Alabama rolls Michigan State, 38-0, for spot in College Football Playoff final
ARLINGTON, Texas — Porous on the first night of 2015, Alabama proved inviolable on the last. Careless on the first, it proved airtight on the last. Inconvenienced with a pyrotechnic opponent on the first, it mastered a simpler puzzle on the last.
Beaten last Jan. 1 when it first tried one of these newfangled national semifinals, the Crimson Tide wound up absolutely not beaten on Friday night in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, because it did what it tends to do in this near-dynastic era under Coach Nick Saban.
It improved systematically.
“The focus that they had for this game was completely different from what we’ve ever had before,” Saban said.
As it found its way to a 38-0 win over Michigan State and its fourth title-game berth in Saban’s nine seasons, set for Jan. 11 in Arizona opposite Clemson, Alabama did many of the things it didn’t and couldn’t 364 days prior in its 42-35 loss to eventual champion Ohio State. “To do that in a playoff, a goose egg up there?” hybrid front-seven man Ryan Anderson said of Michigan State’s score. “It’s a great feeling.”
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Where it sprang leaks for the Buckeyes’ 537 total yards and 281 on the ground, it used its enviable and populous defensive front to make Michigan State look helpless. Where it allowed 85 rushing yards on a single clinching run by Ezekiel Elliott, it allowed less than 5 percent of that (4 yards) to four Spartans running backs across the telltale first three quarters. “It’s the first time all year that that’s happened to us,” Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said of his team’s rushing inability. And where Alabama threw three interceptions in New Orleans, one returned for a critical touchdown, it threw none here in Texas, and that statistic dovetailed with a surprising reality.
Alabama had the better quarterback — for the night, anyway.
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For much of the Crimson Tide’s 12-1 season to date, Jake Coker had seemed at least something of a hood ornament, charged with handing the football efficiently and wisely to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. Yet with Michigan State bunched in to stop Henry — he gained 75 yards on 20 carries — Coker made precise throw after precise throw. With some damaging accuracy added to his usual efficiency, the senior first-year starter from Mobile, Ala., spent those first three quarters going a shining 25-for-30 for 286 yards that traded in game-changing moments.
With a stalemate underway and a scoreless game halfway through the second quarter, he lofted a beauty up the middle of the field toward a spot near the goal line, where soon there would appear Calvin Ridley, the onrushing freshman aiming to continue Alabama’s recent penchant for sublime receivers. Ridley ran beside defenders Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson until he turned up beyond them, collecting the 50-yard pass at the 1-yard line, from which Henry scored.