Coming into the 2016 college football season there were high expectations for both Alabama and Clemson. The bar might have been too high for Deshaun Watson after a strong 2015-16 season. He was not as sharp as he was a year ago at the beginning of the year, but after the Pittsburgh loss he and this Clemson offense has been locked in.
The Crimson Tide lived up to all the preseason hype. The Tide’s defense took the high expectations and raised the bar about 100 levels. They basically lead the nation in every statistical category. Nick Saban may have his best defense as they have scored 12 defensive TD’s, they are allowing 11.4 points per game, and only giving up 244 yards per game. As Gary Danielson would say, “This defense is like a python; they just strangle you until you give in”. (Farewell Verne, Farewell)
As mentioned before Clemson’s offense has been locked in. They are averaging 503.1 YPG. While the offense has been playing extremely well, the Tiger’s defense has been flying under the radar until last week against Ohio State when they defeated the buckeyes 31-0. We saw that Watson can have a so-so game and this defense can carry the load which is somewhat scary to think about. Clemson’s front seven has been causing fits all season with 123 tackles for loss, which is third in the nation.
How Clemson Wins:
He steps into the phone booth wearing normal street clothes and walks out wearing a Clemson jersey with the number four on it. (that is a superman reference for you millennials) Not a shock here, but Clemson will need to ride the coattails of Watson. He will need to play as good if not better than he did last year against Alabama. And he must not turn the ball over as he had two interceptions last week against Ohio State. If he turns the ball over to Bama it will make it near impossible to pull off the upset.
It may seem hard to imagine anyone having a good game against the Tide, but earlier this year Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss Rebels scored 43 points. Compared to Deshaun, Chad Kelly is like that reliable 1995 Honda Civic, and Deshaun is a Ferrari.
Brent Venables loves flying under the radar. Not one analyst, writer, reporter, or local news station thought the Tigers defense would shut out Ohio State. (this includes me) The front four that Clemson puts on the field could easily match up with the Tides D-line. In fact, Clemson’s D-line might actually be better than Bama’s D-line, that is something we will find out in Tampa.
Alabama doesn’t bring an offense that is well-respected, and not to mention, Steve Sarkisian replaces Lane Kiffin, with just one week to coach up his game plan.
For Clemson to win, the defensive line will once again have to win the battle up front, getting to the turnover friendly Jalen Hurts and pressuring him to make decisions. We saw what happened when the tide can run the ball successfully with Bo Scarborough. So Clemson must stop the run and make Hurts try to beat them.
How Alabama Wins:
The Crimson Tide formula for success all season has been pretty simple: defense, defense, defensive TD, and one big play on offense. Overall, Bama has the defensive advantage. The defense hasn’t been in question; the offense, on the other hand, has been all season. The offense is led by true freshman Hurts, and the knock on them coming into this game is, ‘Can they keep up with Clemson?’
Short answer, yes. They proved that against a solid ole miss team who had the tide on the ropes, jumping out to a 24-3 lead. The tide, as they always seem to do, make their comeback and wound up winning 48-43.
But, I believe Nick Saban doesn’t want to try to get into a shootout with Clemson. For the tide to win, I see a conservative offense (Harris to the right, Scarborough to the left) who takes their shots on play action (Hurts to Ridley) and mainly relies on their stellar defense. Just to throw a wild card out there, watch out for the Tight End OJ Howard, who had a big game last year against Clemson in the National Championship.
We all know Nick Saban has his best defense ever, statistically. They have monsters disguised as football players. Think about the Space Jam monsters, just add football pads and some facial hair, and you’ve got the tide defense.
For the tide to win, they will need to disguise some coverage and try to confuse Watson; which, has proven successful.(I.E Pitt and NC State) The offense will need to pick its shots, but mainly control the football and avoid a shootout. Rely on that defense to make a play and strangle the Clemson Offense.
Clemson 35-Bama 31
I see Clemson coming out of the gates strong and jumping out to an early lead. The Tide will fall down early, but don’t we always see a comeback by the number one team? It’s almost a cliché thing now. The Tide will make their comeback, but I believe, as good as Hurts is, he will have a costly turnover late in the game to push Clemson to the finish. Watson caps his legacy as one of the best college football players ever with a national championship, and the Tigers win their first title since 1981.