Clemson vs. Bama, Part II
by Chris Paschal
When Alabama and Clemson take the field this Monday, January 9, the question of which team is king of college football will be, yet again, settled between two stalwarts of Southern college football. That question, however, will not be answered without great ceremony. For the fifth time in the past eight National Title games, the Crimson Tide from Tuscaloosa, Alabama rolls into the game carrying the wishes and dreams of Alabamians and Tide fans throughout the world .
Things are a lot different since the first time Alabama arrived onto the national scene, upsetting the Washington Huskies in the 1926 Rose Bowl. That game has often times been referred to as the game that changed the South, and now nearly a century later Alabama is in position to claims its 17th National Title.
But winning that 17th National Title will not be easy. For the second year in a row, the Clemson Tigers stand in the way. Tucked away in the picturesque foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Clemson never garnered the same attention as Georgia or Tennessee or Alabama. Not a member of the SEC, they were infamous for blowing the big game. But all that has changed. Clemson has become a formidable opponent against the SEC elite, and has burst onto the national stage. This year alone Clemson has taken down two SEC opponents and is eying a third in the Crimson Tide.
The 2017 National Championship Game should be one for the ages, and I cannot wait to sit down and watch these two great college football teams of Southern lore battle it out. Here are a few of my thoughts and my prediction of who wins this great game.
Passing Game: Clemson
In the passing game the edge has to go to Clemson. Not only do the Tigers have one of the best quarterbacks in school history, they have one of the best receiving corps in college football. Deshaun Watson has completed over 67% of his passes for over 4,000 yards and 38 touchdowns. He has weapons all over the field. Mike Williams is the best receiver in the NCAA. Not one of the best… the best. He is complemented by Deon Cain who has nine touchdown catches on the year and who is motivated to have a big game after missing the National Championship last year after being suspended. Next up, the shifty and elusive Artavis Scott who is a sure handed option. He is second on the team in receptions with 73 catches. Of course, we cannot forget about Hunter Renfrow who dominated early last year against Bama and who has had a nice year this season with over 400 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Don’t forget about one of the most physically gifted players on this Clemson roster in Ray-Ray McCloud. McCloud was a heralded recruit out of Florida and has had an impressive sophomore campaign receiving for just under 500 yards this season.
Player to Watch: Jordan Leggett
Leggett is one of the most talented pass catching tight ends in college football. With Alabama’s secondary focused on all the talented options Clemson has on the outside, look for Leggett to match up favorably and to have a big game receiving.
Bama has some great receivers, as well. Both Calvin Ridley (7 TDs) and Ardarius Stewart (7 TDs) are big time players, and tight end OJ Howard (489 yds), the hero of last year’s National Championship game, is a big target, as well.
Running Game: Alabama
Not many teams have a better rushing attack than the Clemson Tigers, but not many teams are Alabama either. The Crimson Tide has a powerful four headed monster in the back field. It all starts with the signal caller, freshman Jalen Hurts. Hurts has rushed for close to 900 yards this season and has scored a whopping 12 times. His running backs are not too shabby either. First, there is Damien Harris. Harris is a thousand yard rusher and has carried the football 141 times. Spelling him is Joshua Jacobs. Jacobs has rushed for 551 yards this year and is a viable option in the passing game.
Player to Watch: Bo Scarbrough
He is fast. He is powerful. And he is hitting his stride at the right time of the season for Alabama. His six foot two inch and 230 pound frame allows for him to stride away from defenders or run them over. He is a legitimate home run threat from anywhere on the field.
Clemson is just as dangerous. Wayne Gallman has had yet another brilliant season rushing for over a thousand yards and scoring 16 touchdowns. Watson was not used as much this year in the run game as he was last year, but he still found a way to run for over 500 yards and score eight times on the ground.
Offensive Line: Toss Up
This really depends on who shows up. Both offensive lines are very talented and have had flashes of greatness. But both offensive lines have had their issues, as well. Starting with Alabama, yes they have a juggernaut in Cam Robinson at left tackle, but the rest of the line has been inconsistent at times. Heck, look at last week’s Peach Bowl performance. Alabama committed two false start penalties and two delay of game penalties, including one in which made Saban foam at the mouth. For Clemson, it comes down to playing up to its potential, which leads me to the player to watch.
Player to Watch: Mitch Hyatt
After a successful freshman year, Hyatt has had a bit of a sophomore slump. With top-notch talent, Hyatt has only given up one sack in his entire career as a Tiger. Further, he was named first team All-ACC along with two of his teammates on the offensive line this year. So what’s the catch? He commits a lot of penalties. It feels like he is good for at least one false start a game, and while he doesn’t give up sacks, Hyatt has been known to grab a lot of cloth in the process. There is no doubt in my mind he plays a great game, but against these Bama pass rushers he is going to have to eliminate the mental mistakes.
Defense: They’re Both Really Dang Good
I can’t break down these two defenses and determine which is better. They are both worthy of praise and it is hard to compare the two. They both have great pass rushers. They both have rosters loaded with NFL talent. Both Clemson and Alabama rank in the top 10 nationally in points allowed, top 20 in passing yards allowed, top 20 in rushing yards allowed, Bama scores non-offensive touchdowns every single game, Clemson ranks fifth nationally in the number of penalties committed by its opponents, and the list goes on and on. But there are a couple of Players to Watch. The first is Alabama cornerback, Minkah Fitzpatrick. With all the talent Clemson has at receiver, Fitzpatrick has to have a big game. My prediction is he will. Another player to watch is Clemson linebacker, Ben Boulware. Forget all the garbage he said about poking and prodding other players, this guy is a big time football player. He has a nose for the football and he is great at stopping the run. At the same time, Boulware can be a bit undisciplined in maintaining his gap responsibilities. He cannot do that against Alabama.
The X Factor: Deshaun Watson
Desahun Watson is one of the greatest players in Clemson football history. He has won two ACC Championships, been a Heisman finalist twice, won huge games against Notre Dame, Florida State (twice) and Ohio State, and he has kept his promise to Tiger nation of never losing to South Carolina while he started at quarterback. But even through all these amazing successes, he does have one glaring weakness. He throws a ton of interceptions. In his past two seasons, Watson has thrown 30 interceptions. And some of them were costly. It feels wrong for Clemson fans to ask any more of one of the best players in their school’s history, but if they were to ask it would probably be to just take care of the football against what is one of the most opportunistic defenses in college football history.
At the end of the day…
This is going to be a great game. Clemson has not beaten Alabama in over a century, but after Clemson’s beatdown of Ohio State and Alabama’s lackluster performance against Washington many pundits are picking Clemson. In fact, when asked this past week many Alabama players mentioned that they feel like an underdog. With Kiffin out as offensive coordinator, a freshman quarterback must face a talented Clemson defense with a new voice calling plays. That’s a lot of moving parts. But in the crazy, turbulent world of college football, there has always been a constant: Nick Saban is still the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Nick Saban has never lost in a National Championship game and I don’t think that starts Monday against Clemson. I got Bama in a close, hard fought game. Nick Saban is still king of college football.
What do Pavy and Brendan think?
Pavy, while a die hard Gamecock fan, has the Clemson Tigers in this one. Maybe it was because he saw first hand how good these Clemson Tigers really are in their beatdown of South Carolina 56-7. Brendan is sticking with the Tide. He believes that Alabama is simply too disciplined and too talented on both sides of the ball for Clemson. Although the Tide will have their work cut out for them they will pull out a close win.
(Image from USA Today)
(Image from Zimbo.com)