Preview: Alabama vs. Clemson, College Football National Championship

Let’s take a brief look at some statistical notes ahead of tonight’s College Football National Championship between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson.

Alabama Passing vs. Clemson Pass Defense

  • Tua Tagovailoa ranks second (142.3) in our Independent Quarterback Rating* metric for the 2018 season, behind only Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray (145.3).
  • That said, Tagovailoa has performed much better when not under pressure: 149.3 IQR with no pressure; 113.1 IQR with pressure (which still ranked sixth in the country, minimum 50 attempts)…
  • …and Clemson’s pass rush, even without Dexter Lawrence, can bring pressure. The Tigers have registered 256 QB pressures this year, third behind only Ohio State (263) and Alabama (260).
  • Tua’s primary targets include Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. Among receivers with at least 60 targets on the season, Jeudy ranks third in yards per target (12.4) and Ruggs ranks 12th (11.1).
  • Clemson’s defense recorded only 27 passes-defensed for the season — by far the fewest of any of the playoff teams (Notre Dame 51; Alabama 48; Oklahoma 40).

Alabama Rushing vs. Clemson Run Defense

  • Clemson’s run defense is dominant, allowing only 2.2 yards per attempt (best in the country).
  • The Tigers are especially good up the middle at 1.95 yards per attempt. Every other FBS team allowed at least 3 YPA. We’ll see if Lawrence’s absence on the interior affects this against Alabama.
  • Alabama has depth in the backfield. It gave 100+ carries to three rushers this season: Damien Harris (139), Josh Jacobs (109), and Najee Harris (108).
  • Among NCAA rushers with at least 100 carries, Jacobs ranks third in broken tackle percentage (38.5%) and first in first down percentage (41.3%).

Clemson Passing vs. Alabama Pass Defense

  • Trevor Lawrence has picked apart man coverages — his 137.8 IQR in such situations ranks third behind Tagovailoa (139.0) and Murray (138.7).
  • Why is this notable? Alabama plays a lot of man defense — specifically Cover 1 and Man Cover 2.
  • As noted above, Alabama’s pass rush brings the pressure like Clemson’s. But Lawrence has shown so far that he can handle it: his 122.7 IQR under pressure ranks second among quarterbacks with at least 70 attempts in such situations.
  • Keep an eye on Hunter Renfrow, who’s succeeded in previous matchups against the Crimson Tide. The dependable Renfrow is tied for 30th nationally with a 90.4 percent on-target catch rate.

Clemson Rushing vs. Alabama Run Defense

  • Clemson running back Travis Etienne was one of only three running backs with more than 20 rushing touchdowns on the season, joining Memphis’ Darrell Henderson and Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary.
  • Etienne has been one of the nation’s most effective rushers on a per-attempt basis, ranking as one of five running backs with an average of over eight yards per attempt while carrying the ball at least 100 times.
  • Alabama’s run defense has not been as effective on the outside as it has been on the inside. The team ranks 11th among FBS teams in limiting yards per attempt on inside runs, but only 84th on off-tackle and outside runs.
  • That could be something to watch, as Etienne has collected 927 yards on 101 off-tackle and outside carries. That 9.2 YPA ranks second among NCAA running backs with at least 50 such runs.

Independent Quarterback Rating is Sports Info Solutions’ proprietary quarterback metric. It builds on the traditional Passer Rating formula by accounting for results that are outside of the quarterback’s control – dropped passes, dropped interceptions, throwaways, etc. – to form a better benchmark of QB value.

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