Let’s run it back.
This will be the 4th year in a row we match up against Alabama so we know that this is a different animal from all the other teams we have faced in between these matchups. In the immortal words of Jim Ross, “Business is about to pick up.”
The first thing we know about Alabama is that they are the most physical team in college football on a yearly basis. They are the bully on the block. Alabama will try to use strength, power, and huge hits to intimidate and demoralize their opponent. It’s not essential for us to match that, but it is essential for us to be fearless in the face of it.
I’ve gone through the film of several games to assess the 2018 version of this matchup. I even tried to watch last year’s Sugar Bowl film and I got a few plays into it and realized it was worthless to spend any time on it. Both teams are so different now. This will truly be a fresh matchup and a true chapter 4, if you will. Perhaps this matchup best represents the evolution of the two programs post-2016 Clemson Natty.
Since the 2015-16 games against Ole Miss and Clemson, Nick Saban has done what good coaches do and adapted his offensive philosophy. Saban has come to our side of the fence on that one. He has implemented a more wide open attack as opposed to putting the game in the hands of the OL and RBs, running clock, and limiting possessions. The results have been fantastic as this is the most deadly offense of the Saban era at Alabama with 7.89 yards per play. Let’s look at the personnel behind the dominance.
Here are the arbitrary personnel matchups and the 1-10 rating that goes with them based on what I saw on film. The standard for a “10” this week is “the best player at this position I’ve seen on film this year.”
- QB, #13 Tua Tagovailoa (10) vs. SS, #12 K’Von Wallace (7)
- RB, #34 Damien Harris (8) vs. WLB, #34 Kendall Joseph (8)
- Slot WR, #4 Jerry Jeudy (10) vs. Sam, #11 Isaiah Simmons (8)
- WR, #6 DeVonta Smith (8) vs. CB, #1 Trayvon Mullen (8)
- WR, #11 Henry Ruggs (9) vs. CB, #8 A.J. Terrell (8.5)
- TE, #82 Irv Smith (8) vs. WS, #19 Tanner Muse (7.5)
- LT, #73 Jonah Williams (9) vs. DE, #99 Clelin Ferrell (10)
- LG, #66 Lester Cotton (7) vs. DT, #42 Christian Wilkins (10)
- C, #71 Ross Pierschbacher (8) vs. DT, #67 Albert Huggins (8)
- RG, #70 Alex Leatherwood (7.5) vs. MLB, #57 Tre Lamar (8)
- RT, #74 Jedrick Willis (8) vs. DE, #7 Austin Bryant (9)
Bama will typically go with 3 WRs and 1 TE, but they will also play with 2 TEs a good bit. Every now and then they play with 2 RBs. They will line up in trips a good bit as well.
I expect to see them load up the boundary as they have in year’s past and run it. They will try to get Muse to come down off the hash, lull him to sleep, and throw over the top.
- Counter Lead Option
- Inside Zone
- Jet Sweep (with both RBs in the game or Jalen Hurts)
- Power Sweep
- Split Zone Option
- Wildcat Power Lead (with Jacobs or Hurts)
- 3 Verticals/ TE Drag
- All Curl
- All Ins
- Double Post Wide/ TE Corner wide
- Hi/Lo Ins
- Hi/Lo Crossers boundary, Hi/Lo Outs wide
- Max Protect, Sluggo/Crosser wide, Fade boundary
- PA Power Wide, TE Flat/WR Corner
- Smash Concept
- Switch Double Posts
- Tare Concept
- TE Post
- Inside Zone/ Skinny Post
- Inside Zone Wide/ Hitch Boundary
- Stretch boundary/ Bubble Screen wide
- Jet Sweep Option/ Skinny Post
- Swap Boot
Tua Tagavailoa will sit in the pocket and go through his progressions as long as defenses let him. Bama’s passing game is a little more complex than ours, so if he has time, somebody is typically open on these route combos. The bad news for us is that he will hang in there and find them. The good news is that he will hang in there and give us a chance to hit him, make him uncomfortable, and speed him up.
The OL is, again, one of the best units in the nation. However, I don’t think they are as good up front as they have been in years past. The Guards have been vulnerable to stunts and speed and the Center is vulnerable to power (this is where we’ll miss Dex). The two tackles, #73 Williams and #74 Willis, are the best players they have up front. They do a really good job of keeping Tua from being pressured off the edge. Ferrell and Bryant are going to have their hands full in a battle they probably need to win if Clemson is going to win. The LG spot is the weakest link in my opinion with #66 Lester Cotton and #65 Deonte Brown splitting time there.
#34 Damien Harris is the starter at RB, but they will use three. There is no dropoff when #8 Josh Jacobs and #22 Najee Harris carry the rock. Damien Harris has better instincts as a pass blocker. Jacobs is a quicker version of Wayne Gallman as the “accelerate into contact” style runner. Defenders just bounce off of him like he’s got wrecking ball density. Najee is a freakish, almost Adrian Peterson-like athlete that hasn’t quite put it all together. He’s got Jim Brown’s body, but he runs with happy feet. If the light ever comes on for him, he could be a Heisman contender. Jacobs is probably the best RB with the ball in his hands and scares me the most. They will play 2 RBs together at times.
Their WRs are ridiculously good. The difference between us and them is that we have specialists and they have interchangeable parts. Ruggs and Jeudy are serious burners. They are always one missed tackle from taking one to the house and they are capable of blowing by defenders on deep routes. We have to tackle them well in the secondary. If you’ve watched Alabama before, you’ve probably seen Jeudy get loose on a slot post, usually early in the game, for a TD. If the slot post route is a problem for us, then Jerry Jeudy is the final boss. Does Venables move a starting CB over to Jeudy like he used to do with Mac in 2015? My initial guess is no, but that we probably practiced it this week. Maybe we see it on 3rd down.
DeVonta Smith is also greatm but kind of a complimentary presence with good hands, some wiggle, and can block well for his size. Backup Jaylen Waddle is the freshman phenom for them and the next big thing at WR. He reminds me of Amari Rodgers a lot: extremely fast, and serves as the punt returner. They have been able to get him loose downfield for big plays, but I think the secret is out now that he commands respect. We mostly shut down Calvin Ridley, Ruggs, and Jeudy last year, but with Tua in there, this will be a different animal.
#84 Hale Hentges is the blocker that they seem to use more than #82 Irv Smith. However, when Smith comes in, he presents a much bigger challenge as receiver. He can line up anywhere on the field (H, TE, WR) and can beat a DB with either his route running or blocking. Like O.J. Howard before him, he can run like a deer for his size. It will be interesting to see how we treat him because they should be able to get him matched up with Lamar, Joseph, and Muse.
What is the greatest force in college football, Alabama’s Offense or Clemson’s Defense?
That’s the beauty of this game. We get to answer that question and I’m surprised ESPN isn’t hyping it that way. This matchup will essentially be Alabama’s best offense under Saban vs. Clemson’s best defense under Dabo. I’m sorry but if that’s not good TV, what is?
Alabama has so many offensive weapons, it can be overwhelming. Everywhere you look, there is a star player you could key on. Clemson just needs to remain calm and do their jobs…especially if something goes wrong early. We’re definitely not going to win with everybody trying to do too much.
Because Bama is so good throwing the ball and so good with the RPOs, they have forced defenses into playing with 6 in the box the whole game. What will Venables do to start the game? Will we hold true to our identity and stop the run or will we concede that we can’t give up big plays downfield? I hope we do exactly what we did against Notre Dame and just be us. I hope we take the Mike Tyson approach and operate as if everybody has a plan until they get hit. I hope we decide to take away the run looks and see if we can get after Tua. That’s what I expect to see and if they beat us downfield early, like they have with so many teams, then maybe we adjust.
Because there is a chance. There is a chance that the greatest force in college football is the Clemson defense. Time and time again, we have seen high powered offenses get humbled by elite defenses at the highest level. Why not go all in?
I think most Tiger fans already know that, in order to win the game, we’re going to have to get to Tua and stop the run. To do that, we are going to need our DBs to have the same kind of performance they had against Notre Dame. Their ball skills will be tested and whether or not they can make plays on the ball could end up deciding the game.