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Defense and running game (still) win championships

We're in a new era of college football. Can't you tell? Just look at the last two national title games.

Two years ago, Alabama managed win its fourth Nick Saban-led national championship, but needed to score 45 points to beat Clemson's 40. Last year, Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 by vaporizing the Tide's defense through its sheer force of volume. Clemson occupied the ball for nearly 35 minutes and ran an astounding 99 plays.

And at halftime of Monday's Rose Bowl, it definitely seemed like the need for an elite defense to compete for a national championship had been conquered. Oklahoma racked up 31 points and 360 yards on Georgia to take a 14-point lead into the locker room. Then the second half started.

Georgia limited Oklahoma to one offensive touchdown over 10 possessions in the second half and both overtime periods, while the combination of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel churned OU's rushing defense to the tune of 25 carries for 326 yards and five touchdowns, including Michel's 27-yarder to win it in double overtime.

In the Sugar Bowl, Alabama managed an 18-point win gaining less than four yards per play, gaining just 16 first downs and, by the way, scoring only 17 offensive points. The Tide's defense broke open a 10-6 game thanks to back-breaking interceptions on consecutive Kelly Bryant passes, turning a 4-point game into a 24-6 lead that might as well have been 240-6.

The Tide may have gained just 3.95 yards per play, but they limited Clemson to 2.69 yards per play and 14 first downs over 70 snaps. It's perfectly fitting that Alabama's game-clinching touchdowns were scored by defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne and linebacker Mack Wilson.

So now we head into a national title game pitting Alabama and Georgia, two teams that are mirror images of each other. You may have heard something about that. A quick glance at the numbers show Alabama and Georgia attempt to get from Point A to Point B through the exact same route.


Alabama (Rank)

Georgia (Rank)

Scoring Defense

11.1 points per game (1st)

15.7 points per game (5th)

Total Defense

252.4 yards per game (1st)

289.5 yards per game (6th)

Yards Per Play Allowed

3.92 (1st)

4.65 (8th)

Rushing Defense

91.77 yards per game (1st)

121.86 yards per game (20th)

Pass Efficiency Defense

95.80 (1st)

112.34 (13th)

Opponent First Downs

14.8 per game (4th)

15.3 per game (7th)

Rushing Offense

255.8 yards per game (10th)

267.4 yards per game (8th)

Yards Per Carry

5.80 (8th)

5.99 (6th)

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but that's the entire point. Football is still football. The sure-fire way to win football games at a championship level in 2018 is the same way it was in 1968, just as it will be in 2068.