Does Brian Daboll go to church a lot?
That was what ESPN college football analyst Rece Davis quipped when asked how Alabama’s offensive coordinator should attack a fearsome Clemson defensive front.
“That would be the first place I would start,” Davis joked.
The Clemson defense leads the nation with 44 sacks in 13 games and its 3.39 sacks per game ranks third in the country. The Tigers’ 104 tackles for loss (eight a game) also ranks third in the country. Clemson combined for 16 tackles for loss against Alabama in their last two meetings in the College Football Playoff (nine in 2015 and seven in 2016).
This season Alabama ranks fourth nationally in tackles for loss allowed with 3.75 per game.
That leads to the natural question of how Alabama, which has struggled to move the ball against good defenses this season, will attack this Clemson defense.
“No, look, Alabama’s offensive line is good, but Clemson’s defensive front is the best in the country,” Davis said. “So, I think you have to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. Jalen Hurts is going to have to make quick decisions, and he’s going to have to be sure in what he does. He’s going to have to let it go. And there have been times this year when Jalen has stood in the pocket and (hesitated), and you can’t do that.
“Not that he can’t break out and run. He proved he could do that some against them last year, but I think it’s hard to make a living unless you decide to keep them off balance, slow down the rush a little bit. Brian hasn’t called me for any advice, which is really stunning to me, but I think they’ll try to continue to be stubborn with their running game, even if it’s difficult, but still giving Jalen an opportunity to get the ball out of his hands quickly and make them hesitate a little.”
In Hurts’ last game, he didn’t “let it go,” throwing for just 112 yards and a touchdown on 12 of 22 passing against Auburn. He added 82 yards rushing.
Alabama had success running on the perimeter against Auburn, but that success wasn’t sustainable without a consistent passing threat.
Davis’ partner on ESPN College Gameday, Kirk Herbstreit, agreed that Hurts is the key to having success against Clemson.
“I think Jalen Hurts is going to have to be involved in not just running the football, I think he’s going to have to make some big plays throwing,” Herbstreit said. “People talk about their defensive line as if…their secondary and their linebackers are really good, too. So, I think it’s an overall defense that’s very challenging.
“And the cool thing is Hurts has experience in playing against them, although it’s a new scheme. But I think a receiver besides (wide receiver) Calvin Ridley is going to have to step up because, if you know (Clemson defensive coordinator) Brent Venables at all, he’s going to come up with a plan to try to take away Ridley, and I want to see who that other guy can be for Alabama.”
Davis said the hypercriticism for Hurts is unwarranted.
“The dude’s a winner,” Davis said. “Is he the most polished passer in the country? No, he’s not. But that dude’s a winner. He’s a great athlete, he’s got plenty of arm strength, his demeanor is perfect for what you want in a quarterback and he has the team. He’s the guy that believe in.
“There’s room to grow. There’s probably room to grow for everybody. I would imagine (Oklahoma coach) Lincoln Riley would tell you that there’s room for Baker (Mayfield) to grow. Jalen had his team within a few seconds of a national championship last year. That shouldn’t be forgotten. Just because he didn’t have his best day against Auburn, I don’t think it’s a reason to decide that somehow he can’t get it done.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.