemson won 19-13 in Auburn Sept. 3, Alabama won 30-12 in Tuscaloosa Nov. 26.

LOSSES
Alabama: N/A
Clemson: 43-42 to No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-5) in Clemson Nov. 12

PORTFOLIO
Wins vs. bowl teams: Alabama 12, Clemson 10
Wins vs. current CFP Top 25 teams: UA 6, CU 5
Wins in true road games: UA 4, CU 5
Wins by 10-plus points: UA 13, CU 7

THE BOVADA.LV LINE
Clemson, +6 (opened +6½)
Over/under, 51

THE PREDICTIONS
Zach Barnett
Here’s one thing I know: Tide-Tigers II won’t be as high scoring as the last time around. Alabama — both offense and defense — won’t allow it. And here’s what I think: I think Alabama is just too far ahead of the rest of the country that even a marked deficit at quarterback can’t overcome the Tide’s advantages elsewhere. The defense is too good, the rest of the offense is too good, and Bo Scarborough is too, well, Bo Scarborough.
Alabama 21, Clemson 17

Bryan Fisher
I think this year’s rematch should be just as close of a game as last season’s version, with Alabama squeaking out another close victory over Clemson in slightly lower scoring fashion. Turnovers will play a huge role in this one and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Crimson Tide’s defense finds the end zone at least once to make up for what should be a grind-it-out type of night for their offense. The Tigers defense plays heroically throughout, but ultimately it’s Nick Saban holding up the trophy in the end.
Alabama 31, Clemson 27

Kevin McGuire
The biggest question mark for this game is just what to expect from Alabama’s offense given the bizarre staff shakeup that forced Lane Kiffin on his way to his new job and inserted Steve Sarkisian to call plays, which has never particularly been his strong suit. But who am I to question Nick Saban? It all comes back to winning the rematch though, where Clemson is coming off an impressive shelling of Ohio State and looks like a true threat to Alabama, especially if the Tide is a mixed bag of ineptitude on offense with a freshman quarterback. But Deshaun Watson will have to play the same kind of game he did a year ago, and I’m not so sure that will be possible. Fool Alabama once, it happens. Do it twice in a row? I’m not as confident that is possible.
Alabama 26, Clemson 24

John Taylor
I’m truly torn on this one.  On the one hand you have a Brent Venables-coached Clemson defense that shut out Ohio State and its veteran quarterback, J.T. Barrett, going up against a true freshman quarterback in Alabama’s Jalen Hurts — and with a new playcaller no less. On the other, you have an Alabama defense that, in addition to being ranked No. 1 in myriad statistical categories, is in the Top 15 nationally in interceptions with 16 — six of which were returned for touchdowns — matched up with a quarterback in Deshaun Watson whose 17 picks this season are tied for second at the FBS level.  In the end I’m going to go against the grain and with Venables and Watson denying Nick Saban his Bear Bryant-tying title.  Hell, The Nicktator says (winkwink nudgenudgeClemson’s the best team; who am I to argue with the greatest college coach of this generation?
Clemson 27, Alabama 23

Rich get richer: Nation’s No. 1 recruit Najee Harris lands in Alabama

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The rich have gotten richer.

After a week full of drama at the U.S. Army All-American Game, the nation’s number one overall recruit is on the ground and fully committed to Alabama. Antioch (Calif.) running back Najee Harris landed in Birmingham on a flight Sunday afternoon and will be making his way to Tuscaloosa to enroll in classes per AL.com.

Harris was widely expected to pick the Crimson Tide after committing to the program nearly two years ago, but added a layer of mystery to his decision by taking several official visits and announcing that he would simply “show up” to a school instead of making a final announcement.

Michigan and head coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly made a strong late push to land the services of the talented five-star recruit after getting him to visit Ann Arbor but apparently didn’t do enough to convince Harris to change his flight plans following the Army All-American Game in San Antonio.

Harris is one of the few recruits to be listed as the No. 1 overall player in his class by all three major recruiting services (247Sports, Rivals and Scout). Once he enrolls, he’ll join a fairly stacked depth chart for the Crimson Tide at the position given that Peach Bowl MVP Bo Scarbrough and fellow tailbacks Damien Harris, B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs all return to Tuscaloosa for the 2017 season.

Of course, that’s an issue for Nick Saban to sort out in a few months as his attention is probably focused a tad more on Clemson in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game down in Tampa.

Peach Bowl First Quarter Recap: Washington strikes first, Alabama answers with authority

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The Pac-12 champion Washington Huskies may had a few butterflies at the start of the game with a poor kickoff return from John Ross and a quick three-and-out, but the Huskies struck first in the first quarter of a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against SEC champion Alabama in the Peach Bowl. Jake Browning delivered a beautiful pass to Dante Pettis to cap the second offensive series of the game for Washington.

The touchdown pass from Browning was his 43rd of the season, setting a new Pac-12 record for most touchdown passes in a single season, breaking the previous record set by former Cal quarterback Jared Goff in 2015.

The Crimson Tide would respond on the ensuing possession by flexing some muscle up front. Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Jalen Hurts all picked up yards on the ground for Alabama, with a key 16-yard gain by O.J. Howard through the air along the way before Scarbrough powered his way across the goal line to score a touchdown on the next drive.

Washington looked to be putting together a decent response of their own on the next drive, but a short pass to Ross was lost by the talented wideout and picked up by Alabama’s Jonathan Allen on Washington’s side of the field. Alabama holds the football at the start of the second quarter as a result.

One key position to keep an eye on as the game plays on will be Washington right tackle, true freshman Nick Harris. Harris has earned a starting role on the Washington offensive line as the season has gone alone, bu he has been given a massive test today against one of the best defensive front sin the nation today. There have already been a few rough moments on the edge.

No. 1 Alabama strolls into Playoff with 3rd straight SEC championship

Associated Press
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Though no one will ever come out and say it, Alabama didn’t have to win on Saturday. The Tide clinched their third straight College Football Playoff trip with last week’s 30-12 victory over Auburn, and nothing that happened under the Georgia Dome roof would change that. As far as the next month is considered, the only thing on the line in Atlanta was whether Florida or Auburn would represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.

But, to quote a famous, fictional Alabamian, Alabama did as Alabama does. They won anyway. And they won big.

No. 1 Alabama waltzed to a 54-16 rout over No. 15 Florida, securing the Tide’s third straight SEC championship and its third straight Playoff berth.

Florida opened the game with a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped by a 5-yard strike from Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway, then immediately forced a three-and-out. But the very next play was an Appleby interception, and the boulder started rolling downhill from there.

Alabama got on the board with an Adam Griffith field goal and, on the ensuing possession, Minkah Fitzpatrick snared an errant Appleby pass for a 44-yard pick-six to give the Tide the lead at the 5:06 mark of the first quarter.

Florida’s next possession ended in a punt — that was blocked and returned 27 yards by Joshua Jacobs for a touchdown. (The extra point was itself blocked and returned for two points by Florida.)

By that point, Alabama enjoyed a 16-9 lead without gaining a first down on offense.

Jalen Hurts and company took care of that, though, moving 88 yards in seven plays punctuated by a 6-yard Gehrig Dieter reception.

Florida ended its next possession with yet another disaster, this time a fake punt in their own territory that never had a chance of achieving a first down. Florida was spared when Adam Griffith‘s field goal missed, but Griffith converted a 25-yard field goal on his next try and the Tide’s following possession ended in a 6-yard Jacobs run — giving Alabama a 33-9 lead and the SEC Championship record for most points in a half.

Florida closed the half with a 92-yard touchdown drive capped by a 25-yard strike from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby to pull within 33-16 at the break. Any shot at a Florida second-half comeback ended in the middle of the third quarter when, staked to a 1st-and-goal at the Alabama 2-yard line, three consecutive runs netted zero yards and Appleby’s fourth down connection to Goolsby sailed out of bounds. Alabama immediately answered by moving 98 yards in eight snaps, most of which came on the legs of Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough.

Scarborough capped Alabama’s next drive — this a 14-play, 13-run, 7-minute, 34-second, 91-yard migration — with his second rushing touchdown of the day, opening the gap to 47-16 with 9:15 remaining. Derrick Gore closed the scoring with a 10-yard burst up the middle with 3:48 to play.

For the game, Alabama rushed 38 times for 234 yards and four touchdowns; Scarborough carried 11 times for 91 yards and two scores, and Harris added eight rushes for 86 yards. Hurts booked a modest day of 11-of-20 passing for 138 yards and a touchdown. Appleby completed his day with 26 completions on 39 attempts for 261 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Florida totaled precisely zero rushing yards on 30 credited rushes.

Alabama became the second team in the league’s championship game era to win three straight SEC titles; next season they’ll attempt to tie Florida’s record of four straight SEC Championship victories from 1993-96. The win secured Nick Saban‘s fifth SEC championship at Alabama (and his seventh overall) . It also pushed Alabama past Florida for the most SEC Championship victories at eight in 12 total appearances and edged the Tide to a 5-4 lead in head-to-head SEC title games. The victory extended the Tide’s overall SEC championship lead to 26 total crowns.

The Tide’s 54 points were five off the SEC Championship record (Auburn, 2013) and the most by a Florida opponent since Nebraska steamrolled the Gators 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

Saturday’s game was notable for a number of reasons. It was the 25th SEC Championship. It was the final SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome. It was the final SEC game legendary broadcaster Verne Lundquist will ever call. And it was the first SEC title game since, oh, about 2005 with absolutely zero national championship stakes on the line.

And as long as the Tide stays this far ahead of the rest of the SEC, it won’t be the last.