Sugar Bowl: Names and numbers to know
NEW ORLEANS – Sizing up Thursday night’s Sugar Bowl national semifinal between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State…
DETAILS: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 8:50 p.m. ET kickoff. ESPN has the broadcast.
THE MATCHUP: Both teams are 12-1. Alabama lost at Ole Miss, 23-17, on Oct. 4. Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech, 35-21, on Sept. 6. Both come in rolling, too. Ohio State has played two games decided by single digits all season. Alabama beat Auburn, 55-44, to wrap up the SEC West then pulled away from Missouri in the SEC title game, 42-13.
On the season, Alabama gives up 16.6 points per game, the third-fewest nationally. Ohio State scores 45.2, the fourth-most nationally.
Alabama averages 37 points per game; Ohio State gives up 21. For the season, Alabama averages 5.1 yards per rushing attempt and is only giving up 2.8 per rush. A deep defensive line and fast, experienced linebackers key the Crimson Tide defense.
ABOUT THE TIDE: Alabama has five All-Americans, headlined by wide receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins. Senior quarterback Blake Sims is a first-year starter but has produced; having Cooper and his 115 catches helps, but Sims has made plays with his feet and his arm. The ‘Bama blueprint has been to make big plays with Cooper, then turn the game over to its defense and the running game to close. T.J. Yeldon hasn’t been healthy but still averages over five yards per carry, and big back Derrick Henry has matched Yeldon with 10 touchdowns. Alabama is big and fast defensively and was second nationally against the run.
ABOUT THE BUCKEYES: Cardale Jones is the new quarterback after J.T. Barrett’s record-setting season ended with a Nov. 29 leg injury. Jones is 1-0 as a starter after throwing for three touchdowns in a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Ohio State played basically the perfect game that night; can the young Buckeyes do it again here? The defense is fast and improving; sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa is the star, but Michael Bennett is also a force inside and the back seven has developed nicely. Jones has a big arm and wants to throw vertically. If Ezekiel Elliott can chew up rushing yards and the Buckeyes limit Cooper, they can be in the game.
BIG-STAGE EXPERIENCE: Alabama is 31-10 vs. top 25 opponents since 2008.
GOING UP TOP: If Alabama has one weakness, it’s giving up the deep ball to opposing quarterbacks and receivers. The Tide has made big plays of its own with Cooper, Alabama’s all-time leader in every major receiving category. Cooper this season has 1,656 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. Cooper is averaging 14.4 yards per catch and has seven games of at least 130 yards. Devin Smith has been Ohio State’s best deep threat, and it probably won’t be long before the Buckeyes try to replicate the Jones-to-Smith three deep touchdowns they got in the Big Ten title game.
GOING FAST, TOO: Ohio State runs a no-huddle offense all the time. Alabama has added an up-tempo package, too, and Sims has made it go by completing 65 percent of his passes. Sims has also run for six touchdowns and has enough speed to make defenses pay for blitzing and/or paying too much attention to Cooper. Ohio State wants to get to the line quickly and spread the ball around. The status of speedy slotback Dontre Wilson remains in question, but Jalin Marshall has developed as a slot receiver and a nice complement to Smith and Michael Thomas on the outside.