Clemson thinks it can run against Alabama's grumpy defense

Dabo: Alabama does a lot of the same things we do (0:50)

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney discusses Alabama's "brand" and what he has learned about the Tigers' upcoming opponent in the CFP National Championship. (0:50)

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Even under normal circumstance, Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson is a bit of a grump, but it became abundantly clear Saturday that Robinson wasn't aiming for the much-coveted "Mr. Congeniality Award" at the College Football Playoff National Championship game media day, particularly when asked about other teams having success running the ball against the Crimson Tide.

Robinson glowered from above his thick beard before he said, “Teams have success? I haven’t seen teams have too much success. Whatever y’all say. I don’t know.”

Turns out that, yes, it was a stupid question. Teams haven't had success running the ball against Alabama. Over its last two and a half games, Alabama's run defense is yielding 4.5 YPQ. That's "yards per quarter." As in, over the past 10 quarters the Tide has surrendered just 45 yards rushing.

Oh, Georgia rushed for a season-high 193 yards against Alabama, but 83 of those yards came on one late-third-quarter TD run from Nick Chubb in a 38-10 blowout win over the Bulldogs. Tennessee did OK, gaining 132 yards in a 19-14 defeat. In Alabama's only loss, it yielded just 92 yards in a 43-37 defeat to Ole Miss, that anomalous point total being a result of a 5-0 turnover deficit and 341 passing yards from the Rebels.

Otherwise, no one gained more than 100 yards against the nation's No. 1 run defense, which gave up just 2.3 yards per rush and six rushing touchdowns this season.

Enter Clemson, a team that has run well on just about everyone. The Tigers rushing season-low came against Boston College -- 112 yards against the nation's No. 2 run defense -- but they piled up 420 passing yards in that blowout win. Clemson has averaged 229 yards rushing per game, including 322 yards per game in its past three contests.

It feels like a foundational matchup for the national title, a prototypical irresistible force plowing into an immovable object. Clemson has rushed for 200 yards in 11 games this season, tied for second most in the FBS. The past three times the Crimson Tide allowed 200 rushing yards to an FBS team, they lost (Ohio State last season, Auburn in 2013 and LSU in 2010).

Of course, Clemson might have a chance to defeat Alabama if it can't run the ball. For example, if the Tide give the Tigers a 5-0 turnover margin as they did to Ole Miss. But it seems unlikely.

“I think we have to run the ball," Clemson guard Eric Mac Lain said. "I think we have to get that established early. That’s just who we are. We can’t change that now.”

Clemson's rushing attack includes the element that some believe troubles a Nick Saban defense: An adept running quarterback. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman are the only Power 5 teammates to both rush for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Watson's 646 yards rushing since the start of November is the most by an FBS quarterback.

The highest running total for an opposing QB against Alabama was 29 yards this season.

Other notable factoids about the Tide's run defense:

  • It has missed the fewest tackles per game (3.4) among Power 5 teams.

  • It has allowed the fewest rushing yards after contact per game (41.9) and per rush (1.4) among Power 5 teams.

  • It has allowed 15 rushes with five or more yards after contact, fewest among Power 5 teams.

  • It has allowed six 20-yard rushes (one to a quarterback) this season, tied with Washington for the fewest in the FBS.

Said Mac Lain about the Tide's front seven, “Absolute monsters. That whole front seven is going to be the best we’ve gone against all year.”

In practices, Alabama often lines up in a team running period: four run plays, rapid fire, No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense, classic Oklahoma drill, mano-a-mano.

When asked how often the Tide offense wins against its defense, center Ryan Kelly said, “A lot of times it’s a stalemate.”

A stalemate isn't a hopeless result. Clemson, however, is hoping for more. Its offensive linemen believe the Tide run defense won't be a shock to its collective systems. More than a few noted their own highly rated defense is pretty salty, too.

Said true freshman tackle Mitch Hyatt, “I've gone against just as good and maybe even better in practice.”

Well, it's not like that's going to make Robinson & Co. any grumpier.