The Sugar Bowl begins tomorrow on ESPN at 8:45PM EST. We have another rematch of the past two years of National Championship games. Each team has won a National Championship against each other, and now they play for the tiebreaker, only this time it’s a little different. Instead of becoming the National Champions with a win, the winner of this game still has one more game to win to claim that title. Just about everyone agrees that Clemson should be in the College Football Playoff, but there’s been a few questions surrounding Alabama being in. Can they prove they’re meant to be here? Here are three key matchups to watch throughout this game that will have a big impact on who walks away with a shot for the National Championship.
Kelly Bryant vs. Alabama Defense
Alabama’s defense ranked first in total defense this season. They also have the most interceptions of any team in the College Football Playoff. This Alabama team is very good at creating turnovers. Led by future first round NFL draft pick, Minkah Fitzpatrick, this Alabama defense knows how to create problems for an offense.
Kelly Bryant has been pretty good this season. He’s completed 67.4% of his passes while throwing for 2,678 yards, 13 TD’s and 6 INT’s. His passing numbers don’t pop out at you, but he’s been a solid passer for his team. Where Alabama has to be careful, is with letting Bryant escape the pocket. Bryant has 646 rushing yards and 11 rushing TD’s this season. Whether with his arm or his legs, Kelly Bryant can make plays. It will be interesting to see how he plays against this Alabama defense, which is probably the best defense he’ll play all season.
Alabama Offensive Line vs. Clemson Defensive Line
Alabama’s offensive line better come into this game prepared. If they don’t, Clemson’s defensive line will be giving the Alabama offense problems all game long. Alabama’s offensive line struggled toward the end of the season. In two of their final games against Mississippi State and Auburn, Alabama gave up 10 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. The good news is that Alabama has a pretty good defensive line themselves, which should have been helpful in practice.
Clemson’s defensive line is unlike any defensive line Alabama has seen this year. Clemson ranked 3rd in sacks with 44, right behind USC and Ohio State. Alabama’s defensive line can do their best to imitate Clemson’s line, but Alabama won’t really know what they’re up against until the game is in play. If Clemson’s defensive line continues to play how they’ve played all season long, good luck to Jalen Hurts and the Alabama offense.
Clemson’s Running Game vs. Alabama’s Run Defense
Clemson has split carries between several running backs this year, but the majority of the carries have gone to either Travis Etienne or Tavien Feaster. Both Etienne and Feaster have 103 carries on the season. Etienne has been the more effective running back of the two, running for 744 yards and 13 TD’s while averaging 7.2 yards per carry. While Etienne has been productive, Feaster still produced quite a bit as well, running for 659 yards and 7 TD’s while averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
7.2 and 6.4 yards per carry are very productive yards per carry numbers. When you see that you likely favor Clemson’s running game, but you might want to wait until you see what Alabama has done to their opponents when they try to run the ball. Alabama’s run defense ranks 2nd in yards allowed (1,129), 2nd in yards per attempt (2.8), and 3rd in yards per game (94.1). When you consider those numbers against Clemson’s running numbers, it presents a very interesting battle. If Alabama can slow down the production of Clemson’s running backs, it will make things a lot tougher on Kelly Bryant.
The matchups between Kelly Bryant against the Alabama defense and Clemson’s running game against Alabama’s run defense will be interesting to watch. Clemson has one big advantage in this game, and that’s their defensive line. Several players on this Clemson defensive line are NFL ready, and they have multiple players they rotate in. Clemson’s defense will give the Alabama offense a lot of problems, and they’ll lead Clemson to a tie breaking victory over Alabama and another chance for a National Championship.