As hard as it is to believe, there’s only one game left in the college football season. But boy, is it a good one. For the second straight year, Alabama faces Clemson for the national championship.
Last year, the Crimson Tide won 45-40, but if we learned anything in Clemson’s semifinal win over Ohio State on Saturday, it’s that the Tigers team Alabama will face Monday is completely different than the one it saw a year ago.
Still, Alabama is favored for a reason, and there are plenty of ways the Tide can expose the Tigers. Here are three things the Crimson Tide learn about Clemson from its win over Ohio State.
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Clemson’s run game still isn’t clicking
In 2015, Clemson was one of the most balanced offenses in college football, finishing in the Top 25 in both passing and rushing yards. But whatever secret sauce the Tigers had last year has seemed to to escape them in 2016. As thing stand, they rank just 61st nationally in rushing yardage.
And don’t let that dominant victory over Ohio State fool you: Even in eviscerating the Buckeyes 31-0, the Tigers never really got rolling on the ground. They finished with a very respectable 205 yards rushing, but did it on 48 carries. And even that number is a little deceiving since over a third of that yardage (72 yards) came on three carries. Take that out, and Clemson averaged three yards per carry, which is good. But it isn’t great.
That is also must be a bit of a concern for Clemson: As nice as the win was, the Tigers will be facing an entirely different animal against Alabama on Monday night. The Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 in rushing defense, allowing a meager 62 yards per game. That is by far the best rushing defense Clemson will have faced all season.
You need balance on offense to beat Clemson
One of the most striking things about Ohio State’s struggles against Clemson was that not only were the Buckeyes unable to run the ball, they didn’t even attempt to. It essentially turned into the “chicken and the egg” scenario: Did Ohio State struggle because it didn’t try to run the ball? Or did it not try to run the ball because it knew it couldn’t?
Whatever the case, Alabama learned it will need balance on offense against Clemson -- something that shouldn’t be an issue for the Tide. Not only do they rank 11th nationally in rushing yards, but their 605 total carries is also 14th most in the sport. Point being, Alabama will establish itself on the ground early.
The better question might be how much the Crimson Tide choose to attack Clemson through the air. Quarterback Jalen Hurts threw the ball just 14 times against Washington -- a number that will need to go up Monday for Alabama to have success.
While gifted, Deshaun Watson is still turnover-prone
Watson had a game to remember Saturday against Ohio State, picking apart the Buckeye defense for 259 yards through the air and another 57 on the ground, with three touchdowns total. However, what gets lost in the shuffle is that only one of those touchdowns came through the air; he actually had more interceptions (two) than touchdown passes (one).
And that’s got to be music to the ears of Alabama, which is the most opportunistic defense in all of college football. On the season, ‘Bama has scored 11 touchdowns courtesy of its “D,” including a Ryan Anderson pick-six right before halftime against Washington. That pick-six was a game-changer; a 10-7 Alabama lead became 17-7, and the Crimson Tide never looked back.
While Alabama doesn’t need a non-offensive touchdown to win this game, it would certainly help. And the Tide might just be going against the quarterback who will serve one up on a plate for them in Watson.