On Monday evening, a new college football national champion will emerge from the final remnants of the 2015 season.
Is it Nick Saban and Alabama’s destiny to win their fourth title in seven years? Or will Dabo Swinney and Clemson bring back the school’s first national championship since Indiana Jones was looking for the Ark of the Covenant, some teens were looking to score at Porky’s and Luther Vandross was screaming Never Too Much back in 1981?
Both squads dominated their opponents in the playoff semifinals. The Crimson Tide dropped Michigan State like Richie Vento did his wife in Harlem Nights by a score of 38-0. The Tigers mopped up Oklahoma after trailing by one point at halftime with a forceful second-half surge to emerge with the 37-17 victory, setting up a matchup of college football’s two undisputed best teams.
The stylistic and aesthetic differences within the game could not be any more delicious. Alabama’s defense is historically ferocious and stingy while Clemson’s explosive offense piles up points in abundance.
The Tigers’ QB Deshaun Watson was a marvel this year with his combination of running and passing. He is the type of exceptional, poised, duel-threat weapon that could give the Crimson Tide’s heavy-handed, overbearing defense some problems.
Watson and his featured running back Wayne Gallman will have difficulty running to daylight in this game, as Bama boasts the best run defense in the country, so the Clemson passing attack is what you need to keep your eyes on.
The Tigers’ run defense is no slouch either, but the Crimson Tide walk in with the exceptional Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who has gained more yards on the ground this year than the SEC’s greatest ball carriers – Emmitt Smith, Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson – ever had in a single season.
Bama proved that their QB Jake Coker could carry the offense when needed with their game plan for Michigan State in the semifinal game. If Clemson defensive lineman Shaq Lawson can go full speed, which is a huge question after he sat out half of the Oklahoma game with an injured knee, it will be interesting to see the chess match of the Tigers’ defensive strategy.
If they can box Henry in and keep the Alabama running game in check, can Coker win the game with his arm? We’ll find out Monday night.
A key one-on-one battle, if Coker is forced to throw the ball, will be the Crimson Tide’s preternaturally gifted freshman receiver Calvin Ridley, who caught 83 balls this year for 1,031 yards and seven TD’s, against one of the best cover-corners in all of college football, the Tigers’ Mackensie Alexander.
On the flip side of the passing game, Clemson’s offense will provide a huge challenge to the Alabama secondary, which many feel is their great defense’s Achilles heel. The Tigers excel at running a plethora of run-pass option plays in which their dynamic field general has a choice of using his legs or handing off to Gallman, who averages close to six yards per carry, along with quickly throwing the ball.
All of those permutations within one play are incredibly difficult to diagnose because the blocking scheme remains the same regardless, posing a puzzle to defenders who are looking for keys to differentiate between run and pass plays.
The Bama secondary will need to be proficient while tackling in space in this game because Clemson will try to bubble and screen pass them to death in between taking shots downfield and trying to get Watson and Gallman loose in the running game.
The last time these squads met was seven years ago, a 34-10 Crimson Tide can-of-whoop-ass, when Saban was in the final stages of rebuilding Alabama into a modern day dynasty.
But this Clemson team is far from the one that Dabo Swinney inherited when Tommy Bowden resigned six games into the 2008 season.
They have the balance to stifle Alabama’s defense, which they showed in the win against Oklahoma last week when Gallman rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns and Watson dashed for an additional 145 and a score on 24 carries while also throwing for 187 yards and another TD.
Alabama looks indestructible right now, but Clemson has the talent to beat them. They’ll need to snap the ball quickly, make the Crimson Tide a one-dimensional offense by stopping Henry, and win the perimeter speed game by bludgeoning them with bubble screens and jet sweeps.
The only scenario in which Alabama has struggled over the past few years has been against teams that run a great spread offense.
Clemson’s offensive line is going to have their hands full with Bama’s defensive front, which is as good a unit as we’ve seen in decades.
Derrick Henry is going to carry the workload for the Crimson Tide offense. If Clemson can’t stop him, they’re doomed.
College football fans should be thrilled, as this is the best possible matchup in the championship game that anyone could have wished for.
It’s the last two heavyweights standing, meeting toe-to-toe in the center of the ring, with both of them ready to unleash every weapon in their arsenal.
Alabama and Clemson should deliver a fantastic ending to a phenomenal season.