This post contains 3 (!) embedded Pawcast streams for your pre-game listening pleasure. We recommend saving them for offline listening on your commute, on the way to Glendale, or when your excitement gets the better of you at work.
"How do you eat an elephant?" the parable goes. "One bite at a time."
While the Clemson Tigers passed every test, and proved all year they're a formidable football team, it's tough to argue against the Alabama Crimson Tide lining up Monday as the best team in the nation. We've watched their historically suffocating defense and decorated running game shatter hopes and dreams from the opening whistle against Wisconsin.
Our first interview this week, Bill Connelly, had Alabama eclipsing Clemson for the top spot in his S&P+ ratings after the Week 11 games (Mississippi State and Syracuse, respectively), and maintaining its position for the remainder of the year. In his excellent line-play centric post, he lauds Clemson's unsung ability in the trenches, which will make this an intriguing game-within-the-game. Bill and I discussed several aspects of this matchup, including the importance of the deep ball for Clemson's offense. Though he's sticking with his numbers, the projections have Alabama in a much closer game than national media and Las Vegas would have you believe.
In our second interview, Clemson legend Dexter McCleon shared his perspective about this matchup, most notably how Deshaun Watson can challenge Alabama's coverages with a well-designed passing attack. National Championship game aside, it was great to catch up with a former player, recount Dexter's incredible accolades in a Clemson uniform, and hear about the lifelong, tight-knit fraternity of Tiger athletes.
When it came time for us to break down this game, I've likened Clemson defeating Alabama with how one might consume a pachyderm: a challenge one must handle methodically.
If Clemson plays to its strengths, and executes in key aspects (especially early!), they will be the better team on the field Monday. Standing in their way are the toughest defense and rushing attack they've faced in years.
Clemson is as multiple as they come on offense, and our coaching staff has adapted to what a defense might offer up all year. SI's Andy Staples wrote a great article discussing how Clemson creates numbers advantages. Consider this part of "ScElliott's" blueprint on Monday. The O-line — who deserve all the credit in the world for an incredible season — must dig deep once more and produce the game of their lives. Pass protection has to hold against their front 4, Deshaun must connect in the tight windows his receivers can create, and winning first down and the first quarter are critical for disrupting the Nick Saban death march.
Clemson's defense has just as tall a task. Bama's humungous o-line puts its pants on one-leg at a time — albeit with the assistance of cranes, man-lifts, and a dedicated staff. Coach Venables succeeds in making an opposing offense play left-handed, in this case mitigating a rushing attack that broke a vaunted SEC record. NBD, right? The importance of engaging Henry in the backfield can't be understated. If Mack/Tank can handle 1:1 coverages, and the LBs lock down over-the-middle stuff, we could see long to-go downs play to Clemson's favor as they have all year. Execution and discipline are the name of the game on D.
Ultimately, this one could rival classic championship games of the past, devolve into chaos, or play out how so many picking against us expect. Either way, this humble podcast believes! We've put our faith in Dabo helming a true team. In players who can take the punches their opponents dish out, and can beat the other team between the ears, particularly when that foe is overconfident. And in coaches who have had the answers time and again.
We hope you enjoy our preview show. Spoiler alert: we donned our XL paw-shaped, orange-tinted specs for the predictions.
If you'll be in Glendale for the game, we'd love to have you by the Pawcast tailgate. Stay tuned to Twitter for more details.