Oklahoma and Clemson square off in the Orange Bowl in the first game of the College Football Playoff. Alabama and Michigan State battle in the Cotton Bowl in the second national semifinal. Stay tuned to Breitbart News for live updates throughout the games.
Oklahoma is seeking to avenge all of its losses from last year by beating Clemson. And though the Sooners hold the early lead, I think Clemson, as it has done all season whether they were playing great or poorly, makes one more play to beat the Sooners. Clemson walloped Oklahoma last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl without Baker Mayfield. But Clemson did not have Deshaun Watson in that game and won with Cole Stoudt at quarterback. A lot has changed, of course. Clemson lost a ton of talent on defense and Oklahoma seems like it has all the momentum like Ohio State did last year. But Oklahoma has struggled this year against tough, physical defenses like Texas and Tennessee. And Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who was Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops’s defensive coordinator during the Sooners’s glory years the last decade, seems to get Stoops’s tendencies, and that may make all the difference in crunch time.
In the second College Football Playoff game, Alabama should easily defeat a Michigan State team that struggled against terrible opponents like Central Michigan, Rutgers, and Purdue. Great teams put inferior opponents away, and Michigan State could not even close the door on Air Force. Sparty needed a miracle botched punt to defeat a Michigan team that is nowhere near elite in Jim Harbaugh’s first year (they will be in the next two years though Michigan should be on upset alert against Florida tomorrow). Alabama struggles against mobile quarterbacks, but Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who isn’t even 100% healthy, is one of the least mobile quarterbacks Alabama will face this year. And the best front seven in college football–and arguably the best front seven that Alabama coach Nick Saban has ever had–should cause plenty of havoc. Though Michigan State is built to stop the run (ask Ohio State), Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner, should wear down the Spartans after Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s creativity exploits a Michigan State secondary that has not been up to par all year (see Nebraska’s last drive against the Spartans). This game is reminiscent of those SEC v. Big Ten mismatches from the last decade.
Cotton Bowl: Alabama 38, Michigan State 0
Alabama’s defense preserves the shutout, as Michigan State is stopped on fourth down inside Alabama territory. Time for Bama to run out the clock and punch their tickets to Glendale, Arizona.
Dillon Lee, who perhaps has one of the best names, closes out the game by intercepting Connor Cook. Game over. Alabama fans gleefully roll in the new year in Texas. Roll Tide!
Alabama 38, Michigan State 0
It’s academic now. Two plays after Drake busts a 58-yard run, Henry takes it into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. Time to start running vanilla plays to not give Clemson anything more on tape.
Alabama gets the ball back after all-world linebacker Reggie Ragland knocks Cook’s pass down. Ragland is vital to Alabama’s defense. This isn’t talked about much, but on the play before Ohio State’s Elliott broke off his game-clinching touchdown run against Alabama last year in the semifinal game, Ragland got hurt and had to leave the field. His replacement promptly got taken out of the play when an Ohio State wide receiver leveled him to clear the path for Elliott.
If I were Alabama, I would let some backup running backs get some carries as the game’s end nears in order to rest Henry for the title game. Cook earned my respect when he orchestrated Michigan State’s comeback victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl two years ago. Last year, he led Michigan State to an improbable comeback victory against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. But Alabama’s defense is not taking its foot off the gas pedal tonight.
Alabama 31, Michigan State 0
Lane Kiffin goes for the kill shot. Coker to Ridley for a 50-yard touchdown pass. Expect plenty of Derrick Henry from here on out. This game’s over (and it’s in the bag for Alabama backers in Vegas as well). As the late great Chick Hearn would say, this game’s in the refrigerator, the door’s closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the jellooooooooo is jiggling (Chick would add “the beer is cooling” in his later years).
Alabama 24, Michigan State 0
Jones returns a punt for a touchdown after Alabama’s suffocating defense forces another three and out. Sparty is only down three scores, though a 24-point deficit against Alabama’s defense must feel like trailing by 62 points.
Alabama 17, Michigan State 0
Alabama does what championship teams do. They get the opening kickoff and march it down the field and score a touchdown on a circus catch by Ridley. Alabama takes a three possession lead. And more importantly, since Michigan State now becomes one dimensional, Alabama’s defense can now tee off on the Spartans. The only thing between Alabama and a victory is potential boneheaded play calls and terrible clock management by Kiffin. I don’t think Saban lets that happen. And I don’t think the defense gives up an inch after last year’s debacle against Ohio State. This Alabama team seems like it’s on a mission.
Alabama forces a three and out, but avoids disaster when Cyrus Jones again muffs a punt. Bama with the ball with eight minutes and change left in the third quarter.
Halftime: Alabama 10, Michigan State 0
Michigan was driving near the Alabama ten-yard line, but Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones made a huge interception to end Michigan State’s drive. Alabama gets the ball to start the second half with a chance to put this game on ice.
Alabama gets a field goal with 1:30 left in the first half to take a two possession lead. Michigan State needs to be careful not to turn the ball over in their two-minute offense.
Alabama’s defense forces an immediate three and out and gets the ball back for the offense. Here’s the money drive for Alabama, which will get the ball to start the second half. Championship teams close halves with scores and then follow that up with another score to take firm control of the game. Let’s see what Alabama is made of here.
Alabama 7, Michigan State 0.
After a huge 50-yard completion from Jake Coker to Calvin Ridley, Alabama’s freight train Derrick Henry plunges into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run. Alabama 7. Michigan State 0.
First Quarter: Alabama 0, Michigan State 0
Alabama wins the toss and defers to Michigan State. After a pass interference penalty against Alabama on the first play of the game, Alabama stops Michigan State on a third down play in which quarterback Connor Cook tries to run the ball against Alabama’s all-world front. Not gonna happen. Alabama gets the ball. Let’s hope Lane Kiffin doesn’t outthink himself in this game and sticks to what got Alabama here (run the ball with Derrick Henry).
On Alabama’s first possession, Derrick Henry doesn’t touch the ball once. Predictably, Alabama gets one first down and punts it back to the Spartans.
Still scoreless at the Cotton Bowl as Michigan State and Alabama trade punts. Alabama cannot let Michigan State hang around, especially since Connor Cook is a more experienced quarterback than Alabama’s Jake Coker. Alabama has to take the lead and make Michigan State one dimensional in trying to come back through the air. Kiffin cannot try a bunch of fancy plays against a Michigan State defense that is extremely disciplined and needs to pound the rock with Henry like Alabama did against LSU. Kiffin’s offense cannot let Alabama’s great work on defense go to waste with wacky play calls.
Michigan State was getting into field goal range, but Alabama’s stout defense promptly took them outside of field goal range and forced a punt with a tackle for loss and a sack.
A scoreless first quarter ends with Alabama marching down the field from the shadow of its own end zone. At the very least, the drive will shift field position and force Michigan State to march down the whole field for a score if Alabama fails to get points (unless Alabama commits a turnover).
Clemson 37, Oklahoma 17:
Gallman takes it in as Clemson takes nearly five minutes off the clock. Ten minutes left before Clemson can prepare for the winner of the Michigan State-Alabama semifinal.
Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware intercepts Mayfield as the Sooners were about to score a touchdown. That should seal the game unless something catastrophic happens. Clemson should take Baylor’s lead and just add to their twelve straight runs and just keep pounding the rock until there is no time left on the clock.
Clemson is in the victory formation and will face the Michigan State-Alabama victor in the title game in 11 days.
Clemson 30, Oklahoma 17:
After a huge stop on fourth down, Clemson immediately takes a crucial two-score lead as Watson connects with WR Hunter Renfrow for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Great teams are able to manage and milk the clock after taking leads. If Clemson’s defense gets one more stop, keep an eye on Clemson’s clock management and whether Swinney’s Tigers do the little things like staying in bounds and snapping the ball with 5 seconds on the play clock.
On Oklahoma’s next possession, after Mayfield keeps the drive alive with a scramble on third down, Clemson picks off the Oklahoma quarterback and gets the ball back with a chance to put the game on ice.
A three-and-out for Oklahoma on its next possession. Now it’s up to Clemson to bleed the clock. Don’t get incomplete passes on first down, get up slowly after runs, etc. This is not the game for “Clemsoning.”
Clemson 23, Oklahoma 17:
Clemson dodged a bullet when Gallman’s fumble went out of bounds, but it could not connect on a 48-yard field goal to go up two scores. Oklahoma now gets great field position near midfield to drive down and take the lead. Clemson has lost at least six costly points after driving into Oklahoma territory.
Yikes: Oklahoma backup running back Joe Mixon went down with an injury while blocking downfield. An injured Perine is reportedly trying to get back into the game.
Oklahoma snaps it directly to an injured Perine (?) on a fourth-and-one on the Clemson 31 and the Sooners fail to make the first down. Huge stop for Clemson.
Oklahoma gets a three-and-out (Clemson’s first). That saves the Sooners at least three minutes of game time.
Third Quarter: Clemson 23, Oklahoma 17
Clemson seemed intent on establishing the run with Gallman to open the second half. Unlike their last three trips to the red zone, Clemson finally punches it in to take the lead on one-yard touchdown run from Gallman. How costly was Watson’s interception at the end of the half? Clemson could be up two scores, which would allow their defense to better stymie Mayfield. Instead, the game has all the makings of a back-and-forth dogfight.
On Oklahoma’s next drive, key running back Samaje Perine went down with an injury. On the very next play, Clemson sacks Mayfield to give the offense the ball back with a chance to go up two scores. Clemson must put Oklahoma away, especially since Mayfield, with his sandlot style of play, can make the craziest of plays if Oklahoma has any life remaining in the final minutes.
Halftime: Oklahoma 17, Clemson 16:
After Watson’s huge third-and-ten scramble for a first down kept Clemson’s drive alive, he inexplicably threw a pick to Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez. Clemson loses an opportunity to go into halftime with a lead. A critical mistake by Clemson’s leader that cost the team three points. Given the magnitude of the game, it was more of a boneheaded play than his kneel-down on third down at the end of the first half during the Florida State game. Points are crucial in a game like this, and you can argue that Oklahoma stole ten to end the half and now has all of the momentum. Clemson’s opening drive in the second half could have been the one to possibly put the game on ice if they had managed the half properly. Now, it seems like Clemson may have to score on their opening drive just to stay in the game against a defense that came off the field with all the momentum after getting multiple red-zone stops.
Oklahoma 17, Clemson 16:
After Mayfield connects with Dede Westbrook on a 42-yard completion, Oklahoma takes the lead on a Mark Andrews 11-yard touchdown reception. The Sooners marched down the field in 42 seconds. Clemson had a chance to close out the half with the lead before settling for a field goal after a critical dropped pass. They now again have a chance to end the half with a score and start the next half with another.
Clemson 16, Oklahoma 10:
A huge drop by Clemson WR Charone Peak on a screen pass cost Clemson a chance not only to move the chains and close out the half with a touchdown but also an opportunity to take another 40 seconds off of the play clock. Clemson settled for a field goal after getting into Oklahoma territory and allowed the Sooners an opportunity to close out the half with a score if Mayfield can orchestrate a successful two-minute drive.
Clemson 13, Oklahoma 10:
Oklahoma was aided by a 15-yard sideline infraction (did Clemson get a warning earlier in the game?) but could not take the lead. Huge for Clemson’s defense to preserve the lead and hold Oklahoma to a field goal. Like the Patriots love doing in the NFL, Clemson has a chance to score before the half ends and then get the ball back at the beginning of the second half to put two straight scores together.
Clemson 13, Oklahoma 7:
Clemson tacks on a field goal after Watson scrambled around for some hefty gains. Clemson’s defense can give their offense a chance to possibly put the game away on the opening drive of the second half if it can keep the Sooners from scoring on this possession.
Plenty of history–and a lot of smack talking–between these two teams that could possibly make things a bit chippy in the second half.
— Carey Murdock (@CareyWWLS) December 31, 2015
— Eric Bailey (@EricBaileyTW) December 16, 2015
Clemson 10, Oklahoma 7:
How ’bout that? No guts, no glory. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney fakes a punt with Andy Teasdall, whom he eviscerated in the ACC championship game when Teasdall inexplicably went for a fake punt on his own and failed to get a first down. But this time, Clemson converts on a planned fake punt. Deshaun Watson plunges into the end zone two players later and Clemson takes its first lead. Two things to note. Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson is injured and may not return. Clemson receives the ball in the second half, so one more stop followed by another score may put Oklahoma on the ropes given Clemson’s ability to move the chains and run time off the clock with Watson and running back Wayne Gallman.
Oklahoma 7, Clemson 3:
After getting a three-and-out and a terrible 24-yard Oklahoma punt, Clemson got the ball at the Oklahoma 28 yard line but failed to get into the end zone and had to settle for a field goal.
Oklahoma 7, Clemson 0:
Oklahoma, aided by a pass interference penalty, marched down the field on its first drive for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. Samaje Perine took it into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run to cap off the drive.