Football

Preview: Alabama versus Clemson

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Photo from Flickr

Grant Anschuetz
Slump Sports Blogger

The confetti has settled from New Year’s Eve, and it’ll soon be time for the Clemson Tigers to BYOG (“Bring Your Own Guts,” a phrase made famous by Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney) to “The Big Toaster” in Arizona where they will face the Alabama Crimson Tide. The College Football Playoff National Championship is scheduled to take place on January 11th at 8:30 p.m. ET in the University of Phoenix Stadium.

How each team got here: Clemson enters the contest unblemished with a 14-0 record. Their highlight wins included Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game. The game that turned speculation into realization was their 37-17 victory over Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. Despite being the number one seed in the playoff, the Tigers entered the game as 3.5-point underdogs. They put to rest the doubt that always seems to accompany this program when they play in big games with an impressive 20 point win over the Sooners. Will they be able to carry this momentum into their final contest against the Tide?

Alabama will travel to Phoenix with a 13-1 record. Their loss came in the third week of the season to Ole Miss. Since that game, they haven’t been in a contest where it didn’t feel like they were in complete control of the outcome (not counting a scare against Tennessee). Perhaps their most impressive performance came in the College Football Playoff Semifinal as well. They sent a message to the college football world that they are on a strictly business mission with a 38-0 drubbing of Michigan State. Alabama quarterback Jake Coker had his best performance of the season, and Calvin Ridley showed glimpses of Amari Cooper. Pair this with a Heisman trophy winner at running back and a dominant defense, and you have a team that will be extremely tough to beat.

Keys for each team: Deshaun Watson will need to have a superior performance for Clemson to win this game. Running back Wayne Gallman totaled 150 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns against Oklahoma in the semifinal game, but Alabama has stopped their opponents’ running attack all year long. This puts even more pressure on Watson to make plays for his team with his arm and his legs. On the defensive side of the ball, Clemson will need a healthy Shaq Lawson to slow down Alabama’s ground game. He suffered a left knee injury against Oklahoma but is expected to play. The takeaway here is that Deshaun Watson will have to perform on the level of Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M version) in order to take down the Tide.

It’ll be hard for Coker to top his semifinal performance against Michigan State, which entailed him going 25 for 30 with 286 yards and 2 touchdowns. Luckily for Alabama, they can rely on their Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry to carry the load running the ball like he has all season. A deep play-action pass to Calvin Ridley is one thing to look for, as Alabama likes to lull their opponent to sleep with the run game and then go for it all down the field. The kryptonite of the Tide’s defense in the past has been fast tempo offenses led by athletic, play-making quarterbacks. If Alabama can contain Watson and Clemson’s other skill players, they should be able to control this game.

Predictions: Clemson has become 7-point underdogs in some Las Vegas sports books. With that being said, I would put my money on the Clemson Tigers to cover that spread. Overall, Alabama should win this game 28-24. They are on a revenge campaign from last years’ loss to Ohio State in the semifinal, but this talented Clemson team will be able to keep it close.

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