National Championship Game
This year’s game has the makings of another epic battle with a major headline surrounding the top ranked team in the nation. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will not be calling plays for the offense next Monday night in Tampa. Alabama head coach Nick Saban dismissed the newly named Florida Atlantic head coach after the Tide’s 24-7 semi-final victory over the Washington Huskies. How will this affect the Alabama offense on Monday night remains to be seen.
However, the pressure will be on newly named offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian (former USC head coach) to duplicate Kiffin’s success this season. Sarkisian has struggled with off the field issues (alcohol addiction) and was recently hired during this season by Nick Saban because of the relationship between Kiffin and Sarkisian (during their days at USC together as co-OC’s). Will the pressure get to Sarkisian is a key factor when breaking this game down from the “Vegas Angle”.
Alabama has steamrolled opponents this season winning by an average margin of victory of 25.6 points per game and will look to keep the momentum rolling against a very fast Clemson Tigers defense that is allowing 17 points per game to opposing offenses. Alabama enters this game with a very balanced offense that is averaging 39 points per game and is rushing for 246 yards per game along with 214 yards per game through the air. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has stepped up this year and has played well above his experience (true freshman) in taking control of the Crimson Tide offense. Hurts has completed 64% of his passes for 2,649 yards with 22 touchdowns and 9 interceptions this year. On the ground, Hurts has rushed for 891 yards with 12 rushing scores. His ability to make plays with his feet will determine if Alabama can win back to back titles. If Clemson can make Hurts one dimensional, the Alabama offense could be in trouble. Running back Damien Harris leads the team with 1,013 rushing yards averaging 7.1 yards per carry with 2 touchdowns.
Alabama has a deep wide receiver corps led by sophmore Calvin Ridley and junior ArDarius Stewart. On the year, both players have combined for 119 receptions for 1,585 yards with 15 TD’s. The offense has converted 46% of their 3rd down attempts this season.
Defensively, the Crimson Tide boast the top scoring defense and top rushing defense in FBS. Alabama has allowed 11 points per game to opposing offenses and has given up only 62 rushing yards per game. The only two teams to rush for more than 100 yards on this defense were Ole Miss (101 yards) and Texas A&M (114 yards). Alabama has done an excellent job of forcing turnovers this year. Entering this game, Alabama has forced 27 total turnovers (11 fumbles, 16 interceptions) and is +8 in turnover margin entering this game. Alabama is allowing 182 passing yards per game and has forced 6 interceptions in the last three games. The defense has recorded 50 sacks so far this season and has the best front seven in college football led by defensive tackle Johnathan Allen.
From the “Vegas Angle” the Crimson Tide have covered 9 of the team’s 14 games ATS this year.
Clemson will be looking to continue the momentum after their dominating 31-0 against Ohio State in the semi-final game. The Tigers have seemed to find their offensive rhythm after their November loss to Pittsburgh in Death Valley and enters this match-up hitting on all cylinders. Clemson enters this game averaging 39 points per game and has the best quarterback in the nation-in Deshaun Watson. On the season, Watson has completed 67% of his passes for 4,173 yards with 38 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Watson is a big game signal caller that has stepped up in the Tigers biggest games this season. He has great pocket presence and is not afraid to carry the team on his shoulders to get the win. Clemson is averaging 327 passing yards per game and is rushing for 175 yards per game this season. The Tigers will need to run the football in this game to keep the Crimson Tide defense off balance in this contest.
Last year, Clemson rushed for 200 yards or more in the team’s 11 of 15 games. This season, the offense has rushed for over 200 yards in only 6 of the team’s 14 games. However, in the last three game against Wake Forest, South Carolina and Ohio State-the offense has rushed for over 200 yards or more in each game. Watson will need to make plays with his feet in this game to get the Tigers the victory. Last year, Watson rushed for 1,105 averaging 5.5 yards per carry with 12 rushing touchdowns. This year, he has rushed for 586 yards averaging 4.0 yards per carry with 8 touchdowns. Running back Wayne Gallman leads the team with 1,087 rushing yards averaging 5.0 yards per carry with 16 touchdowns.
The key to a Clemson win could be the wide receivers and their ability to take the top off of the Crimson Tide secondary. Clemson has the ability to utilize many formations that can get the Alabama defense out of it’s base defense. This can force mismatches on nickel backs or linebackers and give Watson big plays in the vertical passing game. Wide receivers Mike Williams, Deon Cain, Artavis Scott, Ray-Ray McCloud and Jordan Leggett have combined for 33 receiving touchdowns this season.
Defensively, Clemson is very good at stopping the run and enters this game allowing 123 rushing yards per game this year. The strength of the defense is the secondary which is giving up 183 passing yards per game and has allowed only three teams to complete more than 60% of their passes this year (Louisville, Syracuse and Virginia Tech). Clemson has recorded 49 sacks (one better than last season’s 48) and has a very physical, active, defensive front seven that can run sideline to sideline. Turnover margin could be a concern in this game as the Tigers enter this contest +1 in turnover margin and +2 on the road this year. In last year’s game, the team lost the turnover battle to Alabama which resulted in critical points that changed the momentum of the contest. Clemson has allowed opposing offenses to convert 28% of their 3rd down conversions this year.
From the “Vegas Angle”, the Tigers have covered 6 of the team’s 13 games ATS.
My Pick: Clemson 35 – Alabama 28