Well, folks, this is it! After getting a taste of the national title feeling last season, if only for a few moments, before it was rudely snatched from our grasps by the behemoth from Tuscaloosa, the Tigers have that rare opportunity to set things right in Tampa. Nick Saban’s evil empire again stands in the way of Clemson’s push to the top of the mountain, but it really shouldn’t be any other way. There will be no equivocation, no “but”, and no “if” should Clemson finish the job as they set out to do from the end of the 2015 season. This team will be the undisputed champion, having conquered the two monsters of the current college football scene in Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. It will be the greatest accomplishment in the history of Clemson athletics.
Clemson defense vs. Alabama offense: We’ve got some great work by STS writers Alex Craft and Dbbm looking into what the Tide does on offense and defense, so I won’t belabor the points here. The task, in theory, is as simple as it was against Ohio State: stuff the run/force the pass. Unfortunately the Tide have a stronger runner at QB and a power back in Scarborough who is the type of back that has given Clemson problems. Clemson’s DL will make its share of plays like always, but it will be imperative that the Tiger secondary hold up in run support and not get trucked the way Washington’s secondary did at times in the semi final. Clemson’s defense has to hold serve while the offense probes the Bama defense. I know Ben Boulware and company are past ready for some redemption after what happened in the game last year. The brightest spot for me is the difference in quarterback for the Tide. While Coker was not much of a run threat, his play in the title game is an often overlooked factor in how the Tide won that night. He was able to not miss when Clemson busted in the secondary and managed to avoid turning it over despite being sacked multiple times and hurried on several throws. His chuck and duck prayer that was answered by Stewart along the sidelines was a critical play during a time when Clemson was on the verge of taking over the game. I’m very confident that Jalen Hurts, as talented as he is, cannot duplicate such a performance under similar pressure. Hurts must have manageable down and distances much like what a Justin Thomas at GT requires. Clemson was able to dominate the GT run game, as we know, but the Alabama attack is another animal. It will be no place for the meek at heart in the trenches on Monday night. I’m hopeful Clemson can continue the solid play in the back which has made opponents earn it much more than what we saw last season. The heavy zone looks Clemson showed vs. Ohio State has given the Alabama staff a lot to chew on this week.
Clemson offense vs. Alabama defense: Here comes the million dollar question, can Deshaun Watson be the marvel he was last year against the Tide defense? I can't imagine a game plan from Bama that doesn't look to try to knock Watson out of the game. He will need to be smart when he runs. The Tiger offensive line has played its best down the stretch and will need another very strong game here. Just like last week, Clemson cannot allow Alabama to handle the front with just their middle five (4 down and the Mike LB). Clemson did give up a couple of sacks, one on a four man rush, last week, but the tremendous success on first down kept Ohio State from pinning its ears back. We all know how vital ball security is in this game as the Tide have been historically good at scoring on defense. I look for Clemson to be patient on offense and willing to take four to five yard plays and some one to three yarders too. This is likely to be a field position slug fest with both teams leaning on the defenses to hold things down. When the time comes for playmaking, someone among Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, Hunter Renfrow, Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Wayne Gallman must deliver like they have the last two years. I have full confidence that Watson will deliver if his mates hold up their end of the bargain.
Special Teams: I tip my hat to Andy Teasdall for finally stepping up and delivering some effective punts. Clemson will need him to deliver again as field position will be at a premium in this game. We all know how this phase was probably the biggest culprit in last year’s loss and Clemson must break even here Monday if not win the day. I echo Quacking Tiger’s request for kickoffs in the end zone!
Overall/Prediction: Luke wasn't quite ready for Vader when he fought him in The Empire Strikes Back. However, that taste was needed for him to complete his journey to the top. This team has responded to the Pitt loss exactly how I had hoped and have mirrored the 1989 team’s dominant stretch run. For me, Clemson simply must protect the ball to win this game. As good as Alabama is, they are not diverse enough offensively to match what the Tigers can do if they don't get help from the turnovers they have feasted on all season. Clemson still has the best player in this game as well and in #4 I trust!
Clemson 23 Alabama 14