What to Watch For When Alabama Plays Clemson

For the second year in a row my own personal nightmare in writing this blog has come to fruition. I grew up with Dabo Swinney and graduated with him from Pelham High School in 1988. He’s a friend and he’s a person whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for. To pick against Dabo is to pick against my childhood, my teammate, my classmate and my friend.

And then there’s the University of Alabama. My father went to school there and, when I was just three years old, he indoctrinated me into the mystique, tradition and aura that is Alabama football. When I graduated from Pelham there was no question where I was going to school and no other schools were even considered (although I did whimsically send my ACT score & transcripts to Hawaii – sadly, I was not accepted). Being an Alabama fan is all I have ever known and Alabama football has given me some of the best moments of my life. Going to games with my dad and being with him in New Orleans for the 1992 National Championship are memories I’ll cherish forever. To pick against Alabama is to pick against my father, my degree, my classmates and my team.

And yet, once again, I have to chose between these two outstanding teams.

Last year the Bama Lighthouse scouted, analyzed and scrutinized the Tigers and what we found was a ridiculously talented team that appeared to be every bit as talented as Alabama. At the end of the day, our analysis pointed to the difference between these two teams being Deshawn Watson’s penchant for throwing interceptions and Alabama’s strength and superiority on special teams. As it turned out, Watson threw a pick that Alabama turned into a touchdown and Saban’s onsides kick and Kenyan Drake’s kickoff return for a touchdown created a dramatic victory for the Crimson Tide. In short, our analysis was spot on.

Neither friendships nor diplomas factored into picking the winner last year and they will not factor into our pick this year, either. Once again, we’ve broken down tape, analyzed matchups and used our film studies to come to our conclusions. And, once again, we should all be in store for an epic game that we’ll be talking about long after it’s played…

So, let’s get to it. This week we reviewed Clemson versus Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Florida State and NC State. It was an exhausting research project and, as a result, we have more notes than we know what to do with. That said, here’s the What to Watch For (W2W4) in the Tide v Tigers national championship tilt, Version 2.0…

Alabama on Offense

For all of the talk about the irresistible force that is Deshawn Watson and the dynamic Clemson offense versus the immovable object that is Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen and the steel curtain of the Alabama defense, Alabama’s success or failure when their offense has the ball will determine the final result of this game. Like last year, rest assured that Clemson’s offense will most certainly put up some points. So, the question then becomes whether or not the Tide’s offense can keep pace.

The distractions of the Lane Kiffin circus have been removed, only to be replaced by the distractions of “Sark Week.” Steve Sarkisian hasn’t called plays as an OC since 2008 (he did call plays as the USC head coach in 2014) so the change in coordinators isn’t a change to take lightly.   Changing coordinators one week before a critical playoff game would be upsetting to a 14-year NFL veteran quarterback so the fact that it’s happening to an 18 year -old true freshman should not be discounted, either. Changing the OC is a big, big deal.

Across the field, defensive coordinator Brent Venables employs an uber aggressive defense that ranks third in the country in generating tackles for loss. When you turn on the tape of the Clemson defense you see Venables dialing up virtually everything under the sun to generate pressure in the backfield. We saw 3 man rushes and 7 man rushes and everything in between. Against Virginia Tech he even rushed zero and sat 11 men in coverage! In the back end you’ll see man to man coverages, zone coverages , zone blitzes and pretty much everything else you can think of.   It’s very confusing for a QB to decipher – in fact, Clemson’s defense picked off 20 passes this season which is actually four more picks than Alabama’s vaunted defense had this season. Honestly, Clemson’s schemes are pretty cool to watch…unless you are trying to call plays against it.

Up front, Clemson uses three thick, athletic defensive linemen who all play at over 305 pounds. And, unlike Washington’s small linebackers, Clemson’s linebackers are no runts either, each playing at 235 pounds. This is a defense that looks every bit like the Tide defense that played in last year’s national championship game. Remove A’shawn Robinson, Jarren Reed and DJ Pettway and insert Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins and Dexter Lawrence and you wouldn’t tell a lot of difference other than the fact that Clemson’s front is even bigger. Yikes.

So, it’s going to be a very tall order for Sark to dial up plays that Jalen Hurts can execute confidently on Monday night. And, all night long in the back of his head Sark will have to be wondering “am I reaching this kid and giving him plays he feels comfortable with?” And, if the offense starts slowly, will Jalen Hurts be wondering, “Does this guy know what he’s doing?” A fast start will be very, very important for the Tide this week – they must have success early.

Here’s what to watch for when Alabama has the ball…

Perimeter Plays are Back: Last week against Washington we told you that Alabama’s biggest success would come between the tackles. This week, bubble screens, fly sweeps and running back sweeps should be back with a vengeance. On tape, when Clemson gave up a big play in the running game it was typically outside the hash marks.

Point, Counter Point: Time and time again teams picked up big yardage against Clemson with counter plays. Plays that would start in one direction would cause Clemson’s hyper-aggressive defense to fire into the running lanes at the snap. Opposing offenses took advantage of this by starting in one direction and then countering to the opposite direction. Pittsburgh, in particular, was very good at this. And, nearly all of Dalvin Cook’s 169 yards rushing came off of counter plays.

Bootlegs: Many teams used play action bootlegs to get their QB outside of the blitzing Tigers and this was very effective. Last season, Jake Coker converted a huge 3&3 on a naked bootleg inside the Clemson 10 yard line. Jalen Hurts is perfectly suited for bootlegs and rollouts so look for Sark to move the pocket Monday night.

QB Runs: Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans rushed for two touchdowns between the tackles off of zone read keepers. It was tough sledding for him as he rushed 17 times for only 62 yards but he was one of the few runners who found room between the tackles. And, when Clemson rushes just three or four, while they are able to push the pocket they often do not apply much pressure. Opposing QBs have easily broken containment and pick up yards when Clemson only rushes their big guys so Hurts’ scrambling should be a weapon.

Misdirection: Two of OJ Howard’s huge catches last year came on a play action run fakes in one direction while OJ slipped out undetected in the opposite direction. Pittsburgh also used their tight ends in a similar fashion against Clemson this season. Look for Bama to generate the flow one way and then sneak OJ out in against the flow.

Up Field Rush: Clemson’s defensive ends are hell bent on getting up the field and, at times, offenses were able to take advantage of this. The ends would take themselves out of the play by coming up the field hard and running lanes would open up behind them.

Zone Defense: Clemson played waaaay more zone defense than normal last week against Ohio State, presumably because they were playing a mobile QB. Look for Venables to call for a heavy dose of zone coverage and zone blitzes this week. If he does, 5 yard hitches and quick crossing throws underneath should be the order of the day.

Bama’s Best Matchups: OJ Howard on any of the Clemson linebackers should be a big win for the Tide but perhaps Alabama’s biggest mismatch could be Ardarius Stewart on Clemson’s 5’9 corner, #31 Ryan Carter. If Hurts spies Carter in a one on one situation with Stewart, he should just throw the ball up and let Stewart go get it. At 6’1, 210 lbs, the former runner up in the state long jump should be able to elevate over Carter and come down with the football.

Running Backs Become Passing Backs: I really like Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris this week more than big Bo Scarborough. Their speed and quickness may be more useful than Bo’s power, particularly if they are used (as they should be) in the passing game. Yards are available if anyone gets matched up on #10 Ben Boulware in coverage. Boulware is better suited as a blitzer and a plugger than he is for playing against athletes in space. FYI – James Conner and Dalvin Cook each got wide open on wheel routes so I’d like to see Sark dial up a couple Monday night.

Protect From Inside Out: Venables brings a ton of A gap pressure so Bama’s line will have to protect from the middle out to the flanks. This is where Boulware excels and is another reason to use Harris more than Scarborough since he’s the better pass protector.

Throw it Deep: If all else fails, Alabama should just drop back and throw the ball deep wherever they can find one-on-one coverage. Clemson was among the leaders in the FBS in committing pass interference and defensive holding penalties. Pittsburgh’s QB took advantage of this by standing in the pocket until the last minute and then firing it down the field towards one on one matchups. Typically they either got a completion or a penalty. FSU attacked Clemson’s man-to-man coverage as well – this is a MUST for the Tide offense. And, it’s not like Kiffin didn’t call for deep shots last week. On five separate occasions off of play action, Hurts appeared to have down field options but, instead, he tucked the ball and tried to run.

Tidebits

  • At 6’5, 6’4 and 6’3, Clemson’s front line bats down a lot of passes.
  • Only one true freshman QB has ever won a national championship.
  • Clemson’s defense has given up the same number of touchdowns (12) as the Alabama defense has this season. The Tigers sacked the QB 49 times this season, just one fewer than the Crimson Tide defense.   And, Clemson’s defense has 20 interceptions – four more than the Tide. Clemson’s defense is outstanding.
  • What you see is not what you get with Clemson’s defense. If they show a three-man front, it’s likely that three more pass rushers will come at the snap. When they show a seven-man blitz, typically two or more will drop into coverage – you just never know which two.
  • Clemson likes to time their blitzes to the snap count so hopefully Hurts will be able to have some dummy counts that will either get the Tigers to jump offsides or will declare the Clemson blitzers.
  • The Clemson corners and safeties are wired to stop the run so when they see run, their instinct is to come up fast. Look for Sark to dial up some play action passes and fake bubble screens where the Tide receivers appear to be blockers but then quickly release down the field for a pass.
  • FSU killed Clemson with crossers and tunnel screens against the blitz so look for Ridley on shallow crossing patterns.
  • I think Venables will play a ton of coverage in an attempt to limit Hurts’ running abilities.  Look for him to rush just three or four and then drop defenders into zones so that they can keep their eyes on Hurts.

Final Thoughts on the Offense

There will be plays available this week for the Tide offense but Jalen Hurts will have be the one to make them. While perimeter runs and counter play runs may be available, the majority of the damage inflicted against Clemson has been thru the air. Unlike last week, Jalen Hurts will have to win this game with his running and throwing…and Steve Sarkisian will have to find a way to help him do it.

Alabama on Defense

The nation’s number one defense will face its biggest challenge of the year this week when they take on Deshawn Watson and the Clemson offense. The Tigers have so many terrific weapons available to them that it must be incredibly difficult for them to call plays. Should the two-time Heisman runner up Watson run it? Or, should he throw it to the best wide receiver in college football in 6’3, 220 lb Mike Williams (#7). Last season against Alabama, Watson found little known Hunter Renfroe (#13) for two touchdowns but this year they’ll have speedy Deon Cain (#8) as an even better option in the passing game (he sat out the game last year due to a suspension). Oh, and then there’s Artavis Scott (#3) who is just Clemson’s all-time leading receiver with 242 career catches – more than Sammy Watkins or Dendre Hopkins – and Jordan Leggett who at 6’5, 260 lbs is a matchup problem at tight end.

And that’s just the passing game. Honestly, any of those guys (and #34 Ray-Ray McCloud) above could be a very real problem for the Tide secondary but Clemson compounds the passing game problems by presenting a challenge in the running game, as well. Wayne Gallman (#9) is very, very solid and he gives the Clemson offense the perfect run/pass balance.

So how do you stop this Clemson attack? Well, last year Alabama didn’t. Clemson gained 550 yards, 405 of which came thru the air. They generated 31 first downs and 40 points. Yikes.

But this year is different. Gone is Kirby Smart and his “picket fence” approach of pushing the pocket and containing Watson. This time it’s Jeremy Pruitt who will be calling the shots and his FSU and Georgia teams were extremely effective in shutting down the Tigers attack. In 2013, Pruitt & the Noles limited Clemson to just 14 points.   In 2014, Pruitt’s Georgia defense held the Tigers to 21 points. But, Watson didn’t start either one of those ballgames.

This season, Alabama’s defensive personnel is different, too. The 255 pound LB Reggie Ragland was a complete non-factor in last year’s game. A 240 lb Reuben Foster really didn’t show up on tape, either. They were just too big and too slow to make a difference in the open field. This year, in place of Ragland is Alabama’s fastest linebacker Rashaan Evans – he had Bama’s only two sacks of Watson last year. And, Foster is a totally different player when he’s playing at a svelte 225 pounds instead of his 240-pound frame from last season. Evans and Foster will be the keys to stopping the Tigers from gashing the Tide as they did last season.

So, here’s what to watch for when Clemson has the ball….

Empty Sets: When Watson is alone in the backfield, look for either a quick throw or a QB draw. FSU batted down four passes when they anticipated the short throws (usually intended for slot receivers) so Bama’s front line should get their hands up when Watson stands alone in the pocket. And, when Watson runs, he’s gift-wrapping opportunities for the Tide to knock him out of the game. We think Watson will run the ball 20 times this week so that will be 20 times that Tiger fans should hold their breath.

Off Script: Last season, Watson burned the Tide defense with a number of “off script” plays when he escaped the pocket. Look for Alabama to blitz their fastest players in an effort to trap Watson in the pocket. Opponents had a lot of success when blitzing up the middle so look for double A gap pressure from Evans and Foster. However, this is where he’s most dangerous – if he evades the rush then we got problems.

Pace & Depth: Clemson used pace to tire out the Tide defense last year, forcing Saban to try an onsides kick just to keep the ball and give his defense a chance to rest. Look for Clemson to go very, very fast as they’ll attempt to prey on the lack of depth in the defensive backfield, linebacker and defensive line positions. Eddie Jackson’s injury and the multiple defections from the secondary have left he Tide woefully thin in the back. At linebacker, the loss of Shaun Dion-Hamilton will be felt. What was once thought to be a thin red line across the front may actually be the deepest position on the defense – Williams, Hand, Frazier, Jennings and Miller all may have to play a role this week up front.

Attack the Left Tackle: #75 Mitch Hyatt is Clemson’s left tackle and we think he’s in for a very long day. He struggled mightily against Ohio State and Florida State and he would be the guy I would try to isolate Tim Williams on as much as possible. Look for Alabama to blitz off the left side of the Clemson line in an effort to force Hyatt to take on Williams all by his lonesome.

Predeterminations: Watson’s Achilles heel is his penchant for throwing the ball to the wrong team. In fact, his 17 interceptions are more than all but four teams! Watson determines where the ball is going pre-snap and this is what gets him in trouble. He eyeballs one receiver and often doesn’t see underneath defenders who are in the passing lane. Alabama typically disguises their blitzes until a fraction before the snap but this week I think you’ll see Alabama “tip” their blitzers in an effort to encourage Watson to pre-determine his throw. Of course, Pruitt’s secondary will be expecting the route and the throw and should be able to create a couple of interception opportunities.

Slants: Mike Williams is a huge, huge target for Watson and Alabama will likely have to devote two defenders to him throughout the game. But, Williams is damn near unstoppable on slants – it’s their “go to” route.

Blitzes: It will be fascinating to see how much Pruitt utilizes the blitz because Watson typically can recognize it and deliver the football before anyone gets home – he beat Ohio State’s blitzes frequently. Alabama will likely have to play Allen and Anderson at DE as they attempt to play the run but this will not generate much of a pass rush. If Anderson and Allen are at defensive end then we think Evans will come as a fifth pass rusher quite a bit. Bud Foster used his linebackers to blitz the bejeepers out of Watson and this was very effective in forcing Watson to get the ball out. Va Tech blitzed on nearly every play and his guys got a lot of clean hits on Watson.

Fly (Sweep) Guys: Unlike most college offenses, Clemson does not typically use fly sweep motion as window dressing. In the games we watched, the fly sweep guy (typically Scott, #3) either got the ball on the sweep or received the ball in the flat about 90% of the time.

Wheel Routes: In many of the games I watched, backup running back CJ Fuller (#27) was utilized as a receiver – particularly on a wheel route. If they can isolate him on Evans then the Clemson band is likely going to be playing their fight song.

Follow the Pulling Guards: Alabama held Clemson’s rushing attack in check last season primarily because they focused on attacking wherever the pulling guards went. Clemson uses a ton of “window dressing” with motion going in virtually every direction. However, if the Tide linebackers key on the pulling guards and tight ends, then they’ll be taken right to the ball. Of course, Clemson likely has some counters to this, as well, as they showed against Ohio State.

Watch the Inside Slot Receiver: A large percentage of Watson’s throws to a three wide receiver side of the field will be to the inside slot. Basically, if there are three receivers to a side, look for the receiver closest to Watson to get the ball. Additionally, slot blitzers were not effective against Watson as it just gave him a clean line of sight to his favored targets.

Mike Williams: #7 for Clemson is just a beast.   He runs all the routes, too. Slants, back shoulder fades, go routes – everything. And, at 6’3, 220 lbs, he’s always open. Look for Watson to find Williams any time Alabama blitzes and he’s in a one on one situation

Redemption: Minkah Fitzpatrick will be playing with a mad on after last year. He gave up two touchdowns and a pass interference and was targeted in the end zone on five separate occasions.

Spies Like Us: I personally hate the whole idea of a spy as most of the time they are just standing around doing nothing. But, last year Evans played the spy role and was actually effective. Pruitt will be mixing things up but I’d bet you anything that he shows blitz (intentionally) and then just rushes three with Evans as a spy.

Jordan Leggett – The X Factor:  When times have gotten tough for Watson, the tough has looked for #16, Jordan Leggett.  Leggett is a 6’6, 260 pound TE that moves like a wide receiver and is a matchup problem for anyone.  When things get tight, the ball goes to Leggett.  The like to split him out wide and run him on a slant against the safety so look for them to target Minkah once again.  In Clemson’s close games, Leggett has performed:

  • Louisville – 3 catches for 71 yards and one touchdown.
  • Pittsburgh – 9 catches for 95 yards and zero touchdowns.
  • Florida State – 5 catches for 122 yards and one touchdown.
  • Virginia Tech – 4 catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Alabama (2016) – 5 catches for 78 yards and one touchdown.

Tidebits

  • How much will Tim Williams play? If he’s in the game then Clemson’s ability to run the football will increase. However, he’s the defender who is best suited to disrupt the pocket and chase down Watson. So, what’s the balance between playing Allen and Anderson at defensive end versus moving Allen to tackle and playing Anderson and Williams at DE? Look for Allen and Anderson to start the game and then Williams will come in any time Clemson substitutes.
  • If it’s first and goal inside the five yard line, Clemson will run the zone read repeatedly. Look for Watson to keep the ball more times than not.
  • As good of a receiver as Leggett (#16) is, he’s an awful blocker. Bama will dominate him at the point of attack any time he’s asked to block.
  • If it’s 4&1, Dabo is going for it. Book it.
  • Gallman likes to extend the ball at the goal line so look for Bama defenders to rip it out if he does.
  • The Jeremy Pruitt factor is not to be ignored here.  In our opinion, he’s better suited to defend the Clemson attack and he has better weapons to do so this year.
  • When Clemson has struggled in games, it’s been solely due to turnovers.  With Watson throwing 17 picks this season, Bama could get a NOT (Non-Offensive Touchdown) that turns the game around.
  • While there were occasional breakdowns along the Clemson offensive line, other than Hyatt there were no repeatedly blatant issues. And, aside from Hyatt (295), Clemson’s line is over 305 pounds across and seem to form a relatively solid front.  But, Alabama’s front four is the trump card.  When LSU and Washington held Alabama’s offense in check, it was the defense and the front line that dominated the game and allowed the Tide offense to score just enough to win.

Final Thoughts on Defense

I thought, for the most part, Ohio State and Florida State both held up pretty well at the line of scrimmage.   Even Pittsburgh limited the Tigers to just 50 yards rushing, so I sincerely doubt the Tide will be challenged by Clemson’s running game. The difference in those games and likely in this matchup will come down to Watson’s ability to read coverage and deliver the ball. Even when the plays are perfectly defended, Watson’s ability to extend plays absolutely sucks the life out of a defense.

Alabama MUST get off the field on third down. Clemson will once again be using pace and this year’s defense, while better, isn’t as deep as last year’s defense was. The longer Clemson can keep the Tide defense on the field, the worse the results are going to be later in the game. Lastly, in each game I watched the Clemson offensive coaches adapted to what they were seeing defensively and were able to counter with plays that took advantage of what the defense was trying to do to them.

Alabama on Special Teams

The two return games are pretty similar so, aside from Trevon Diggs looking like a complete train wreck last week, unlike last season all should be relatively even here.

However, Alabama has a significant advantage in the punting game as the nation’s third ranked punter, JK Scott, owns a 47.4 to 38.0 punting advantage over Clemson’s Andy Teasdall. Once again, the Crimson Tide should own the field position game and that was no small part of their victory over Washington.

But, this year there is no Cyrus Jones and no Kenyan Drake to save the day in the return game and with Diggs’ problems last week we’d guess if something catastrophic happens in the kicking game it will happen to Alabama.

In the place-kicking game, the two teams are pretty similar. Greg Huegel hit 73.7% of his attempts, missing three times inside the 40 and twice outside the 40. Meanwhile, Adam Griffith hit 74.1% of his kicks, missing three times inside the 40. From outside the 40, Griffith hit just 3 of 7 while Huegel made 5 of 7 kicks so the Tigers may hold a slight advantage when dialing up kicks from long distance.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

The Alabama offense limps into this contest with a new offensive coordinator and a passing game that forces you to hold your breath and pray each time Hurts drops back to pass. Last year, Bama was very creative in utilizing misdirection against the aggressive Clemson defense and they once again have the athletes who can take advantage of this attacking style of defense. Unlike last week, the Tide will not be able to just run between the tackles and play conservatively this week so Jalen Hurts is going to have to play more like the SEC offensive player of the year than the 18-year-old true freshman he was against the Huskies.

Defensively, this is the ultimate nightmare for Alabama. Clemson has multiple game breakers at wide receiver, a fleet footed tight end, an outstanding running back and the game’s best player at the quarterback position. Saban loves to take away what you do best but when you put on the tape of Clemson they have playmakers everywhere and do so many things well. There were a few signs of weakness across the offensive line but Watson’s fleet foot and surprising strength usually negated the pass rush when it arrived.

Clemson will score – probably in the high 20s. Early on, the Tide’s defense will more than hold their own but, as the game wears on, if they don’t get some help from the offense then things will get mighty dicey. There is little to no depth in the back seven and, over time, Clemson’s pace of play and vast array of athletes will take a toll on the Alabama defense. With special teams being negated, it will be up to the offense to win a sixth national championship for Nick Saban and lately I haven’t seen any indication that they can get it done.

Clemson does not fear Alabama – they are the one and only team that truly wants Alabama. They aren’t scared and they want revenge for last year. They believe they should have won the game last season and they will be the more motivated team. They are also the most cohesive team and they are playing much, much better offensively than Alabama is right now. I just think it’s Clemson’s year…

 

Final Score: Clemson 34 Alabama 27

  

Note: IF Clemson does win this football game, Alabama fans should take a ton of pride in what Dabo is doing at Clemson. Since 2011, Alabama has the highest winning percentage in the country, winning 91.6% of their games. Guess which team has the second highest winning percentage during that span. Ohio State? No. Oklahoma? No. Oregon or FSU? No. Clemson actually has the second highest winning percentage at 84.1%. Since 2012, Dabo has beaten Urban Meyer twice, Bob Stoops twice and Les Miles once. Each one of these coaches has been somewhat of a nemesis for Saban and yet Dabo has each of their pelts on his wall. When you look at the Clemson program, you can’t help but see a lot of Alabama in it and I, for one, think that’s pretty damn cool. No matter what the result is on Monday night, Alabama rules college football.

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W2W4 Alabama vs Clemson

This is the W2W4 that I hoped I’d never have to write.  I’ve been going to Alabama games since I was three years old.  I applied to one single, solitary college coming out of high school because there was no doubt where I was going to school.  Alabama has been in my blood since birth.  I’m a proud graduate of the University of Alabama and, of course, I’m a huge fan of the football program.

Before I went to college at Alabama, I grew up in Pelham, Alabama.  We moved there when I was four and the majority of the kids that I went to first grade with ended up graduating with me from Pelham High School in 1988.  One of those kids was Dabo Swinney.

Dabo lived in my neighborhood and, for a short time, visited the girl across the street whom I had a bit of a crush on (we were 10 years old or so).  Naturally, she didn’t talk to me but she sure talked to Dabo!  Several afternoons I’d see Dabo, peddling his way down our hill headed back to his house.

I felt like I was a bit of an awkward kid growing up and from an early age I pretty much idolized Dabo Swinney.  He had the looks, the charm, the charisma, the athleticism and smarts – he had it all.  I never knew of any family issues that have been widely reported.  All I knew was that he was everything I wanted to be.  My haircut?  Dabo’s.  My clothes?  Dabo-esque.  I was a Dabo wannabe.

Back then and to this day, Dabo has had every reason in the world to ignore me but he absolutely never has.  He’s just a good dude.  When we were teammates on the Pelham High basketball team, he was the consummate teammate.  He was always upbeat and outgoing and he never big leagued anyone – he was just a great guy, all day every day.  He was a three sport athlete and our SGA president.  Dabo was absolutely the nicest guy you’d ever meet and he still is to this day, even with all the success and fame that he has earned.

In 2008 when Dabo took over the job at Clemson, a group of us from Pelham High School travelled up there to see visit him for a game.  Again, he had every reason in the world to not make time for us but, as usual, he was warm, welcoming and humbled that we came up to see him.  We got a great tour of the facility and we had the opportunity to see him film his coach’s show after the game.  Later, he told us about his vision of having an indoor practice facility just off the back of the football offices that we were standing in.  On November 9th of 2015 Clemson broke ground on the vision he had in 2008.

To this day, eight years later, he’s still the same great guy we knew in high school and he’s still just as excited to see us as he was in his first year on the job.  He and his wife, Kathleen (a Pelham High cheerleader), are as good as it gets and they are so perfectly matched.  Like Dabo, Kathleen is always an incredibly gracious host each and every time we come up to visit with them.  As you might expect, they are pulled in 100 different directions on game day but they always made time for the Pelham Posse and always seemed truly humbled that we had come up to visit.  That’s just the people they are…

Dabo is everything that is right about sports.  He’s everything that is good in a person.  He’s everything a parent or a university could ever hope for in a coach.  He keeps God first, his family a close second and he has earned everything that he has been given.  Along the way, he’s never forgotten the family, friends and relationships that he’s had throughout his life…

Tuscaloosa is a place that I will forever hold dearly in my heart.  My degree is something that I’m intensely proud to have, especially since I was the first person in my family to earn one.  But, places and things are not as important as people.  Friendships and our interactions with others are the legacies that we will leave behind long after we are gone from this earth and are to be valued much more than places or things.  So, as we begin this W2W4, know that I’m a Dabo fan first and a Bama fan second because I grew up idolizing him, became friends with him and admire him as a person, a husband, a father and a coach.  How can I not root for him?

Alabama on Offense

Here at the Lighthouse, we watch tape, analyze stats and listen to the various voices of reason that populate the airwaves.  But, primarily, we watch tape.  Our mission statement here is to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of Alabama football (and their opponents) so everything stated from this point on is my unbiased take on these two teams.  The analysis is the analysis and, as they say, “the eye in the sky don’t lie.”  The film is what it is, so let’s get to it…

In looking at Clemson’s defense, it’s mighty fun to watch.  Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables loves to blitz the bejeezus out of teams on any given down.  He has supreme confidence in his secondary and leaves them isolated in man to man with a single high safety much of the time.  This allows Venables to mix and match his blitzes at will and he makes things very, very difficult for the opposing offensive line.  Clemson will show a six man rush and then rush three.  They’ll then show a six man rush and bring five.  You just never know who is blitzing until the ball is snapped so finding a way to read out what’s coming will be very important for Jake Coker Monday night.

Across the front line, Clemson boasts four guys who are certainly SEC caliber.  Defensive end Kevin Dodd (98) showed up time and time again in the Oklahoma backfield and at 6’5, 275, he’s pretty stout against the run as well.  Freshman DT Christian Wilkins (42) has shown up throughout the season and at 6’4, 315 he’s hard to miss.  His athleticism is crazy good at that size and, again, he’s just a freshman.  The other DT is #94 Carlos Watkins and he brings 6’3, 300 lbs to bear on the defensive line.  A key question is whether or not their best defender, #90 Shaq Lawson, will be able to overcome an MCL sprain he suffered against Oklahoma.  My guess is that he will give it a go but he will be less than 100% on game day.  Anyway, the point here is that their front four is big, physical and athletic.  Sound familiar?  Any misgivings you have about the talent in the ACC should be tossed aside…

At linebacker, Ben Boulware (5’11, 240) and BJ Goodson (6’1, 250) are oftentimes lined up at the line of scrimmage forming a five or six man front and are used in run blitzes on early downs.  They bite hard on play action and, with the corners and safeties locked up in man to man, these ‘backers are used in blitzes repeatedly.  They seem much better against the run but both Boulware and Goodson made sweet interceptions against Oklahoma while dropping into zone coverage.  Venables will mix coverages so, again, identifying this pre-snap will be a goal for the Tide.

Even with all the accolades of the Tigers’ defensive line and linebackers, perhaps the strength of the Clemson defense is their secondary.  These guys honestly look like guys you’d see in the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary.  Their corners are fast and at 5’11, 195 and 6’1 198 they are physical as well.  Oklahoma had them beaten deep a few times so there will be opportunities for Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart down the field Monday night.  At safety, Clemson has one of the more physically dominant players we’ve seen at this position – Jayron Kearse (related to Jevon) is 6’1, 224 and is used all over the field.  At that size, he’s not quite as nimble as the others in the secondary so look for Lane Kiffin to try and match up Calvin Ridley against Kearse whenever possible.

Make no mistake about it.  Clemson’s defense is big, physical, fast and aggressive.  They want to establish a physical dominance at the line of scrimmage and they are not afraid to bring the house in order to make that happen.  Let’s get physical, baby!

W2W4 Alabama’s Offensive Plan

  • Oh Henry: Look for Derrick Henry to play a very large role in this game.  Unlike Michigan State’s secondary, Clemson’s defensive backfield is outstanding and is not the weak link by any stretch of the imagination.  Therefore, Alabama will likely be a run first team in this game.
  • Tight Ends: Look for Alabama to use a lot of heavy sets in an effort to eliminate the impact of the Clemson run blitzes.  Clemson tries to outnumber the OL at the line of scrimmage so Alabama will probably use two tight end sets more than usual.  This should even out the numbers and force Clemson to play more “straight up” on D.
  • Interior runs: Clemson rallies to the ball very well so we think Alabama will try to attack between the tackles Monday night.  Again, this should be a classic Derrick Henry centric attack.
  • Deep shots: Look for a number of deep shots designed to challenge Kearse and #25 Tankersley.  Alabama will favor those matchups and will look to take advantage any time they can (and Clemson will be in man to man coverage a LOT).
  • Max protection: With Clemson blitzing everyone except Dabo’s sons, Alabama will likely counter with max protection looks.  Brandon Greene may actually play a large role in this game as the second tight end both as a blocker and as a pass protector.
  • Slots of fun: Clemson plays tight bump & run on the corners but they play off coverage in the slots. Oklahoma found a lot of room when they motioned their slot receivers from one side to the other, getting free releases from the slots.  Look for Kiffin to utilize Ridley in the slot in an effort to get him some easy, free releases and to get him isolated on the aforementioned safety.
  • Motion: Clemson mixes their coverages beautifully and turned in two picks against Baker Mayfield last week by switching to zone.  It was puzzling to me why the Sooners didn’t have a man in motion to identify whether Clemson was in man or zone.  Look for Kiffin to move his receivers and tight ends around with shifts in order to get Clemson to declare their coverages.  Speaking of declaring…
  • Hard Counts: Clemson jumped offsides a couple of times against the Sooners so look for Coker to employ some hard counts.  Also, look for Bama to get to the line very early and bark out some signals in an effort to get the Tigers to show their blitzes.  This will be a fascinating chess match as Alabama will see the blitz and audible to another play…but then so will Clemson.
  • Edge rush: Dominick Jackson and Cam Robinson are both going to be tested repeatedly.  The key matchup will be whoever is asked to block (#98) Kevin Dodd – dude is a baller.  On the interior, #94 and #42 both made several plays so they will have to be rooted out of the middle in order to create some seams for the running game.
  • Screens: When you blitz, there’s a risk.  A well designed screen can exploit this risk.
  • Hot routes: OJ Howard better have his damn head on a swivel and recognize when he’s the hot receiver.  He will have opportunities but he will have to recognize them this week.
  • Coker runs: Again, when you blitz, you have risks.  Look for Coker to break containment and possibly have a couple of significant runs.
  • 98 degrees of heat: Watch out for #98 in orange.  Kevin Dodd.  Yes, I already mentioned this.  Yes, it’s worth mentioning twice.
  • Running lanes: Lastly, Henry’s biggest runs will likely happen when Bama exploits Clemson’s penchant for getting their DE’s up the field.  Their hell-bent upfield rush creates a lovely running lane for a back and should get Henry running free into the secondary.

Alabama will have numerous opportunities with one-on-one matchups down the field in the passing game so look for Ridley and Stewart to have several opportunities to make big plays.  These will likely come off of play action passes in early downs.  Meanwhile, the best way to attack Clemson’s blitzes is to run right at them.  If they begin stuffing Henry at the line of scrimmage, then Bama will have some severe problems as Coker will be throwing into the teeth of a very athletic secondary.

As we said, blitzing creates opportunities for big, big plays.  It’s interesting to note that Clemson gave up numerous big plays for touchdowns during the season:

  • NC State – 40 yard and 28 yard touchdown passes
  • Syracuse – 28 yard run
  • South Carolina – 57 yard TD pass
  • North Carolina – 46 yard TD pass
  • Florida State – 75 yard TD run
  • Notre Dame – 56 yard TD pass

That’s a lot of big plays to give up during the season so look for Kiffin to dial-up several deep shots during this game.  Monday, we expect to see some classic old school Alabama offense with Henry pounding away between the tackles and then Kiffin calling for some play action deep shots whenever the time is right.  But, this will be a very, very physical matchup and the fact that Shaq Lawson will either not play or not be 100% is a huge advantage for the Tide.

Alabama on Defense

This is by far the most diverse offensive attack Alabama has faced all season and is certainly more difficult than anything they saw in Pasadena, New Orleans or Miami in previous championship games.  Clemson’s offense of course begins and ends with Deshaun Watson.  Watson is an outstanding runner and is surprisingly a lot more physical than you’d imagine.  But, where he really excels is in throwing the deep ball.  He’s mighty good at that.  His ability to evade the rush and extend plays is what gives defensive coordinators the “night sweats” going into games.

On the ground, the kid that doesn’t get nearly enough credit is Wayne Gallman.  Gallman reminds me a little bit of Ezekiel Elliott as he has size, balance, power and speed and shows the ability to make defenders miss in a phone booth.  Clemson’s favored offensive play is the zone read and it is reminiscent of Auburn or Tennessee’s zone read offenses that Bama has faced in the past.  Make no mistake, Clemson wants to pound the rock as evidenced by ranking 18th in running the football this season (which ranks eleven spots better than Alabama, by the way).

One very effective variation that Clemson has of the zone read is to allow Gallman to lead Watson into the hole as a lead blocker.  This allows Clemson to essentially run a wildcat, outnumbering their opponents at the line of scrimmage.  Oklahoma’s small-ish linebackers struggled mightily with stacking and shedding blockers and, when they found themselves with a chance to make a tackle, they typically missed or got trucked.  Alabama usually stops this kind of attack with just their front four but with Clemson employing their tight end and running back as blockers, this creates a seven on four numerical advantage.  What this means is that Alabama’s safeties will likely be called upon for some serious run support.  Now, if you see #4 Eddie Jackson or #24 Geno Matias-Smith making a lot of tackles then you should know two things.  First, Bama’s front six is getting beaten.  Second, a deep shot is forthcoming.

Clemson has playmakers at every skill position on offense but the Lighthouse staff thinks their most dynamic player may be #16, tight end Jordan Leggett.  At 6’5, 255, Leggett is an adequate blocker but he does some real damage down the field as a receiver and is a favored target in the red zone.  Bama’s secondary historically struggles with defending backs out of the backfield and tight ends down the seams so we think Leggett will be a critical component of the Clemson attack.

Along the offensive line is where this game will be won or lost.  Clemson comes into the game ranked 14th in the country in giving up the fewest sacks (one per game).  But, when you turn on the tape, Watson is often seen being flushed from the pocket and being forced to scramble.  Now, it’s not like this is an issue for Watson but it is interesting to note that the few amount of sacks appears to be more about Watson’s incredible ability to escape than it is about Clemson’s protection.  During the Oklahoma game, we saw three different Clemson offensive linemen get thrown to the ground by Sooner linemen so it appears they have some trouble anchoring.  In particular, sophomore guard Tyrone Crowder (55) and freshman tackle Mitch Hyatt (75) appeared to have issues in pass protection against stunts and games and that bodes well for a front four (or front ten) that gobbles offensive linemen up for lunch.  Here’s what we think we’ll see from the Bama defense…

W2W4 Alabama’s Defensive Game Plan

  • Bama’s front four: Against other dynamic running QBs this year, Alabama’s front four has completely dominated to the point that they were able to shut down running games all by themselves.  The job Bama’s front four did against Dak Prescott and MSU was simply amazing.  However, I don’t see how that is going to be possible against Clemson given the numerical blocking advantage we mentioned above.  If Bama’s front four can somehow stifle the zone read running game then this game will be essentially over.  But with Clemson throwing seven blockers at the line of scrimmage, Bama’s front will need some help…
  • Run support: With Clemson’s ability to throw seven blockers in front of Watson, it’s imperative that Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster and Shon Dion Hamilton be able to make plays from the linebacker position.  Oklahoma’s ‘backers had several opportunities to make tackles against Gallman and Watson but they failed miserably.  Bama’s backers will have to come up huge in this game and they cannot afford to miss many tackles.
  • Stacking and shedding: Bama’s line and linebackers do a great job of posting up on a blocker and then shedding them in order to make tackles.  They will need to be at their best on Monday – but this is the best group I’ve ever seen at this.  Again, if Alabama stops the zone read with just their front four or even the front six, this game should be over.  Clemson’s bread and butter is their running game.  And it is not a soft running game…
  • Safety help: If you seen Geno Matias-Smith and Eddie Jackson making tackles, it’s a bad, bad day for Alabama’s defense.  They’ll be called upon for run support throughout the game.  Look for them to run blitz on early downs in an effort to stack the line of scrimmage whenever they read run.
  • Stay in your lane: Oklahoma’s defensive ends took themselves out of the play several times by arcing wide around the tackle.  Alabama will stunt and run games on the interior but their ends will likely not come wide unless it’s Tim Williams or Ryan Anderson playing “sic em” on a passing down.
  • Trick plays: Dabo is fearless and enjoys a gimmick play once or twice a game.  Look for Clemson to play a little trick or treat on some kind of reverse pass or double pass kinda thing.
  • Coverage: Watson has thrown 12 interceptions and he threw a few ill-advised passes against the Sooners.  Also, he missed high several times on some pretty easy throws.  On passing downs, look for Alabama to rush three and drop Evans or Ragland into a spy role.  Playing coverage could pay dividends, especially if Bama generates pressure from their front four (as they should).  I don’t think Alabama will blitz much at all on passing downs as they will be playing with fire.
  • Empty sets: If Watson is in an empty set, he’s either throwing a quick bubble screen or, more likely, he’s keeping on a QB draw.
  • Third and Watson: If it’s third and short, Watson will be called upon to run for a first down.
  • Read and replace: Alabama’s corners will be called upon for run support on the perimeter so look for the safeties to replace them in coverage.  Basically, you’ll see Humphrey or Jones come up from their corner position for run support, leaving their WR open.  Therefore, the safety will have to come over the top to replace the corner who is containing the edge.
  • Deep shots: Alabama isn’t the type of defense that allows 10 play drives.  Therefore, if I were Dabo I’d take a deep shot every other series (particularly looking for the TE down the seam).
  • Colt McCoy: If Watson runs the football a lot, he’s likely to encounter a hit that is remembered for centuries to come.  “If only we’d had Watson…”

Clemson’s offense threatens you in every way possible.  They take vertical deep shots.  They throw bubble screens and throw “now” passes on the perimeter.  They run the option.  They run the zone read.  They run the fly sweep.  And trick plays?  You bet.  The key to all of this is having an offensive line that can protect and provide running lanes so the battle for the Natty will be won right here along Clemson’s offensive line.  My notes show that there were several points of failure against OU along Clemson’s offensive line so that bodes well if you are an Alabama fan.

Alabama on Special Teams

Neither Alabama nor Clemson really excels in net punting average so this should be more or less a draw.  Of note, JK Scott had a sub-par game in Dallas so his first couple of punts will bear watching.

In the return game, it’s all Alabama.  Cyrus Jones has returned four punts for touchdowns this season and is ranked 20th in the country in return yardage (12.72 yards per return).  Meanwhile, Clemson is 126th in the country with a 1.64 yards per return average.  Huge advantage to the Crimson Tide.

On kickoff return defense, Bama excels again as they come in ranked 19th in the country by giving up only 18.71 yards per return.  Meanwhile, Clemson struggles here, as well – they are ranked 107th in the country and give up 23.76 yards per kick return, including two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season.

Clemson trotted out a fake punt (one on purpose and one disastrous ad-lib) in each of their last two games so “punt safe” may be something the Tide invests in a few times during the game.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

There are a few things that lead me to believe that Alabama will win this game and, again, I say this not because I’m an Alabama fan or a Dabo fan but because this is what the tape and what the evidence of the season leads me to conclude.  I know there are probably several upset Clemson fans (and friends of mine) who are reading the Lighthouse W2W4 for the first time and are thinking this Alabama football blog is simply pandering to its target audience.  That’s simply not the case.  I’ve picked Alabama to lose before (and was wrong) and I’m sure that I will again.  Clemson is the best team (by far) that Alabama has faced this season – both offensively and defensively.  So, here’s our reasoning for an Alabama win…

On film, Clemson’s offensive line is seen giving up penetration and, at times, getting tossed to the side (and that was against a small-ish Oklahoma team).  Alabama’s defensive line has full grown men with a very nasty attitude and I’ve seen them play “lineman toss” all season long.  The film doesn’t suggest that Alabama’s defensive line will be stalemated.  Alabama’s line has the ability to grab an offensive lineman by the jersey and cast him aside.  At times, this is stunning to see.  If Alabama’s line dominates this matchup, which the film says they will, then the game tilts heavily in Alabama’s favor.

And, the turnover margin is a big, big deal.  In this kind of game that features two extremely talented teams you simply can’t be careless with the football.  Clemson’s players are every bit as good as any SEC team you want to envision so this whole “ACC is soft stigma” is completely inaccurate when you look at their roster.  Clemson will be able to go toe to toe with Alabama and we envision this being a very close game.  So, ball security will matter.  Alabama is 20th in the nation in turnover margin and would be 8th in the country were it not for the five turnovers committed during the Ole Miss game.  Stunningly, Clemson has a negative turnover margin and is ranked 107th in the country in this category.  It’s nearly impossible to be undefeated while losing the turnover battle time and time again but that speaks to the talent and the coaching that Clemson has on their sidelines.  Clemson will likely not be able to get away with careless turnovers Monday evening.

Offensively, Alabama will have to run the football into the belly of the Tigers in order to succeed.  The strength of the Tigers’ defense appears to be in their defensive backfield and in their athleticism so it seems that running between the tackles would be the best recipe to success.  Oklahoma had early success with Perine running between the tackles but went away from him for whatever reason after their first drive of the game.  But, Clemson will attack the line of scrimmage with an overwhelming number of bodies so running lanes will be difficult to find (and those pesky Bama negative plays will be back with a vengeance) for Henry.  Blitzing, however, creates opportunities and Alabama has shown the ability to attack man to man coverage deep.  Calvin Ridley is a friggin stud and usually wins his 1-on-1 matchups so it’s risky to leave a DB isolated in man to man.

Aside from the tape, the stats and results from the 2015 season lean heavily towards Alabama.  Clemson’s biggest wins during the season were against Notre Dame and Florida State – two teams that got taken to the woodshed during bowl season.  Clemson gave up 32 points to South Carolina who is ranked 110th in total offense.  They gave up 27 to a Syracuse team that ranks 77th in total offense.  They gave up 42 points to NC State and another 37 to North Carolina.  That’s a lot of points!

When Alabama doesn’t turn the ball over 5 times, the Crimson Tide defense gave up more than 17 points only one other time this season (23 to Texas A&M).  So, the odds and the stats say it’s far more likely for Clemson to give up over 20 points than Alabama and I think the winner will need to score more than 20.

I think Alabama fans will be shocked at the athletes that Clemson will be throwing at them.  They will be shocked by the physicality of the Tiger defense.  They’ll be stunned at the strength of Gallman and Watson.  And, they’ll be biting their nails well into the fourth quarter.

But, in the end, Bama’s depth, strength and track record should mean they win this game.  But Clemson will have a helluva lot to say about it before it’s done.  And, if Clemson beats this Alabama team, they have every right to claim their 2015 Tigers are the greatest team in college football history.  15-0 has never been done in the history of college football and to attain that they’ll have to defeat one of the greatest defenses in the modern era.  Yeah.  Claiming the title of greatest team ever – that’s a Yabba Dabo-doo if they win this game.

Final Score:  Alabama 24  Clemson 20

*Note:  This should be one helluva game.

Alabama vs Clemson By the Numbers

We’ve been away for a while tending to the bulbs in the Lighthouse but this week the lights are on and somebody is finally home!  Later on this week we’ll post a couple of articles about the upcoming game against Clemson in an effort to give you a preview of the upcoming showdown so stay tuned…

But first, we offer you a number of statistical comparisons between Clemson and Alabama.  Here are the offensive rankings and stats for both teams:

Alabama Clemson
Stat Rank Stat Rank Stat
Total Offense 51 423.8 11 512.0
Scoring Offense 33 34.4 16 38.4
Passing Offense 68 219.4 26 283.4
Rushing Offense 29 204.4 16 228.6
3rd Down % 96 0.362 13 0.477 Note Clemson’s 3rd down D below
Sacks Allowed 31 1.43 13 1.14

The first thing you should notice is that Clemson’s offense ranks much higher than Alabama in every statistical category – even rushing.  Deshaun Watson plays a huge role in their running game but the guy who really has transformed their offense is Wayne Gallman.  The unheralded Gallman leads the Tigers in rushing with 1,482 and averages 5.5 yards per carry.  Watson also averages 5.5 yards per carry and his 1,032 rushing yards gives the Tigers two 1,000 yard rushers this season.  Both Watson and Gallman display excellent vision and patience and they have an uncanny ability to break free of tackles, so they earn what they get on the ground.

Meanwhile, everyone is pretty familiar with Derrick Henry’s accomplishments this season but, for a comparison, you should know that he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and has 2,061 yards rushing on the season.  Oh, and he has that sweet stiff-arming statue to commemorate his unbelievable season.  And, according to the stats below, Henry should be called upon to carry the load Monday night.

Other things to notice in the chart above – look at how few sacks Clemson has given up this season.  In the chart below, you’ll see that Alabama is ranked #1 in sacking the QB so something will have to give between Clemson’s OL and Alabama’s beasties.  Also, compare Alabama’s 3rd down % listed above to Clemson’s 3rd down defense shown below.  Ugly.   Lastly, for all the love and hype of the Clemson offense (all of it has been earned and is deserved), Alabama’s offense generates just four fewer points per game.

Now to the defensive side of the ball

Bama Rank  Stat Clemson Rank  Stat
Total Defense 2 256.8 6 301.6
Scoring Defense 1 13.4 16 20.0
Passing Defense 18 186.0 9 177.2
Rushing Defense 1 70.8 18 124.4
3rd Down % 5 0.277 2 0.257
Sacks 1 3.57 8 3.07

Ok, so it’s not surprising to see Alabama’s defense ranked atop a number of categories but…wow.  Scoring, Total Defense, Rushing Defense and Sacks – Bama is ranked first or second in the entire country.  Pretty impressive.  But, then if you look across at Clemson’s rankings, they are quite impressive as well!  They are in the top 10 in Total Defense, Passing Defense, Third Down Defense and Sacks – that’s probably not what you were expecting to see if you are an Alabama fan.  Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables employs a hyper aggressive “downhill” attack designed to disrupt and confuse the offensive line and he’s obviously been very successful this season.  Clemson’s defense has some fantastic athletes who are certainly SEC caliber defenders so they are legit – but we’ll talk more about this in the coming days.  Your takeaway should be “wow, I didn’t know Clemson’s defense was that good!”

Ok, so their rankings are good but I know you skeptics are going to ask “who have the Clemson Tigers played?”  I mean, they play in the woeful ACC so that’s going to skew their stats, right?  Hmm.  Let’s see…

Here are the top 30 Scoring Offenses that Alabama and Clemson have faced this season:

Alabama:  Ole Miss (8), Arkansas (27) and Tennessee (29)

Clemson:  Oklahoma (4) and North Carolina (9)

Here are the bottom 30 Scoring Offenses Alabama and Clemson have faced:

Alabama:  Florida (100)

Clemson:  South Carolina (110), Wake Forest (119) and Boston College (120)      *Note:  South Carolina scored 32 points against Clemson.

Ok, so that shows the really good offenses and the really bad offenses that Alabama and Clemson have faced this season but what about the overall strength of schedule?  Doesn’t the overall schedule impact these statistical rankings and strongly favor the Crimson Tide?

Well, as you probably know, Alabama’s strength of schedule is ranked #1 in the country.  Alabama has faced 12 bowl teams this season.  Clemson’s strength of schedule is actually quite impressive as their strength of schedule is ranked #8 in the country and they have played 8 bowl teams this season.  So, this is a long way of saying that the stats that we’ve posted in this article should not be dismissed as each team has played quality opponents.  In particular, Clemson’s defensive rankings should not be taken for granted.

Moving along, here are the special teams stats and some intangibles that you might be interested in seeing….

Bama   Clemson
Stat Rank Stat Rank Stat
Net Punting 82 36.71 64 37.29
Punt Returns 20 12.72 126 1.64
Kickoff Returns 109 18.97 52 21.54
Kickoff Return D 19 18.71 107 23.76

With the punt returns and kick return defense strongly favoring the Tide, Alabama appears to have a decided advantage here.  This could play a large role in the game.

Lastly, here are some key intangible stats to keep in mind…

Bama Clemson
Stat Rank Stat Rank Stat
Fewest Penalties 68 6.21 48 5.71
Turnover Margin 22 0.64 74 -0.07

Perhaps the most important stat in this entire article is turnover margin.  Alabama ranks 22nd in the country in turnover margin and, if you remove the FIVE turnovers against Ole Miss, then Alabama would rank 8th in the country.  Meanwhile, Dabo has lamented that the Tigers have lost the turnover battle in several games this season.  The fact that they have a negative margin (that’s per game) and are still playing in the championship game is a credit to the amount of talent and the quality coaching staff that the Tigers have.  Typically, when you are losing the turnover battle you are losing football games so protecting the football should be of paramount importance for both teams Monday night.

So, that’s a look at these two teams by the numbers.  Again, your takeaway (if you are a Bama fan) is that you probably didn’t know Clemson was ranked so highly on both sides of the ball.  Phil Savage stated that Clemson was by far the best team that Alabama has faced in any of their championship games and he went on to say that there are probably 16 Clemson players that would easily make the Alabama squad (and with Alabama’s embarrassment of riches on the roster, this is a strong statement) so look for this game to be a hotly contested game Monday night.

Tune in on Friday (hopefully) as we provide our usual W2W4 for this epic matchup!