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The Alabama vs. Clemson National Championship advanced stats tale of the tape

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Let's start talking about the Championship by looking at the numbers. All the numbers.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Stats are the best way to start a conversation. They miss some specific context, but they make sure that we're starting with the right assumptions.

With that in mind, let's be sure our Alabama-Clemson preview material includes, yes, a data dump. Below is a massive tale-of-the-tape breakdown of the impending College Football Playoff championship. It points very quickly to the opportunities that exist for both teams.

For Alabama, the advantages are obvious. The Crimson Tide have what is by far the best defense in the country. They utilize good special teams and extreme defensive efficiency to create massive field position advantages. Occasionally they score points.

For Clemson, there's less margin for error, but the Tigers could turn the script in their favor by shutting down drives short of the end zone and harassing the quarterback on passing downs. They invade your backfield and finish drives. You can beat Alabama with that recipe.

Explore the matchups below. Share your thoughts in the comments!

No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson Tigers (14-0)

Jan. 11 (8:30 PM ET, ESPN), University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale
Spread: Alabama -7
S&P+ Projection: Alabama 26.7, Clemson 23.4
Team Sites: Roll 'Bama Roll, Shakin The Southland

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

Statistical profiles index.

Full Football Outsiders F/+ rankings can be found here.

The Basics
Category Alabama Clemson
S&P+ (Rk) 1 2
Category Alabama offense Clemson defense Clemson offense Alabama defense
Yards per play (Rk) 5.59 (52) 4.52 (11) 6.23 (22) 4.01 (2)
Yards per game (Rk) 423.7 (46) 299.6 (6) 520.7 (10) 262.6 (3)
Points per possession (Rk) 2.56 (38) 1.41 (12) 2.73 (26) 0.97 (1)
Category Alabama offense Clemson defense Clemson offense Alabama defense
S&P+ (Rk) 36.8 (25) 14.9 (4) 41.6 (10) 6.8 (1)
Rushing S&P+ (Rk) 116.7 (16) 121.9 (7) 115.6 (19) 160.1 (1)
Passing S&P+ (Rk) 117.8 (25) 136.5 (4) 143.5 (3) 157.6 (1)
Standard Downs S&P+ (Rk) 115.8 (18) 144.5 (2) 127.2 (4) 152.2 (1)
Passing Downs S&P+ (Rk) 113.6 (37) 103.0 (62) 124.9 (16) 160.2 (1)
Q1 S&P+ (Rk) 117.6 (25) 155.5 (2) 126.6 (10) 162.4 (1)
Q2 S&P+ (Rk) 115.7 (29) 146.3 (2) 132.6 (7) 169.7 (1)
Q3 S&P+ (Rk) 124.4 (18) 140.5 (7) 130.5 (8) 155.4 (1)
Q4 S&P+ (Rk) 112.2 (28) 100.8 (68) 113.1 (25) 123.4 (10)
Five biggest advantages, according to the advanced stats

Alabama

  1. Field Position (No. 5 offense vs. No. 96 defense)
  2. Field Position (No. 26 defense vs. No. 100 offense)
  3. Passing Downs Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 34 offense vs. No. 78 defense)
  4. Q4 S&P+ (No. 8 vs. No. 42)
  5. Rushing Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 1 defense vs. No. 28 offense)

Clemson

  1. Passing Downs Sack Rate (No. 17 defense vs. No. 78 offense)
  2. Third Down S&P+ (No. 10 defense vs. No. 64 offense)
  3. Redzone S&P+ (No. 8 defense vs. No. 46 offense)
  4. Run Stuffs (No. 2 defense vs. No. 34 offense)
  5. Passing Explosiveness (IsoPPP) (No. 3 defense vs. No. 30 offense)
Five Factors
Category Alabama offense Clemson defense Clemson offense Alabama defense
EXPLOSIVENESS 1.23 (80) 1.38 (109) 1.28 (57) 1.26 (71)
EFFICIENCY 44.1% (39) 32.0% (3) 48.9% (8) 27.7% (1)
FIELD POSITION 33.5 (5) 30.7 (96) 28.4 (100) 27.5 (26)
FINISHING DRIVES 4.9 (53) 3.9 (16) 5.2 (30) 3.6 (5)
TURNOVER MARGIN EXPECTED:
Alabama 14.63 (1)
Clemson 2.43 (48)
ACTUAL
Alabama 9 (15)
Clemson -1 (74)
Offensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Alabama offense Clemson offense
Adj. Pace 1.6 (46) 9.0 (9)
Plays per game 75.8 (49) 83.6 (12)
Possessions per game 13.4 (45) 14.1 (17)
Std. Downs Run Rate 62.1% (51) 58.3% (70)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 39.4% (30) 36.6% (42)
% of solo tackles 75.4% (59) 77.2% (44)
Defensive Footprint
Category (Rk) Alabama defense Clemson defense
Std. Downs Run Rate 54.3% (117) 56.3% (108)
Pass. Downs Run Rate 24.2% (126) 34.5% (61)
Overall Havoc Rate 23.3% (1) 21.3% (5)
Front 7 Havoc Rate 13.6% (5) 12.8% (6)
DB Havoc Rate 7.8% (13) 6.3% (51)
PD to INC 39.9% (11) 28.7% (100)

When Alabama has the ball…

Standard Downs
Alabama Offense Clemson Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 115.8 18 144.5 2 Clemson
Standard Downs Success Rate 50.9 23 34.7 2 Clemson
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.05 91 1.08 65 Clemson
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.05 42 2.17 4 Clemson
SD Sack Rate 2.8% 23 10.3% 1 Clemson
Passing Downs
Alabama Offense Clemson Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 113.6 37 103.0 62 Alabama
Passing Downs Success Rate 28.7 82 28.1 37 Clemson
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.94 27 1.64 100 Alabama big
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.86 12 2.90 38 Alabama
PD Sack Rate 7.9% 78 10.9% 17 Clemson big

When Clemson has the ball…

Standard Downs
Clemson Offense Alabama Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Standard Downs S&P+ 127.2 4 152.2 1
Standard Downs Success Rate 53.4 11 32.0 1 Alabama
Standard Downs IsoPPP 1.21 20 1.10 54 Clemson
SD Line Yards per Carry 3.31 12 2.21 6
SD Sack Rate 2.2% 15 8.2% 5 Alabama
Passing Downs
Clemson Offense Alabama Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Edge
Passing Downs S&P+ 124.9 16 160.2 1 Alabama
Passing Downs Success Rate 35.7 25 21.8 3 Alabama
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.57 109 1.88 31 Alabama big
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.65 27 2.64 15 Alabama
PD Sack Rate 3.5% 8 14.2% 1

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Individual Passing Stats
Team Player Ht, Wt Year Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Alabama Jake Coker 6'5, 232 SR 247 368 2775 19 8 67.1% 20 5.2% 6.7
Alabama Cooper Bateman 6'3, 220 SO 37 52 291 1 2 71.2% 1 1.9% 5.5
Alabama Alec Morris 6'3, 233 JR 1 1 6 0 0 100.0% 0 0.0% 6.0
Clemson Deshaun Watson 6'2, 210 SO 303 444 3699 31 12 68.2% 13 2.8% 7.9
Clemson Nick Schuessler 6'3, 200 JR 13 23 177 0 1 56.5% 2 8.0% 6.1
Clemson Kelly Bryant 6'3, 215 FR 7 9 27 0 1 77.8% 0 0.0% 3.0
Individual Rushing Stats
Team Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Alabama Derrick Henry RB 6'3, 242 JR 359 2061 25 5.7 5.4 42.6%
Alabama Kenyan Drake RB 6'1, 210 SR 76 407 1 5.4 5.3 46.1%
Alabama Jake Coker QB 6'5, 232 SR 46 250 2 5.4 3.8 50.0%
Alabama Damien Harris RB 5'11, 205 FR 46 157 1 3.4 4.6 28.3%
Clemson Wayne Gallman RB 6'1, 215 SO 269 1482 12 5.5 4.7 41.3%
Clemson Deshaun Watson QB 6'2, 210 SO 174 1100 12 6.3 5.6 45.4%
Clemson C.J. Fuller RB 5'10, 210 FR 42 171 1 4.1 2.0 35.7%
Clemson Zac Brooks RB 6'1, 200 SR 40 230 3 5.8 7.2 35.0%
NOTE: Quarterback run totals above do not include sacks (which are counted toward pass averages below) or kneeldowns.
Individual Receiving Stats
Team Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Targets Catches Yards TD Yds/
Catch
Yds/
Target
Catch Rate
Alabama Calvin Ridley WR 6'1, 188 FR 115 83 1031 7 12.4 9.0 72.2%
Alabama ArDarius Stewart WR 6'1, 204 SO 95 61 637 4 10.4 6.7 64.2%
Alabama Richard Mullaney WR 6'3, 208 SR 57 37 361 5 9.8 6.3 64.9%
Alabama O.J. Howard TE 6'6, 242 JR 42 33 394 0 11.9 9.4 78.6%
Alabama Kenyan Drake RB 6'1, 210 SR 38 27 255 1 9.4 6.7 71.1%
Alabama Derrick Henry RB 6'3, 242 JR 17 11 91 0 8.3 5.4 64.7%
Alabama Robert Foster WR 6'2, 194 SO 12 10 116 2 11.6 9.7 83.3%
Clemson Artavis Scott WR 5'11, 190 SO 113 89 894 5 10.0 7.9 78.8%
Clemson Charone Peake WR 6'3, 215 SR 73 44 617 5 14.0 8.5 60.3%
Clemson Jordan Leggett TE 6'5, 255 JR 53 35 447 7 12.8 8.4 66.0%
Clemson Deon Cain WR 6'2, 200 FR 46 34 582 5 17.1 12.7 73.9%
Clemson Hunter Renfrow WR 5'10, 175 FR 38 26 404 3 15.5 10.6 68.4%
Clemson Ray-Ray McCloud WR 5'10, 180 FR 34 28 244 1 8.7 7.2 82.4%
Clemson Germone Hopper WR 6'0, 180 JR 29 21 317 1 15.1 10.9 72.4%
Individual Defensive Stats
Team Name Pos Ht, Wt Year Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alabama Reggie Ragland LB 6'2, 252 SR 76.5 11.7% 6.5 2.5 0 7 2 0
Alabama Reuben Foster LB 6'1, 240 JR 52.0 7.9% 7.0 1.0 0 9 0 0
Alabama Geno Matias-Smith DB 6'0, 196 SR 50.5 7.7% 1.0 0.0 1 1 1 0
Alabama Eddie Jackson DB 6'0, 194 JR 37.5 5.7% 3.0 0.0 5 2 1 0
Alabama Jarran Reed DL 6'4, 313 SR 36.0 5.5% 4.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Alabama Marlon Humphrey DB 6'1, 192 FR 36.0 5.5% 2.5 0.0 3 6 2 0
Alabama Minkah Fitzpatrick DB 6'1, 195 FR 34.0 5.2% 3.0 2.0 2 9 0 0
Alabama A'Shawn Robinson DL 6'4, 312 JR 29.5 4.5% 7.5 3.5 0 2 0 1
Alabama Ryan Anderson LB 6'2, 249 JR 29.0 4.4% 11.5 6.0 0 0 2 0
Alabama Cyrus Jones DB 5'10, 196 SR 28.5 4.3% 4.0 0.0 2 7 1 1
Alabama Jonathan Allen DL 6'3, 283 JR 27.5 4.2% 14.5 12.0 0 4 2 0
Alabama Dalvin Tomlinson DL 6'3, 294 JR 22.0 3.4% 0.5 0.0 0 6 0 0
Alabama Shaun Dion Hamilton LB 6'0, 229 SO 20.5 3.1% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Clemson B.J. Goodson LB 6'1, 250 SR 73.5 10.5% 14.0 5.5 2 3 1 1
Clemson T.J. Green S 6'3, 205 JR 72.5 10.4% 5.5 1.0 0 3 2 0
Clemson Ben Boulware LB 5'11, 240 JR 60.5 8.6% 8.0 3.5 2 7 3 0
Clemson Jayron Kearse S 6'5, 220 JR 49.5 7.1% 6.5 0.0 1 6 1 1
Clemson Kevin Dodd DE 6'5, 275 JR 46.0 6.6% 18.5 9.0 0 0 1 0
Clemson Shaq Lawson DE 6'3, 270 JR 44.5 6.4% 23.5 10.5 0 0 1 0
Clemson Cordrea Tankersley CB 6'1, 195 JR 40.5 5.8% 2.5 1.0 5 9 0 0
Clemson Dorian O'Daniel LB 6'1, 215 SO 27.5 3.9% 5.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Clemson Travis Blanks LB 6'1, 210 JR 27.0 3.9% 4.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Clemson Carlos Watkins DT 6'3, 300 JR 24.5 3.5% 6.5 3.5 1 3 0 0
Clemson Christian Wilkins DT 6'4, 315 FR 23.5 3.4% 4.5 2.0 0 0 1 0
Clemson Mackensie Alexander CB 5'11, 195 SO 18.5 2.6% 2.0 0.0 0 5 0 0
Clemson Austin Bryant DE 6'4, 265 FR 16.5 2.4% 2.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
Note: It appears "Fumble Returns" are getting pulled instead of "Fumble Recoveries." My apologies. Will try to get that corrected.
Individual Special Teams Stats
Team Punter Ht, Wt Year Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Alabama JK Scott 6'5, 195 SO 63 44.4 9 13 14 42.9%
Clemson Andy Teasdall 5'11, 190 JR 57 39.4 0 24 18 73.7%
Clemson Deshaun Watson 6'2, 210 SO 1 23.0 0 0 1 100.0%
Team Kicker Ht, Wt Year Kickoffs Avg TB TB% OOB Fair
Catches
Onside
Att
Onside
Success
Alabama Adam Griffith 5'10, 192 JR 93 63.6 51 54.8% 3 1 1 1
Alabama JK Scott 6'5, 195 SO 1 57.0 0 0.0% 0 1 0 0
Clemson Ammon Lakip 5'10, 200 SR 73 59.2 28 38.4% 1 0 0 0
Clemson Greg Huegel 5'11, 185 FR 30 62.7 8 26.7% 0 1 0 0
Team Place-Kicker Ht, Wt Year PAT FG Pct
Alabama Adam Griffith 5'10, 192 JR 56-56 22-30 73.3%
Alabama JK Scott 6'5, 195 SO 1-1 0-1 0.0%
Clemson Greg Huegel 5'11, 185 FR 53-58 25-29 86.2%
Clemson Ammon Lakip 5'10, 200 SR 7-7 1-1 100.0%
Team Kick Returner Ht, Wt Year Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Alabama Kenyan Drake 6'1, 210 SR 14 22.1 0 0 1 (1)
Alabama Damien Harris 5'11, 205 FR 9 19.3 0 0 1 (0)
Clemson C.J. Fuller 5'10, 210 FR 14 16.9 0 0 1 (0)
Clemson Artavis Scott 5'11, 190 SO 13 24.0 0 0 0 (0)
Team Punt Returner Ht, Wt Year Returns Avg. TD Fair Catch Fumbles (Lost)
Alabama Cyrus Jones 5'10, 196 SR 41 12.6 4 31 2 (1)
Alabama Richard Mullaney 6'3, 208 SR 2 15.0 0 0 0 (0)
Clemson Artavis Scott 5'11, 190 SO 11 3.0 0 20 1 (0)
Clemson Germone Hopper 6'0, 180 JR 5 -1.4 0 7 1 (1)

Stats via SportSource Analytics