Season: 193-70 (73%)
#2Clemson (13-1) vs #1Alabama (14-0) – CFP National Championship pres. by AT&T in Tampa, FL – 8PM ET, ESPN (Mon 1/9)
Who To Watch
Jonathan Allen, DL – Alabama
Bo Scarbrough, RB – Alabama
Deshaun Watson, QB – Clemson
Jalen Hurts, QB – Alabama
Mike Williams, WR – Clemson
Tim Williams, LB – Alabama
Jordan Leggett, TE – Clemson
What To Watch
Sarkisian as Coordinator
Switching offensive coordinators a week before you play in the national championship is either crazy or genius by Nick Saban. While the offense certainly didn’t play up to expectations in the semifinal against Washington, Lane Kiffin got the Crimson Tide to this point, and making a switch now could completely throw off the offense with only a week to get adjusted. It’s hard to tell if Kiffin was distracted by his new job at Florida Atlantic, but it seems as if that’s what Saban thought. Kiffin and Sark coach relatively the same style, but the major worry is the relationship that Kiffin had with freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. Kiffin knew how to play call around his weaknesses, and on the big stage, there could certainly be some butterflies for the freshman. Alabama doesn’t need to Hurts to play out of his mind, as long as he doesn’t make mistakes he should be fine, and he will always have TE OJ Howard to throw to, Howard absolutely dominated Clemson in last year’s title game with 208 yards and two touchdowns, and if he has another big game I find it hard seeing Clemson being able to stop him. We all knew Sark was going to take over play calling duties next year, but we’ll see if he can do it here on short notice.
Deshaun Watson vs. Alabama’s Defense
Clemson averages nearly 40 points per game scoring, Alabama only allows 11. Something’s gotta give, the Alabama defense leads the country in NOT’s (Non-offensive-touchdowns) a stat that ESPN has jammed down our throats during the buildup to this game, but it is an important stat. As good as Clemson’s offense has been, it’s not very good at taking care of the ball. The Tigers have turned the ball over 26 times this year, including 17 interceptions from quarterback Deshaun Watson. Last year in the title game, Watson went off, accounting for 478 yards, much of which came on the ground. Watson has cut down on the number of times he’s ran this year, as he is preparing for a future in the NFL, but if the Tigers are going to win this game they are going to need Watson to extend plays with his feet, as Alabama’s defense has not performed as well against running quarterbacks over the past few years.
THE CASE FOR CLEMSON
In case you haven’t noticed, Deshaun Watson is REALLY, REALLY GOOD. The Junior tore up the impenetrable Alabama defense in the title game last year, with 478 yards and four touchdowns. In fact only Watson and Chad Kelly have done well against the Tide, and Kelly has done it multiple times, so with only a week to prepare, do you really think the Tide defense will be able to figure out how to stop Watson? Win or lose, Watson is going to put up a big game, but the key between that win and that loss is Watson keeping care of the ball (in essence not throwing picks) and extending plays with his feet. I’m not saying Clemson needs to switch to an option attack, but to beat Alabama you need to take risks, and that means instead of throwing the ball away, scrambling out of the pocket and extending the ball.
The Clemson Defense Needs To Weather The Storm
Washington’s defensive front was good too, but they couldn’t get off the field, and the physical Alabama offense wore them down. Eventually, they kept leaning on them and the figurative dam broke, Alabama’s beast running back Bo Scarbrough broke through the front with a pair of huge runs, and after that, the game was over. For Clemson to win this game they need to keep their defense off of the field, and make Alabama’s offense one-dimensional, the only way to do that is by…
Pressuring Jalen Hurts
As fantastic as the Alabama offensive line is, the Clemson defense needs to dial-up blitzes throughout this game. Hurts has been serviceable this year, but he is still a freshman, playing in front around 30 million people worldwide, and if Clemson can get him worried about the pass rush, you can take away what he does best, scrambling. Clemson’s defensive front four will all be in the NFL one day, so while blitzing on the Alabama offensive line is near impossible, if any team can do it it’s Clemson.
If You Can Pressure Him, You Can Shut Him Down
Hurts is very good when you give him time in the pocket, but he hasn’t played well against teams that have forced him to throw. LSU’s secondary is probably the best he’s played, and against them, he threw for barely over 100 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. Last week against Washington Hurts played even worse, completing just 50% of his passes for 57 yards. With Clemson’s defensive front pressuring Hurts, it will be up to the secondary to shut Hurts down, and that might be Clemson’s biggest advantage. The Tigers’ back four have been phenomenal this year picking off 20 passes, and in wins that Tigers have held opponents to just seven touchdown passes (that’s just 0.54 per game)
THE CASE FOR ALABAMA
As We Touched On Earlier, Watson Isn’t perfect
and if he throws more than one interception this game is over. Alabama is a fantastic team, to beat them you have to be near-perfect, and the Clemson is far from it. Even in the blowout loss, Ohio State came up with two interceptions on Watson, and the Tide are one of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers. Watson takes too many shots downfield not to get picked off, and Alabama will capitalize. The Tide are one of the best teams in the nation at turning turnovers into points on the subsequent drive, and if Bama can force Watson to turn the ball over deep in his own territory, that’s almost an automatic seven points for a team as talented as Alabama, and the tide are really good at that as long as they can…
Control The Field Position
Alabama’s crockpotting of Washington wasn’t pretty, but that’s what it was, the Tide wore down the Huskie defense until eventually, they were able to break through, and on the offensive side, Washington couldn’t get anything going because they were always pinned back in their own territory, and if Alabama can do that again, it might be the key to stopping Watson from going off like he did last year. With a better punt and return team, Alabama can keep forcing Watson to go on long marches down the field to be able to score, and that means they’ll have to…
Stop Clemson on 3rd Down
The Alabama defense has been superb this year, and to shut down Clemson, they need to shut them down on third down. Watson can make plays with his feet, so the Tide’s biggest priority should be containing him, and to do that they should put pressure on Watson. Don’t give him time to find his second or third read, and you are going to force bad throws, and eventually a NOT (non-offensive-touchdown). Clemson knows that the rushing attack is going to go nowhere against this Alabama defensive front that’s season-high for rushing yards allowed is 114 (that’s like most team’s season-low) so they have probably drawn out blocking schemes to give Watson extra time to throw the ball, knowing that will be the key. If Alabama can be creative with their blitzes, Watson is going to make mistakes and turn the ball over to…
Alabama’s Ground And Pound Rushing Attack
As I mentioned in the case for Clemson, the Tigers’ only shot at winning this game is to get their defense off of the field, the problem with that is that it’s easier said than done, just ask Washington. If the Tide can keep leaning on Clemson’s defensive front, eventually something is going to break through, and when it does, there is no going back for this Clemson defense. Sark will be able to just continuously pound the Clemson defense like Dalvin Cook and James Connor did in conference play, and when Sark eventually calls a deep shot for Jalen Hurts, the Clemson defense won’t even see it coming.
Who’s Going To Win?
Both of these teams are really, really good, Alabama has dominated all year to a 14-0 record, and Clemson has played like a fire was lit under them ever since their loss to Pittsburgh. The Tigers have one of the most talented teams in the country, and are perhaps one of only two teams (themselves, and maybe USC) that would have a real shot against the Crimson Tide, the question is, is it enough? The Tigers will have the edge at the quarterback position, but they did last year, and we all saw how that turned out. At the end of the day, I think the move to Sark at OC will end up helping the Tide, as it will be harder for Clemson to gameplan against. This game will be tied at 17 at the half, but the Alabama defense will lock down in the second half, a late touchdown to put the Tide up 10 will put the Tigers down for the second year in a row, and add another trophy to Nick Saban’s ever-growing collection.
The Pick: Alabama 34, Clemson 24
ATS Pick: Alabama (-7)
O/U Pick: Over (50.5)