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Alabama defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand (9) celebrates his sack in the second half of the Sugar Bowl semi-final playoff game against Clemson for the NCAA college football national championship, in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The rubber match of the Alabama-Clemson trilogy was a total dud compared to the previous meetings.
Except to the Crimson Tide defense, which will remember it as a thing of beauty.
In a game where every yard was a struggle, the ‘Bama defenders took matters into their own hands. They accounted for a pair of touchdowns just 13 seconds apart in the third quarter to turn an offensive slog into a 24-6 rout of defending national champion Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal game Monday night.
“That was a relentless defensive attitude,” said coach Nick Saban, who earned another shot at his record-tying sixth national title. “They were warriors out there on the field. I couldn’t be more proud of the way a bunch of guys competed for 60 minutes.”
It was quite a contrast to the teams’ last two games, both high-scoring classics with the national title on the line , not to mention the Rose Bowl semifinal that preceded it. Georgia knocked off Oklahoma 54-48 in a double-overtime thriller that wasn’t decided until the Alabama was on its second possession in the Big Easy.
There would be no drama in the nightcap. With Deshaun Watson off to the NFL, top-ranked Clemson (12-2) simply had no answer for the Crimson Tide’s latest group of defensive standouts, setting up an all-Southeastern Conference showdown for the national title — with Saban matched against his former defensive coordinator, Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
“I’m proud of the job he’s done,” Saban said. “I’m sure it will be a great football game.”
Clemson was fortunate to be down only 10-3 at halftime against the fourth-ranked Tide (12-1), and actually closed the gap with a field goal after Jalen Hurts fumbled on the first play of the second half.
But any thoughts of a Tiger rally were snuffed out by the…