Shortly after Alabama’s 38-0 annihilation of Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic College Football Playoff semifinal last Thursday, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, a man of few words, broke protocol to comment about his team’s mindset regarding this year’s chances.
In typical Saban fashion, his remark remained frank.
"I think last year when we came to this game, we were just happy to take part in the game," he said. "I think this year we wanted to sort of take the game and really thought our guys had a vision of what they wanted and everybody paid the price for what they had to do in preparation."
While Alabama basked in its semifinal victory in Arlington, Texas, Clemson had long sewn up its spot in the national championship game following a 37-17 dismantling of Oklahoma in the Capital One Orange Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal in South Florida on New Year's Eve, courtesy of 530 yards of total offense in a performance that left the Sooners bewildered.
With their wins, both schools secured passes to the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz. Since both teams' first meeting in 1900, Alabama is 12-3 in games against Clemson, with its most recent win being a 34-10 season-opening one in 2008.
The following are 10 stats you need to know for Monday's national title tilt.
117: Consecutive games in which Alabama has scored in the first half
Alabama’s freshmen football players were just 10 years old the last time the Crimson Tide failed to score in the first half of a football game – a seven-point home loss to Florida State. Since that loss, Alabama has scored in the first two quarters of their past 117 games, a streak that leads the nation.
1,122: Number of plays Clemson has run from scrimmage this season
Although former offensive coordinator Chad Morris is now the head coach at SMU, the hurry-up offense most certainly hasn't departed Clemson. Entering this game, the Tigers have run 1,122 plays (second most in the nation) for 7,168 yards – 3,200 rushing, 3,968 passing. The Tigers do most of their damage on first down, as they have rushed 320 times for 1,814 yards and 12 touchdowns, while averaging 5.67 yards per play. Even more staggering is that Clemson has produced 21 plays of 20-plus yards on first downs.
75-0-1: Clemson's record when rushing and passing for 200 yards in the same game
Clemson’s offensive line imposed its will against Oklahoma on New Year’s Eve, paving the way for 312 rushing yards and 218 passing yards. It was the 10th consecutive game in which the Tigers totaled 500 yards of offense. The Tigers are 75-0-1 in games when the offense produces 200 yards on the ground and through the air.
12: Points per game Alabama's defense has allowed on the road this season
Alabama’s opponents are all too familiar with the home-field advantage that comes along with playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Unfortunately, the results haven’t been too favorable for teams hosting the Crimson Tide this season either. In Alabama’s seven road/neutral-site games, the Tide have held their hosts to 12 points per game and have only allowed eight touchdowns and nine field goals. In SEC road games against Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn, Alabama surrendered a total of four touchdowns.
17th: Clemson's national rank in red zone offense
Clemson ranks among the nation’s best as it boasts college football’s 17th-most efficient red zone offense (.891 percent). In five games in October, the Tigers’ offense netted points on all but one (17-for-18) of its red zone attempts, scoring 12 touchdowns and kicking five field goals. Clemson scored on every such possession in wins against Notre Dame, Boston College, Miami and NC State, and went 3-for-4 inside its own 20-yard line against Georgia Tech on Oct. 10.
788: Rushing yards Alabama's Derrick Henry has in eight career games played in domes
Before winning the Heisman Trophy, Henry ran his way into the national spotlight against Oklahoma two years ago in the Sugar Bowl. The then-freshman power back ran for 100 yards on just eight carries in a game that was played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It was just the beginning when it came to Henry's performances indoors. In eight career games played in domed stadiums, Henry has rushed for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. This season alone he has run for 411 yards and six scores in two games at AT&T Stadium (vs. Wisconsin, Michigan State in College Football Playoff) and one in the Georgia Dome (SEC Championship Game vs. Florida).
18th: Clemson's national rank in rushing defense
Everyone knows about Alabama’s vaunted run defense. But Clemson’s defense has put together its own noteworthy campaign against the run this season. The Tigers currently rank 18th nationally, surrendering just 124.4 rushing yards per game. In the Orange Bowl, Clemson’s run defense neutralized Oklahoma running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who had combined for 2,040 yards rushing entering that game, holding the tandem to 67 yards and one touchdown.
4: Number of punts returned for a touchdown this season by Alabama's Cyrus Jones, a school record
With his 57-yard, third quarter punt return for a touchdown against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, Jones became Alabama's single-season leader with his fourth such return this season. The cornerback/return specialist broke the former mark held by Crimson Tide greats David Palmer and Javier Arenas. Half of the senior's season total came in late November in a game against Charleston Southern when he scored on punt returns of 43 and 72 yards.
9: Number of non-offensive touchdowns Alabama has scored this season
The aforementioned Jones’ third-quarter punt return for a touchdown didn’t just cement his name in Alabama’s record books, it also gave the Crimson Tide its ninth non-offensive touchdown on the season – Arkansas State leads the nation with 11. In 2015, Alabama has scored on four interceptions, four punt returns and on a blocked punt. Under Nick Saban, Alabama has scored a total of 45 non-offensive touchdowns.
9: Number of wins in NFL stadiums Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has in his career
Over the past couple seasons, Swinney has successfully managed to deflect rumors concerning his possible departure for the NFL. But perhaps he shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss that talk as he’s had success in games played at professional arenas. Since taking over at Clemson, Swinney has rattled off nine wins in games played at NFL stadiums, against four losses. A win at the Arizona Cardinals’ University of Phoenix Stadium next Monday would push him to a career 10-4 in pro venues.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.