The national title matchup that many projected in the preseason will take place on Monday in Santa Clara after Alabama and Clemson took care of Oklahoma and Notre Dame respectively in the semifinal round. This will be the third national championship game between the two schools in the last four years and it is one that has the potential to be an instant classic.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Stop Trevor Lawrence
Stopping a freshman quarterback sounds like it shouldn’t be too difficult a job for Nick Saban and his vaunted Alabama defense. The problem is that Lawrence is no ordinary freshman at the position and no team has yet been able to slow him down, let alone stop him, since he took over the starting gig from Kelly Bryant back in September.
Lawrence is blessed with an NFL level arm and he has the ability to make every throw in the manual. He also doesn’t make mistakes and rarely gets flustered when under pressure. In the biggest game of his life against Notre Dame, Bryant went 27-of-38 for 327 and three touchdowns. He did that while hitting nine different wide receivers and picking on the Fighting Irish cornerbacks who were too short and too slow to defend fellow freshman Justyn Ross.
Alabama has better corners on the field than Notre Dame faced Lawrence with. Those jump ball passes are less likely to be effective as often as they were in the semifinal. Lawrence, though, will find another way to hurt Alabama through the air and it is up to Saban to shut down his productivity.
Control Clemson’s defensive line
The Clemson defensive line will again be without the mountainous Dexter Lawrence as the take on Alabama in the national title game. Lawrence, along with two other Tigers’ players, remains suspended as trace amounts of ostarine were found in a doping test before the semifinal.
For most teams this would be a huge loss of a difference making player. For Clemson it was just a case of next man up on a defensive line that is among the best in the history of college football.
Every single start on the Tigers defensive line will be a first-round pick in an upcoming NFL draft. That statement is also true for some of the young reserves that come in as rotational players, waiting for their chance to shine from the first snap.
Notre Dame knew that the key to their victory would be to control the Clemson defensive line. Instead, the Tigers put on a clinic as they picked up six sacks, compiled eight tackles for a loss, and stoned the Notre Dame rushing attack which managed just 88 yards on 35 carries. Alabama has to do better that this if it wants to win.
Hit big plays
This is a different kind of Alabama team to the one Clemson has faced over the last few seasons on offense.
While those units were about grinding out yards on the ground and waiting for something to pop, this attack led by Tua Tagovailoa does everything well. Tagovailoa has great faith in receivers like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and tight end Irv Smith Jr. These are big, athletic players who can go up and make catches in traffic or find their way open over the middle and turn a short catch into a huge gain.
It is those explosive plays that Clemson has not had to face at all in 2018. The ACC was awful, especially at the top, with the likes of Florida State and Miami not being the offensive threats that they have been in recent years. As such, it is hard to know if Clemson has the players in the secondary (outside of the lightning fast Trayvon Mullen) to cope with the Alabama receivers.
If ‘Bama can hit some big plays early it will totally throw off the Clemson game plan.