Alabama vs. Clemson. Jan.9th, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
On Monday, Clemson will face off in what looks to be an entertaining rematch of last years National Championship against Alabama. It was almost fate that the college football gods gave us this game a second time around. You’ve heard echos of “We want Bama” from Washington. They got what they wanted, but weren’t equipped to stop the Tide. When these two teams take the field, it will be a battle of wits between college football’s best player in Deshaun Watson and the number 1 defense in the Crimson Tide. Clemson has won big games in clutch fashion all season against the likes of Auburn, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech and their 31-0 blowout against Ohio State. The story has been the same for Alabama as they’ve beaten USC, Texas A&M, LSU, and Auburn.
Clemson started off the season slow on offense but has been clicking on all cylinders ever since, ranking 12th on overall offense this season. Deshaun Watson has been great once again completing 67 percent of his passes and accounting for 38 TDs through the air and 8 TDs on the ground. It isn’t all about Watson though. Clemson’s offense brims with stars. The big guys up front have paved the way for Clemson to rush for 2,455 yard and 28 touchdowns. The Tigers have one of the best receiving units in the nation in Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, Deon Cain, and Artavis Scott. Between them, they total 235 catches and 31 touchdowns. One of Clemson’s Achilles heels this season has been Watson’s protection of the ball as he has thrown 17 interceptions, something he’ll need to reduce if Clemson has any hope of beating Bama.
Nick Saban quite possibly has had one of the best defenses to take the field in his career this season. Alabama thrives off their ability to get to the quarterback using only 4 and dropping everyone else back into coverage. The Tide earned a coveted #1 defensive rank that has been much deserved. The defense allows 11 points per game, giving up 62 rushing yards and 182 passing yards per game. In November alone they allowed a total of 18 points (0 TDs, 6 FGs) through 4 games. This ball hawking defense has come up with 16 interceptions, 6 of which coming from Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Tide has gotten to the quarterback all season racking up 50 sacks with Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Reuben Foster leading the group with 30.5 between them. They’re among the most opportunistic defenses with 11 total non offensive touchdowns. One thing that we know is how Nick Saban’s teams have struggled against dual threat quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Chad Kelly, and even Deshaun Watson in last years title game. If the Tide can make it tough sledding for Watson to scramble out of the pocket and bottle his receivers up, then this could be a long day for Clemson. Although, the Tide is returning much of the team which Watson carved up in last years game. He will have his best weapons this time around, in Mike Williams and Deon Cain, so look for a big day passing from Watson.
Bama started freshman Jalen Hurts, a first since 1984. He performed spectacularly in Lane Kiffin’s offense, helping the Tide to one of its most dominant offenses in recent memory. Hurts has been able to make big plays all season through the air and on the ground with 34 touchdowns ( 22 passing, 12 rushing) and 3,540 yards of total offense. This team, as many of their others in the past, have leaned on their offensive line. They have freed up Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough , Jalen Hurts, and Joshua Jacobs for 3,174 yards and 27 touchdowns. They have big threats in the receiving game in ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley. There are 15 touchdowns between them.The big news that broke this past week was Lane Kiffin’s departure from the team before the championship game to go to FAU. It will be interesting to see if Jalen Hurts and the offense can keep rolling under one of college footballs best offensive minds, Steve Sarkisian. It could very well be their undoing this game.
Clemson’s defense isn’t quite to the level of Alabama’s, but they continue making stops when it matters most. The Tigers haven’t been slouches on defense this season, only allowing 17 points per game. They have 45 sacks on the season with Vic Beasley leading the team with 12. When they steal the ball away they make the most of it as they have 11 non offensive touchdowns. If Clemson can force Jalen Hurts to stay in the pocket and make him try and win with his arm, they’ll win. Hurts struggled passing accurately while pressured all season, so look for Clemson to dial up blitzes to knock him off rhythm. Clemson will need to focus on slowing down Alabama’s stout tandem of Harris and Scarbrough if they hope to win. Alabama runs a lot of read option, sweeps, and misdirection to get their players into space. Clemson has what it takes to keep this in check as they’ve had success against running quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and J.T. Barrett.
Last year Alabama pulled a surprise onside kick early in the 4th quarter, shifting momentum for the remainder of the game. Saban admitted that he didn’t think his defense could stop Watson. Clemson is prepared this year if Alabama attempts an onside kick. Both field goal kickers are making almost 75 percent of all their attempts. If it comes down to the kicker late in the game they’re likely in good hands. Bama has the upper hand this season in the return game coming up with 3 scores, while Clemson has 0.
Clemson is coming into this game with a chip on its shoulder after last years title game. They will be looking to bring home their first championship since 1981. On the other hand, Saban will be looking to win his 5th title with Alabama. It’s always hard to pick against the Crimson Tide, considering their familiarity with the big stage, but the Tigers possess the tools to get the job done. Clemson kept Lamar Jackson in check earlier this season and held him in the pocket most of the game. They will need to mirror that strategy to be successful in this game. Alabama will need to get their running game going and give Hurts some easy completions early to give him confidence. Watson will elevate the rest of his teams performance on offense. Clemson’s defense will make Hurts try to win this game with his arm and will bring home the title.
Prediction: Clemson 34 – Alabama 31