Alabama and Clemson are poised for a rematch of last year’s National Championship game thriller in Arizona, but they’ll first have to get past tough semifinal opponents on Saturday.
Alabama and Clemson participated in a classic National Championship game last January in Arizona, flush with lead changes, memorable individual performances and a wildly unpredictable 40-point fourth quarter.
Well, hopefully fans don’t mind sequels, because it’s going to be the Tide and the Tigers once more, this time in Tampa, for all the marbles in the final game of the year. Below are six reasons why we’ll be breaking down the Alabama-Clemson rematch at the end of the New Year’s weekend.
6. After Curtis Samuel, No Ohio State Playmaker Frightens Clemson
Samuel is a gamebreaker, both as a receiver and as a runner. But the Tigers and coordinator Brent Venables have had the past four weeks to game plan stopping a single Buckeye. Yeah, that’s doable, especially with the athletes at Clemson’s disposal.
If Samuel is neutralized, or even held in check, who’s going to stretch the Tiger D and come up big on third down? No other Buckeye receiver has caught more than 30 passes. Mike Weber has delivered a solid debut, but won’t take this game over. And Ohio State ranks 90th nationally in plays of at least 30 yards. Clemson has far more offensive options than the Buckeyes, which will need Samuel to play his best game of the season to win in Glendale.
5. This Is The Weekend Washington Really Misses Azeem Victor And Joe Mathis
Kudos to the Huskies for getting to this point without two of their best defenders, Mathis and Victor, for the past seven and three games, respectively. However, their absences will be noticed against Alabama.
Mathis and Victor were two of Washington’s premier defenders when they went down. Mathis was easily the team’s best pass rusher, and Victor still leads the way in tackles. Now, U-Dub remains very talented on this side of the ball. But generating a pass rush without selling out is going to be a huge challenge against the Tide O-line. And without Victor on the second level, stopping the ground troops of Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, Bo Scarbrough and quarterback Jalen Hurts becomes markedly tougher.
4. Clemson’s D-Line Will Be The Fiesta Bowl’s Most Dominant Unit
There’ll be two elite units in Glendale, Clemson’s defensive line and Ohio State’s secondary. While the Buckeye DBs must contend with an outstanding collection of receivers, the Tiger front wall will enjoy an edge on the OSU blockers.
Ohio State is solid on the interior, led by Rimington Trophy winner Pat Elflein. On the flanks, though, tackles Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince are vulnerable, especially in the face of a D-line that’s as talented, deep and as forceful as any in the country. DT Dexter Lawrence and DE Christian Wilkins are man-children, and DT Carlos Watkins is a gap-busting veteran penetrator. The Fiesta Bowl could resemble Ohio State’s lone loss to Penn State, in which the Buckeyes couldn’t protect the pocket in the second half.
3. Jake Browning’s Big-Game Issues Continue In Atlanta
Washington’s Browning faced a pair of quality defenses over the final month of the season, playing below his usual standard against both. Expect more of the same against the country’s nastiest and best prepared D.
Browning is a terrific quarterback, with the production to back it up. But he failed to complete 50% of his throws against either USC or Colorado, who are both littered with star power on the back end. Now, the sophomore will face his toughest challenge of the season, a Nick Saban defense yielding a measly 3.9 yards per play. Plus, the Tide leads the country with 14 non-offensive touchdowns, an incredible total it’ll add to at Browning’s expense this Saturday.
2. Deshaun Watson Is Superior To J.T. Barrett
Louisville’s Lamar Jackson justifiably won the Heisman Trophy. But in a big-game setting, Watson is the guy you want under center.
Clemson is going to enjoy a noticeable edge at the most important position on the field. Watson is more than just a topflight college quarterback who makes this Tiger attack go. He’s clutch, he’s poised in tough spots and he’s the kind of player who elevates the teammates surrounding him in a huddle. Barrett? No slouch by any means, especially when it comes to the intangibles, but he’s not in the same category as Watson. And he’s had an uneven junior season in Columbus, flashing in spurts but too often disappearing for long stretches of time.
1. Washington’s O-Line Wilts In The Face Of The Alabama Front Seven
The Husky front wall versus the Crimson Tide line and linebackers? Biggest mismatch of this weekend’s two semifinal playoff games.
U-Dub has a nice O-line by the Pac-12 measuring stick. Against Bama, though, it’ll be shades of the Nov. 12 USC game, when the Huskies were manhandled at the point of attack. The Tide simply has too many pass rushing options coming from too many different angles for the Washington line, from Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson up front to Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson coming hard off the edge. With their blockers constantly being knocked off their base, the Huskies will get flagged often while neither QB Jake Browning nor RB Myles Gaskin will get the support they need to perform up to their usual level in the regular season.