The rematch is set. After registering impressive semifinal wins, Alabama and Clemson head to Tampa for a shot at the national championship. One year ago, Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson put together the game of his life, with 478 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, but Alabama QB Jake Coker and clutch special teams led the Tide to a 45–40 triumph.
Alabama now has a chance to cement its dynasty. A win would mean five championships in eight seasons for the Tide and six overall for coach Nick Saban. There are three reasons why Alabama will repeat on Monday night.
It is no secret that Alabama’s playcalling was highly questionable for most of the semifinal against Washington. The Tide had nine plays on their first touchdown drive, and eight of them were running plays. They ran four out of five times on the next possession, which ended in a field goal. The rest of the first half was pass-heavy, including two possessions with three pass plays in a row; both ended in punts.
The Tide rank 81st in the country in passing yards per game (214.2) and 11th in rushing yards per game (246.7). They averaged 4.1 yards per pass play against Washington, while running back Bo Scarbrough averaged 9.5 yards a carry.
Kiffin’s playcalling kept Washington in the game, and the Tide didn’t pull away from the Huskies until they consistently ran Scarbrough in the second half. Since the Peach Bowl, Kiffin, the new head coach at Florida Atlantic University, has been relieved of his duties as Alabama's coordinator, and Steve Sarkisian will be calling the plays.
It is unlikely that Saban will throw Sarkisian into the deep end, meaning the head coach will help call plays. Saban knows the strengths of his team better than Kiffin did, and that should show up in the disparity between the number of runs and passes fans will see on Monday.
Watson is dangerous—for both the defenses he faces and his own team. While he has the ability to carve up any defense with both his arm and his legs, he has also made some poor decisions. Watson has thrown 17 interceptions this season, tied for second in the country. Alabama has first-hand experience with this.
In last year’s national championship game, Watson made an ill-advised throw into coverage early in the second quarter, and Tide defensive back Eddie Jackson picked it off. The ensuing possession resulted in a game-tying Alabama touchdown.
This season, Alabama has 11 defensive touchdowns, with six of them in the form of a pick-six. The opportunistic Tide defense should have success against a mistake-prone Watson.
“Hidden” yardage encompasses all of the yards gained or lost in a game in non-conventional ways, such as penalties, punts, and kick returns. It’s an unofficial statistic, but teams can win or lose games because of it.
Clemson is 90th in the country in penalty yards per game (59.6). Alabama checks in at 15th (41.3). Alabama is 22nd in the country in net punting, while the Tigers languish behind at 95th. When it comes to punt returns, Alabama is averaging 15.7 yards and has taken four to the end zone this year. Clemson, on the other hand, has zero returns for touchdowns and averages only 8.1 yards on each.
It is not always obvious, but Alabama excels in these areas, picking up small gains here and there that add up to big points.
Put the offense, defense, and hidden yardage together, and you get another Alabama title on Monday night.
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