Monday January 11, 2015
#1 Clemson (14-0) vs. #2 Alabama (13-1), 8:30 P.M.
Finally college football fans get to see a National Championship Game that they have most likely wanted to see from week eight on. For years people wanted to see Oregon’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense, but this match-up will be just as good as that hypothetical one.
Clemson has an undefeated season so far, but obviously plays their toughest opponent in this game. The Tigers have avoided choking in big games this season, something they have been notorious for in previous seasons.
The Tigers have one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Deshaun Watson, who used his dual threat abilities to make Clemson’s offense dynamic. He is definitely motivated by the fact that Alabama running back Derrick Henry beat him out for the Heisman Trophy. He has passed for 3,699 yards and also rushed for 1,032 yards. He has struggled to complete passes against good defenses, like Notre Dame and Oklahoma, completing around 50% of his passes against them, but uses his legs to beat these teams. He runs the offense that Alabama has trouble stopping, but he needs to have a better completion percentage to do more damage.
Running back Wayne Gallman has had the greatest season of any Clemson running back ever, rushing for 1,482 yards. That is currently the tenth best season of any running back in the ACC since 1956. He is only a sophomore so he has a chance to be one of the all-time great running backs in the ACC. He is a very hard runner, who uses the spread offense to find gaps at the line of scrimmage thanks to a good offensive line. He is hard to tackle at the line of scrimmage and averages 5.5 yards per carry.
The wide receiving corps has lost two receivers for this game. Mike Williams was lost for the season on the opening drive of the season with a neck injury. The second-leading receiver on the team, Deon Cain, was suspended from the Orange Bowl and the National Championship Game for a failed drug test. That leaves one productive receiver, Artavis Scott, who has 868 receiving yards on the season. He is very effective on catching screen passes and getting yards after the catch by eluding defenders. On top of that the Tigers don’t throw to their tight end, Jordan Leggett, who has just 447 receiving yards on the season.
Defensively it starts and stops with Clemson’s defensive line. Defensive end Shaq Lawson expects to play in this game, after getting injured in the Orange Bowl. His 10.5 sacks on the season lead the Tigers and went way above what was expected of him. He is versatile enough to play anywhere on the defensive line and has first round draft pick potential. He leads the pass rush, which makes their secondary look so good.
The linebackers on this team don’t get much praise, but they are very talented. The best linebacker is Ben Boulware, who had a sack and an interception in the Orange Bowl. He seems to step up in the biggest games and will need to play well in this game for the Tigers to win.
The Clemson secondary also gets a lot of attention for good reason. Corner back Makensie Alexander does not have an interception on the season, but has been a great shut down corner all season. Safety Jayron Kearse has also developed into a good pro prospect. He plays like Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks and has a similar build. He is six feet five inches tall and is great at helping with run support. He has limited range and can be a liability in pass coverage, but gets away with it because of the talented corners.
The Crimson Tide lost to Ole Miss early in the season, but have won every game since, blowing out a lot of teams. By making the National Championship Game, Alabama is seeking to win their fourth championship in seven years.
Alabama has a quarterback, Jake Coker, that has struggled all year, but stepped up big in the Cotton Bowl. He completed 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He hasn’t thrown an interception in his past four games. He doesn’t have to be great, but he has to protect the football for the Crimson Tide to win.
At running back Derrick Henry has had the best season in SEC history by rushing for 2,061 yards. He is a big physical runner that thrives on the big holes that the Alabama offensive line provides for him. His success has been the reason why the Crimson Tide’s offense has been effective, because of Coker’s struggles.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley is just a freshman, but had 1,031 receiving yards. In the Cotton Bowl Ridley had 138 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He is Alabama’s only big threat, but receiver ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard are also threats to the Clemson Secondary.
The defensive line of Alabama is good and has a lot of depth. They are the key to holding opponents to 74 rushing yards per game, which is the best in the country. Defensive End A’shawn Robinson has great gap integrity, which has helped the whole team be able to stop the run. Jonathan Allen, who doesn’t play every down leads the team with twelve sacks to help Alabama lead the country with 50 sacks.
Alabama’s linebackers are very talented, but there is one that stands above the rest. Reggie Ragland is a great inside linebacker, who will be drafted early in the 2016 NFL draft. To go along with him the other linebackers have all stepped up at different points of the season, which causes problems for Clemson.
Defensive backs are players that Nick Saban has specialized in developing at Alabama. Eddie Jackson was having trouble at corner back last season and his move to safety has made him a better player. He is paired with Geno Matias-Smith, who has a lot of experience making plays at safety over his career. At the corners, Alabama has a very athletic play-maker in Cyrus Jones and a freshman who is still growing in Marlon Humphrey. One of their most surprising defensive players is the person that plays the “star” position in the secondary, Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is a ball hawk who had two interceptions returned for touchdowns against Texas A&M.
My pick: Alabama. The Crimson Tide have their best defense, and the best defense in the country, since their 2011 season, in which they won the National Championship. Watson is the type of quarterback that Alabama’s defense has had trouble with, but their defense is going to go down as one of the all time great defenses. With Watson not completing a lot of passes it will be hard to put up a lot of points, especially with their run defense being so stout. Henry has been running well against good defenses all season long for Alabama and all Coker has to do is protect the football, which he proved he could do in the past four games.
Final Score: Alabama 31 Clemson 22