To help us breakdown Monday’s National Championship game, we connected with Josh Chatham of Roll Bama Roll. There’s a lot to discuss in Clemson v. Bama IV. While the matchup is old, the faces are new and elite excellence on the field doesn’t get out. With a single-digit spread, it figures to be another classic.
STS: Despite OU’s valiant comeback effort, Alabama held on for their 14th win and will battle Clemson to determine who is the first 15-0 team in college football history. While the Tide’s last two wins (against elite competition) were by 7 (Georgia) and 11 (Oklahoma), they’ve blown out several quality teams as well:
- Texas A&M: 22 point win
- Missouri: 29 point win
- LSU: 29 point win
- Mississippi State: 24 point win
- Auburn: 31 point win
Watching Tua Tagovailoa drop passes precisely into receivers’ hands in stride made me wonder if this Alabama team is one of the greatest of all-time. It seems like its Saban’s best, at least since 2012. To me, the winner of this game at least has a claim to best team since Jameis Winston’s 2013 FSU team. What do you think?
Josh: It usually takes a few years before people will truly consider a team to be in that category. Pundits have said that Saban’s one bugaboo has been never having that elite, first round caliber signal caller. Now that he does, it has been a sight to behold. This is certainly Saban’s best offense. While the defense is still upper echelon, this is nowhere near his best on that side of the ball. Also, the kicking game has been erratic and the punting downright putrid.
That said, if they cover the spread against Clemson and become the first 15-0 team in modern history against a schedule with eight top 25 teams per S&P+ including #2, #3, and #4, while showing pretty consistent dominance throughout, they’d have to be in the “best ever” conversation. Not sure on Clemson’s side, just because the ACC has turned out to be a dumpster fire and most see Notre Dame as a paper tiger in hindsight. The Tigers have most certainly been as dominant as a team can be though, and winning all 15, including a win over this Alabama team, is nothing to sneeze at.
STS: Alabama’s WR corps has received a lot of praise this year, but Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, and Calvin Ridley are all excellent NFL WRs who got their start in Tuscaloosa. Is this year’s group of wide receivers really the best Saban has had or is it more about Tua’s excellence?
Josh: Yes, this is absolutely the best set of WRs Alabama has had. Jerry Jeudy may not quite be on the level of Julio or Amari, at least not yet, but Henry Ruggs, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle are incredible as well. All are future NFL guys with track speed, moves, and hands. Neither Julio nor Amari ever had a supporting cast like those guys.
STS: When Clemson has the ball on offense, what individual or position matchup gives you the most optimism that Alabama can slow Clemson down? Which worries you most?
Josh: I have watched a lot of Clemson this season, and it’s a stretch to call any area of the team a weakness. Every position group is top 15-20 at worst, and most are at or near the top of the heap. That said, I think Alabama has an advantage up the gut with Quinnen Williams vs. the interior of the Clemson offensive line. That man has rocketed up draft boards in his third season to become, with all due respect to the great Clemson front, perhaps the best defensive lineman in the country. Lawrence doesn’t look like a freshman at this stage, but no QB likes pressure in his face.
As far as a worry, for Alabama fans it will always be Renfrow. We are very thankful that he is finally graduating. Shyheim Carter should be able to handle him pretty well, but Alabama’s linebackers have made too many mental errors when crossers are supposed to be passed off. If Alabama is unable to affect Lawrence with the pass rush, the short passing game may well pick the Tide apart.
STS: Alabama’s offensive line has traditionally been very good and this year is no different. They rank in the top 7 in line yards, stuff rate, and power success rate. They’re not quite as prolific in pass protection ranking 18th in sack rate. How do you expect them to hold up against Clemson’s D-line? How do the (*potential*) suspensions of Dexter Lawrence and Deonte Brown impact the evaluation?
Josh: The funny thing is that Alabama fans would tell you just the opposite: that pass pro has been good but the Tide have struggled to run it at times. That mostly comes from a few short yardage failures though. Mississippi State and Georgia were able to affect Tua with some well-timed overload blitzes, but his knee and then ankle have also kept him from avoiding sacks as well as usual.
Where the suspensions are concerned, I think there is probably a pretty minimal impact. To my eyes, Clemson’s defensive line was just fine without Lawrence on Saturday, and Lester Cotton was a returning starter at left guard who lost his job halfway through this season. Brown definitely looked a little better as a road grader, but this isn’t a case of Alabama having to run some greenhorn out there.
STS: When Alabama has the ball on offense, what individual or position matchup gives you the most optimism? Which worries you most?
Josh: This again comes with the disclaimer that there are no obvious weaknesses, but Alabama’s WRs seem to have a bit of an advantage over Clemson’s secondary. Venables has seemingly been content to let the dominant front handle the run game and keep safeties back to prevent explosive pass plays. Alabama has actually had some decent success running with the backs against this front the past couple of seasons, and a lot of the cast returns on both sides. This leads into the worry, however…
If the Clemson defensive line is able to control Alabama’s run game and get pressure on Tua without having to blitz, he will be forced to fit the ball into tight spaces. This obviously increases the turnover risk.
STS: Aside from all the winning, and there’s plenty of it, what is something Alabama fans have really come to like about Coach Saban that other fans may not be as familiar with?
Josh: Pretty much everything. Seriously. The guy is still seen as a jerk by a lot of fanbases, but he graduates his players and has done tremendous things for the community through his foundation. His sense of humor is vastly underrated as well, and more of that side of him has come out in his advanced years.
A big thank you goes out to Josh for joining us for this preview article. If you enjoyed it, please consider following him on twitter here. Look for our answers to their questions to post to Roll Bama Roll shortly.