The Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers have clashed in the national championship game the last two seasons, with each winning once. They meet again on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal of the College Football Playoff.
Here are three things Alabama needs to do to win the game:
Alabama ranks seventh nationally in turnover margin at plus-12, with an average margin of plus-one per game over its opponents. The Crimson Tide has 20 takeaways and has committed just eight turnovers on the season.
Clemson has 19 takeaways in 13 games, but has also given up 14 turnovers – seven fumbles and seven interceptions.
Taking care of the ball is part of Alabama’s DNA, but it must also be on the lookout for game-changing turnover opportunities.
Alabama’s defense will be without safety Hootie Jones and linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, two key components to the unit. All the injuries at linebacker this season have made the Crimson Tide seem a bit more vulnerable at times. Clemson will come right at Alabama, so UA needs to take some chances with blitzes and disguise its coverage in ways that can turn the ball over. Alabama’s chance of winning are enhanced with each takeaway.
Run the Ball
Alabama has faced five defenses ranked in the top 35 nationally in rushing defense: Fresno State (15th), LSU (23rd), Mississippi State (24th), Auburn (33rd) and Florida State (34th). In those five games, Alabama has rushed for more than 1,000 total yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
In some of those contests, the Crimson Tide has shown a tendency to shy away from the run – especially against Auburn, where UA backs were finding traction rushing outside the tackles – and turn to the passing game.
There’s no need to shut down the ground game if the opponent isn’t stopping it. The key here is clear: Don’t get cute. Alabama needs to trust its offensive line – and running backs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs – and give them a chance to wear Clemson down.
The Tigers rank 14th nationally in run defense, giving up 112.85 yards per game, but Alabama needs to test that statistic and try to force its will.
Cover Hunter Renfrow
Clemson’s junior wideout has burned Alabama repeatedly, catching 17 passes for 180 yards and four touchdowns in two national championship game showdowns.
The former walk-on is only 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, but he has more than 1,500 career receiving yards – including 26 catches in four playoff games – and leads the Tigers this season with 55 catches for 571 yards with three touchdowns. He’s sneaky good against zone defenses and knows how to move the chains.
Alabama needs to double-team Renfrow if that’s what it takes, especially in the red zone. He’s proven himself in big games against the Crimson Tide, and UA can’t afford to let him get free this time. The Tigers will use him on rub/pick patterns or drag him across the middle on possession downs, so Alabama must be aware of his presence on every snap. Clemson has other good wideouts, and UA’s job is to make them make plays and keep Renfrow out of it.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.