The National Championship.
These might be the three most hallowed words spoken in the southern United States. Of course, that’s only because “Chick Fil-A” decided not go with a “the” in front of their name, but I digress. This is the pinnacle of our favorite pastime, college football, and winning this game adds to your program’s historical immortality. Today, there are 26 ACC and SEC fanbases deprived of having hope in the moment and are forced to cling to hope of what might happen in the coming years. Man, I’m grateful.
As Joe Sherman wrote, “There is something in these hills that you and I cannot define and others cannot understand.” Clemson is special. I can attest that it has been that way my entire life, and according to Mr. Sherman, a hell of a lot longer than that. The football program is certainly part of that specialness, but more accurately, a manifestation of that specialness.
Tonight, every piece of sound logic you can find will point to Alabama beating Clemson. More money? Alabama. More Tradition? Alabama. Better Coaching Resume? Alabama. Higher Ranked Recruits? Alabama. Tougher Schedule? Alabama. Better Stats? Alabama…and on and on. The problem with using all this sound logic is that if you do, Clemson shouldn’t even be here in the first place, let alone for the 4th year in a row.
I run a site based almost entirely on having more sound logic than the rest, and all I’ve got to explain this is an analogy called “The Genius Kid.” I’ve found no other program that has shown the ability to out-perform its yearly statistical profile as dramatically as Clemson’s teams the past four years. Reputable statisticians that do it for a living struggle to explain this phenomenon.
But we’re here, and we’re beyond the “lightning in a bottle” with Deshaun Watson narrative. The only explanation that makes sense is the “That. Damn. Good.” one. So why shouldn’t we expect to win? Because of the same sound logic we keep making a mockery of over and over? I don’t think so. We’ve already seen otherwise too many times. We know our program has tapped into that Clemson specialness, and win or lose, tonight’s game is going to be a celebration of that something special in these hills.
Now we return to the sound logic portion of our programming.
8pm, ESPN, #2 Clemson vs. #1 Alabama
In the previews the past couple of days, I wrote that the biggest question was, “what is the greatest force in college football, the Alabama offense or the Clemson defense?” I’m going to sidestep this question because I believe the answer is both. By that, I mean they are evenly matched enough to where there will be a different winner on every play.
How Coach Venables decides to use our personnel is going to be very interesting to me. Does he decide to load up the line of scrimmage more and force the issue, or does he try to tighten up the throwing windows more and confuse Tua on the backend? I have already said that I would like to see him force the issue by stopping the run and getting after Tua. However, doing so means that we’re either going to speed him up or we have to have plus-plays by our DBs against these receivers.
What I think is going to happen is feast or famine as far as results go. If we can get Tua into predictable passing situations, we should be able to limit the damage. If they’re able to run the ball or hit big plays in the passing game on 1st and 2nd down, we’re in trouble. The ideal situation is that our defensive line consistently beats their offensive line to where they can’t consistently run it and Tua is worrying about the rush. If we can do that, and it is possible, chances are that we will win the game comfortably.
I would be surprised if it went down like that though. I think where we are going to need to win the game defensively is in the Redzone. The first thing we need to do is to stop them from scoring on big plays. Then, I feel like the Redzone could be our briar patch, so to speak, where we can win up front and force them to kick FGs and go for it on 4th down.
I’ll start by telling you a positive truth. This Alabama defense is not as good as they have been in the past. Yes, they are elite, but they are not as ridiculous as they have been the past three years. They are just as evil, mean, and nasty, but they are not as powerful up front and they don’t make a complete mockery of the opposing OL.
They do have the best defensive player we have seen in #92 Quinnen Williams. If you’re under 35, his ability and style of play is the closest thing to a Perry brother I think I’ve seen in college football. 9 out of every 10 plays on film, he is going where he wants to go. I expect us to double him on inside runs, which sucks because it would be nice to get a hat on their second best player, ILB #30 Mack Wilson. It would be best to not have him going sideline to sideline unimpeded, so maybe we just combo Williams as usual or do something funky like midline option him.
They are softer on the perimeter than they have been in recent years if we can get past their big edge setters up front. ETN is going to have opportunities to bounce it and do some damage. I’d also try to swing it out to him multiple times in the game.
As I said in the preview, we will have to be able to run the ball or make big plays downfield in the passing game. If they have to commit a safety to stopping the run, we can get a 3-step drop and throw a jump ball to Tee Higgins or Justyn Ross on the boundary. Then, like Notre Dame, the ball has to be on target or they have to make a play.
I think we’re going to have a little something for them offensively this year as long as the staff can win the chess match by challenging all areas of the field. There will be opportunities for big plays and we need to hit on them.
Alabama has the advantage in special teams based on what we’ve seen so far this year. We need B.T. Potter to fire that bad boy through the endzone on every kickoff. Josh Jacobs has quietly been one of the best kick returners in the nation.
Of course, we’re all mentally preparing ourselves for a “Spiers Special,” but I’ll take one of those as long as it means no return from Jaylen Waddle. Fortunately, Alabama’s punter isn’t exactly Ray Guy either, so hopefully we avoid any massive field position swings.
We’re due for a huge play on special teams. So, football gods, if you’re listening, tonight would be a good time for that.
I’ll start by saying that I think Clemson is the better team by a nose. However, Bama has the three best players in the game in Tua, Jeudy, and Williams. I think Tua and Jeudy, in particular, have the ability to dominate our secondary. I don’t know if we can stop them, but we have to limit them by getting them on the ground when they catch the ball and stepping in front of a pass or two. If we can’t get to Tua and speed him up, I don’t like our chances.
We know Bama will try to come out and send a message in the form of physicality and speed and we’re going to need to answer the bell there. It’s also assured that both teams are going to try and intimidate the other QB immediately and throughout the entire game. Both QBs will need to hang in there, make good decisions, and deliver accurate downfield throws under duress.
Trevor Lawrence is going to have to dish out repercussions for coming downhill to stop Etienne. That’s what we were missing last year and we have to have it tonight to win. I doubt we will be able to run the ball initially and that’s ok. Clemson has the depth advantage in this game and needs to weather the storm and keep chopping no matter what happens. We can win a low scoring game or a high scoring game. We just need to stay in it.
As the game moves along, I think gradually, you’ll see the Clemson offense begin to win their 1-on-1 matchups more and more across the field. I think if it’s close enough to stick with the run, we’re going to see Etienne get going. I think the late 3rd and 4th quarter should belong to Clemson as long as we have run the ball enough and our defense isn’t gassed.
This will be the best team overall team Clemson has played Alabama with in this 4-year run. Because of “The Genius Kid” syndrome, this team could do something special and control the game. Clemson has always overachieved in both the Semifinals and Championship game. Even last year, Clemson’s defense held Alabama to its lowest yards per play in 5 years. We were also able to run the ball when ETN was in the game, he was just hurt for about 2 quarters of it. So after seeing 6 playoff games of overachievement, I think it would be a mistake to not factor the “Genius Kid” in somewhat. I also like that we’re the underdog and that they beat us in the last game. This should give Clemson the psyche advantage.
So, in summary, I think Alabama has the best 3 players, Clemson has the better overall 2-deep, Clemson overachieves routinely via “the Genius Kid,” and Clemson has the psyche advantage. Call me a homer, but I legitimately like Clemson to be confident and want this game more. I like Clemson to win by 5-9 points.