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National Championship Preview: Q&A with Roll Bama Roll

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We are joined by Erik Evans of Roll Bama Roll for a haunting Q&A as we are within days of playing for a national championship.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

STS: Have teams tried to take away the run and make Jake Coker beat them? Regardless of how well Coker performed in those situations, were they actually able to slow Henry to any degree?

RBR: Most teams try to take away Derrick Henry. There is no secret that this kid is a monster. In 2013, he was criminally underused, despite jaw-dropping physicality and YPR average. Now, that was largely the product of Henry not knowing pass protections, still, since the 2012 season of Yeldon and Lacy, I don't recall teams selling out against the run quite like they have in 2015.

Have teams had success? Some have; most have not. Wisconsin tried in Coker's first start, and as a result we had a foreshadowing of what Alabama would do down the stretch -- make teams pay for loading the box, with efficient passing and lethal play action even as Henry tenderized the defense on the outside. Florida and Auburn had success early, but the Heisman winner is just a load: 6'3", 245 pounds. That only lasts so long before guys make business decisions. Interestingly, Michigan State (as you'd expect) and a rebuilt Arkansas defense (that you'd not expect) had the most success against Henry, with him netting 91 and 75 yards respectively and just two TDs. Clemson would do well to look to Robb Smith's schemes (Arkansas DC.) The guy can flat-out shut down running games.

STS: We took a look at the Rivals star ratings for Alabama's starters on defense it averaged out to be about a four-star, which is just ludicrous for an average. If you had to scheme against that defense, what (relative) weakness would you attack and how would you do it (don't worry, we promise not to tell Dabo)?

RBR: Alabama will likely be in a base nickel versus the Tigers. The good news for Alabama fans is that Reggie Ragland will spy the backs and Deshaun Watson, and that puts ILB Reuben Foster on the field. The bad news is that Foster, who captains the front seven in obvious passing downs, is playing with a gimpy arm. He is wearing a Megaman cast on his right arm which has limited his effectiveness against the pass.

This is to preface the main point: To beat Alabama, you must get ahead of the chains, do so quickly, and you must attack the middle of the field, particularly where Foster and his busted wing are trying to cover ground. Leggett has the opportunity to do serious damage in this respect. Moreover, despite the development of corner Marlon Humphrey on the boundary side, he is usually backed up by physical safety Geno Matias-Smith. That guy will lay the lumber, but deep shots have been his bane this season. Given Deshaun Watson's deep ball (the best in college football,) there are opportunities for success there, as Brandon Harris and Treon Harris did in their few completed deep balls. 
That success, however, will rely upon an underwhelming offensive line stopping the best historical defensive line of the modern era.

STS: Against Michigan State, Florida, LSU, and Wisconsin, Alabama only scored 10, 12, 13, and 14 first half points, respectively. They scored 83 combined second half points in those games. Why are they so quiet in the first half against all of the quality defenses they've faced and why are they so excellent in the second half against them?

RBR: It's very generous of you to just cherry-pick some teams Alabama started slowly against. The simple fact is that the 2015 iteration of the Crimson Tide are just a slow-starting bunch all the way around. Look to Arkansas, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe and Ole Miss among others for slow starts. 
There are different reasons for different slow starts, but the obvious one for the first half of the season, irrespective of competition, is that Alabama simply did not have an offensive identity. Now, the team did find it's identity as the season wore on, and it was a lethal one in harmony with Nick Saban's old mantra -- make their ass quit. 

Simply put, you rope-a-dope, punch/counter-punch, and play the first three quarters to win the fourth. It is old school physical football from an old school mentality. We obviously enjoy it. Alabama football has been, for its 120 years and 15 national titles, about beating people up and winning the physical battles. Guess what? It has worked for over a century and it really works when you have the best defense in football and the Heisman winner in the backfield. The fun part about this game is seeing which team wants to slip the haymakers -- we are very optimistic if it comes to trench warfare.

STS: Another RBR writers (not you) said:

"They will spend the next few days trying to convince everyone that the game will be compelling, but they know."

Assuming he was serious, what makes educated Alabama fans so confident that they will dominate the #1 team in the country? Finally, do you think Alabama wins and maybe more boldly (I will forbid any commenters from calling you arrogant) do you think - as some Fox Sports anchors said about Oklahoma - "they win big"?

RBR: First, it's okay to call Alabama fans arrogant. Most of us are proud of our team/rooting interest/alma mater at the least, and are outright arrogant at worst. It's at least an earned arrogance borne of consistent success.

Since the Poll Era began, Alabama's longest ride without a national title was 17 years (from 1992 to 2009.) This year, with the best and deepest defense in football, coupled with a Heisman winner, an All-American on the outside, and a physical, veteran QB in the backfield, we're a little chirpy. (That's okay, Shaq Lawson would appreciate the faith in your team.)
Do I think Alabama wins? Yes. Without a doubt. Deshaun Watson is excellent; Wayne Gallman is excellent; Shaq Lawson is excellent. The difference is that Alabama fields about four guys of Shaw Lawson's calibre. Alabama fields a much better running back than Wayne Gallman. Alabama has All-Americans at every level of its defense. Alabama has superior coaching, special teams, depth, talent at most positions, better injury luck, and the experience and motivation factor -- there aren't pizza parties just for winning a conference title in Tuscaloosa. Gatorade barely comes out if Alabama wins a national title. 
I hate to call it business as usual, but that's how Alabama players have viewed this -- this a team that is focused, fixated, bigger, stronger, angrier, and Clemson is just in the way of our paycheck, so to speak. At its most basic level, football is about winning the physical battles and kicking the ass of the guy in front of you. Clemson is a great team, very well-coached, and we fans deeply respect them. But, when the whistle sounds 140 times in three hours, Alabama can win nearly every one of those physical battles.
STS: A big thanks to Erik. When you get out of the fetal position, go follow him on Twitter, and then leave some encouraging comments below so I don't cry myself to sleep tonight. If you'd like to see the other half of the Q&A up on RollBamaRoll, click here.