ARLINGTON, Texas – Jake Coker played the game of his career, hooking up with Calvin Ridley for two touchdowns, as second-ranked Alabama aired it out to beat No. 3 Michigan State 38-0 Thursday night and advance to the national championship game.
Alabama (13-1) will face No. 1 Clemson (14-0) on Jan. 11 in Arizona looking for its fourth national title in nine seasons under coach Nick Saban.
The Tide looked like a team with no weaknesses against overmatched Michigan State (12-2). Coker, the promising Florida State transfer who sat the bench most of last season, was nearly perfect. The senior completed 25 for 30 for 286 yards. The freshman Ridley was brilliant, streaking by defenders on deep throws and outfighting them on jump balls. He caught eight passes for 138 yards.
Jonathan Allen and the ferocious Tide defensive front sacked Connor Cook four times and allowed the Spartans only one trip into the red zone — which ended with Cyrus Jones intercepting a pass at the goal line.
Jones added a high-stepping 57-yard punt return touchdown for the Tide, which hardly even had to use Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. The big tailback who has carried the Crimson Tide offense most of the season was mostly just a role player against a Spartans defense stacked to stop him. He ran for 75 yards and scored two touchdowns. The last made it 38-0 halfway through the fourth quarter. The celebration at that point was pretty tame on the Alabama sideline. Henry got a chest pump from a lineman and some pats on the helmet before taking a seat next to a fan to cool off.
He was done for the day as if it was a September game against one of those nonconference cupcakes.
The 'Bama fans were having fun, though, breaking out the "S-E-C!" chant and singing along to "Sweet Home Alabama" with that familiar "Rolll Tide Roll!" AT&T Stadium in North Texas — where Alabama started its season by blwoing out a Big Ten team (Wisconsin) — had turned into Tuscaloosa west.
The only team to make to the College Football Playoff each of its first two seasons will be playing in the final for the first time,
Last season the Crimson Tide couldn't get past the semifinals, upset by Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Heading into another game as a big favorite against the Big Ten champions, the Tide players said all week that the focus was better and their attitude more serious.
They talked about how some players were too concerned about where they would be drafted or partying on Bourbon Street. In chilly Dallas there was nothing to do but practice and that was fine by them.
Michigan State embraced its role as the underdog and came in expecting to slug it out with the Tide and it smothering defense and hammering Heisman winner. The Spartans offensive line watched video of the 1971 Ali-Frazier fight to prepare for what it expected to be a 15-round heavyweight bout.
Instead it was a TKO.