I think we all know Alabama’s formula to win games. Run Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, and Josh Jacobs into the ground. Use some efficient but effective passing from freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, and let their historically good defense do the rest. But the task is much more complex for Clemson.
The Tigers go into this game facing a team they lost to last year, and as underdogs. Alabama is a dynasty, and Clemson is all that is in the way of their fifth National Championship in eight seasons. Here is what they have to do to make sure that doesn’t happen.
1. Finish with zero turnovers
Alabama has 11 defensive touchdowns this season. Right off the bat, this tells you two things. They force a lot of turnovers, and their defensive players are really good with the ball in their hands. Deshaun Watson has been an interception machine this season with 17 of them in 13 games, but he can’t throw one tonight. He only threw one last season in the middle of his 478 yards, four-touchdown performance.
But that was enough to give Alabama some much-needed momentum at a time Clemson had control of the game. If Watson takes care of the ball, the Tigers have a shot.
2. Make Tackles
OK. I know this seems like a really simple thing. But when you go back and watch the tape from last year’s game, missed tackles were the biggest plague to the Tigers. Two missed tackles early in the run sprang Kenyan Drake’s 95-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. The Tigers couldn’t corral Calvin Ridley on a key 3rd and seven in the second quarter, and he busted loose for a first down. Alabama scored two plays later. The examples go on and on, but the bottom line is, Clemson has to wrap up. Alabama is just too good, and they have too many playmakers to give them extra chances to run in space.
3. Let Watson air it out
With all due respect to Wayne Gallman, Tavien Feaster, and the rest of the Clemson running game, it is hard to imagine them having success here. There are NFL teams who would rather have Alabama’s front seven than their own. Jonathan Allen eats offensive lineman for breakfast, and the rest of the front seven cleans up the leftovers.
Washington’s downfall against Alabama was that they continued to try to test the run game, when it was obvious nothing was there. Clemson shouldn’t even try. They have a future 1st round draft pick under center, and he has a lot of great weapons. Just let Watson throw it. Running the ball more than on occasion will be wasting downs.
4. Play Sound Special Teams
Nobody will ever forget the surprise onside kick Nick Saban pulled on the Tigers last year after Clemson was too tight with their kickoff alignments all night. They also had a field goal blocked at the end of the first half, and of course Kenyan Drake delivered the dagger on special teams. Everything has to be solid here. Alabama has blocked four kicks and punts this season, and they have also returned four punts for touchdowns.
You could argue that special teams doomed the Tigers last season, and it can’t happen again tonight.
5. Stack The Box
Bo Scarbrough is a force of nature that only gets tackled when he decides it’s time to go down. He ran for two touchdowns in the semifinal win over Washington. He just ran the ball down their throats, and the Huskies had no answer. Jalen Hurts hasn’t had to beat a team by himself all year, and I’m still not convinced he can. Clemson needs to put eight guys in the box on every snap, and sell out to stop the run. They can beat Jalen Hurts. They can’t beat all of Alabama’s running backs.