Alabama's defense posted the first shutout in the two-year history of the College Football Playoff on Thursday, throttling Michigan State, 38-0, to win the Cotton Bowl and earn a berth against Clemson in the CFP National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 11.
Clemson defeated Oklahoma, 37-17, in the Orange Bowl -- the other College Football Playoff semifinal game -- to reach the national championship game.
On a night when the Crimson Tide used Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry more sparingly than usual (20 carries), its vaunted defense carried the program to the brink of its fourth national title in the last seven years. Michigan State's offense generated just 29 rushing yards on 26 carries, and quarterback Connor Cook was largely ineffective in completing 19 of 39 passes for 210 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
"I think the rush affected the quarterback some, and we covered them well for the most part," Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN.
Indeed, Alabama's vaunted pass rush harrassed Cook, one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft, througout the game, led by defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Ryan Anderson.
Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones made one of the game's biggest plays in the final minute of the first half, intercepting Cook at the Alabama goal line to thwart the Spartans' best scoring threat of the night to that point. The play allowed Alabama to take a 10-0 lead into the half after that lead looked to be in jeopardy with MSU on the Alabama 12-yard line.
Jones followed up that key interception in the second half with the play that broke Michigan State, a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown that put the Crimson Tide ahead, 24-0.
Alabama senior quarterback Jake Coker completed 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns without a turnover. Freshman receiver Calvin Ridley caught eight passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, breaking Oakland Raiders rookie Amari Cooper's school record for single-season receiving yards by a freshman.