The Trilogy! Clemson vs Alabama part 3! What exactly should fans expect from this game? Shockingly, Bama is favored in Vegas, although most consider Clemson to be the likely winner. The Crimson Tide have a major chip on their shoulder. They lost the Iron Bowl and did not make the SEC championship game. No doubt the last second loss to Clemson last season is still fresh in their memory. Bama comes in feeling like they have to prove they were the right selection by the committee. On the Clemson side of things, Dabo Swinney is building a dynasty and if he can beat Saban again and go on to win a second consecutive title, there are a lot of people out there who will start to question whether Dabo is taking the reins of dominance from Saban himself. This game is going to be a test for both programs. Clemson is coming off of two of their best performances of this season, beating the living hell out of a really talented Miami team for the ACC title. Four weeks of rest can be a major momentum killer; however, whether a long break hurts Clemson remains to be seen. For Bama, these four weeks off are crucial to getting healthy again. The LSU game took a major toll on the Tide. 8 players were down due to injury in their last two games. Mississippi State and Auburn were able to run the ball as much as they wanted, something that we aren't exactly used to seeing from a Bama defense. But now, the Tide will return all of their injured players, with the exception of Shaun Dion Hamilton and Dylan Moses, a backup freshman, who has really stepped up for the Tide recently. When they are healthy, Alabama is incredibly dangerous and has potential to win the entire thing. The month off has also given Coach Saban a month to prepare for this game. If you give Saban a month, he is going to find your weakness and exploit it. He has never seen the Clemson QB before, but with all this time to prepare, no doubt he has a solid idea of what to expect.
Jalen Hurts, the QB for Alabama was on this very stage the year before. Clemson QB, Kelly Bryant, is just a freshman who had to step into some very large shoes, following Deshaun Watson. Both QBs have a similar style of play as dual threats. Jalen is one of the strongest QBs in the country and Bryant has incredible speed to hurt defenses on the edges. Both struggle to throw the football with Jalen completing 60.8% of his passes compared to Bryant's 67.4% completion rate. Hurts protects the football very well and has only one interception on his 222 passing attempts. Clemson has one of the best passing defenses in the country, ranked #8 nationally. Bama also has an elite pass defense, ranked #7 overall, led by All-American DB, Minkah Fitzpatrick. Hurts only completes 39.1% of his passes when under pressure, a situation he will face in this game. Bryant has completed 55% of his passes when under pressure but has thrown two interceptions to Jalen's zero. It will be interesting to see where Saban puts Minkah Fitzpatrick. Does he play him back to take away the deep ball, which Bryant can throw much better than Jalen, or does he put close to the line of scrimmage? Bama has to eliminate explosive plays that the Clemson offense is known for. Hunter Renfrow was a major key in the victory last season and keeping him out of the game will be a major focus for Saban and Alabama.
The Jeremy Pruitt Factor
For the third season in a row, Saban has an assistant coach with more than just the playoff on his mind. Will Jeremy Pruitt taking the Tennessee job prove to be an issue for Alabama? Last season, there was no doubt Kiffin's mind was anywhere but Atlanta. Two days after calling a brutal game against Washington, he was gone. Kirby Smart, two seasons ago, also was a little distracted during the national title game after taking the UGA job, and it showed in Clemson's offensive production. What will the defense look like in this game? Will Pruitt be so distracted that the defense is all out of sorts? These are questions only to be answered on the field. No one will admit there is distraction even though there definitely is. Pruitt is coaching for Saban by day and recruiting against him by night, but likely, both Pruitt and Saban learned a lot from the Kiffin fiasco last season. It is plausible that there could be no effect whatsoever of him leaving. There is no telling what kind of an effect that will end up having on New Year's Day.
Keys to the Game
• Defense: how healthy are the Alabama linebackers? Bama isn't all that deep on defense, and their past two games have shown that if their defense is not healthy, they have major issues with tackling that would cost them the game
• Stay out of 3rd and Long Situations: In the past 6 games against ranked opponents, dating back to the Washington game, Bama averages only a 25% third down conversion rate because they are often forced into 3rd and long situations. In those games, they are facing an average 3rd down of 8.9 yards.
• Quarterback Play: the quarterback match up is massive for both teams. Jalen Hurts must convert his passes. Clemson's secondary is not as good as Bama's and if the run is not working, the game will come down to whether or not Jalen can complete downfield passes to Ridley, Jeudy ect
• RUN THE FOOTBALL: this is the major key for Bama. Put the ball in the hands of Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Last year, Clemson had no answer for the run game until Bo got injured. If Bama wants to win, the must run the ball effectively to avoid 3rd and long situations and 3 and outs.
• Hunter Renfrow: Bama needs no reminding how Renfrow torched them last season. Minkah Fitzpatrick will likely be the guy who has to cover Renfrow all game long, but Bryant has to find a way to give him the ball. He has great hands and was responsible for most of the game winning drive against Alabama last season.
• Kelly Bryant: Bryant needs to keep the game moving. If Clemson can flush him out of the pocket and get him running, he is difficult to stop.
• Defensive Line: this is advantage-Clemson. Clemson is massive up front and that's great news for the Tigers. Bama relies heavily on the production of their tailbacks and if Clemson can keep them out of the game, they are in for a very successful night.
• Take Advantage of the Bama defensive depth: Injuries have been the story for the Tide this year, and they're still not completely healthy, although close to it. Clemson needs to seek out the match-ups on the line of scrimmage that they can take advantage of. Alabama has been forced to play some guys that don't normally play and they aren't very deep, especially when it comes to linebackers.
What do I expect to see on Monday?
I pick Alabama to win this game. If you give Nick Saban a month to prepare and get his team healthy, he is going to be ready. I think Bama will come to play angry and I think they will be able to have success running the ball. If Jalen can complete a few downfield passes, they will win, 27-24. ( Karina Baum)
I’m going with the Crimson Tide to win the trilogy. Despite Alabama’s lackluster performance in the Sugar Bowl in years past posting a 0-3 record under Saban in the Sugar Bowl game with a 8-7 overall record at the dome. Key for Bama is starting strong and keeping the pedal on the throat. 28-10 Alabama ( Mitch Davis)