Game Time: Monday, January 1st, 8:45 PM ET/7:45 PM CT
Odds: Alabama (-3), -170 (Alabama Moneyline), +167 (Clemson Moneyline), 47.5 (O/U)
There are enough storylines for this one to write a novella, so we’ll just cut to some key points that could sway favor in the direction of either team.
That Clemson Defensive Line
Woo boy, that Clemson defensive line.
They’re nasty, they’re experienced and they’re deep. Oh, and they’re fast and large and they’re all on the same team. What do you do with Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Farrell? Seriously, tell us, a SEC blog, what can be done to stop them?
Auburn (a team that lit up Alabama only a month ago) certainly couldn’t do anything. Jarrett Stidham is still being sacked by that front four.
This line has aided the Tigers to a FBS-best 44 sacks while their opponent Monday night recently gave up 2 sacks and 9 quarterback hurries to a comparable, but not quite as dominant Auburn d-line.
You kind of have to figure, something will give.
If Alabama’s interior can get enough of a push up front (a lot to ask with Wilkins and Lawrence) then leaning on a run game that should’ve been utilized more against Auburn could at least neutralize a hungry Clemson front four.
One has to figure that quick slants or bubble screens may be the only way to effectively pass against these guys. At the very least, it keeps them honest, but one way or the other, you’re going to see Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts’ running around the pocket a bunch Monday night.
You can’t stop the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. You can only hope to distract them.
The Burn Ward That Is Bama’s LB Unit
The universe does not want this Alabama front seven to be healthy.
And not even moderately healthy. The universe wants them all.
Since its opener against Florida State, the Tide have had SEVEN different linebackers of varying importance miss time due to injuries.
OLBs Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis were once presumed to be lost for the season after both going down against the Seminoles, but they miraculously made it back in time for limited action in the Iron Bowl.
“Will” LB Rashaan Evans and “Jack” LB Anfernee Jennings, too, were injured in the opener and missed the next two games apiece.
How about sophomore hard-hitting “Mike” Mack Wilson? He finally broke a foot against LSU that had been nagging at him since the preseason.
Most importantly, starting “Mike” LB and defensive play caller Shaun Dion Hamilton broke his knee cap against LSU and with that went the rest of a promising senior season.
Then, there’s freshman Dylan Moses. He had been starting in Hamilton’s stead since the Mercer game, and he broke his foot just two weeks ago, listed “out indefinitely” for the game Monday night.
The good news? Five of the seven aforementioned athletes will be available to play against the Tigers. The bad news? The two linebackers missing was your two-deep at the “Mike” position, leaving the situational player, Wilson, calling the plays for the first time in his career at ‘Bama.
Wilson’s ability to adapt quickly to the new role will go a long way in deciding how the Tide’s front seven does against a very good Clemson offensive line, a dangerous dual-threat in Kelly Bryant and a terrific one-two punch at running back.
No one is expecting any of the above players to be at 100%, but many before them have played in similarly difficult circumstances and more often than not they’ve shown.
If you’re a Bama fan, you need to hope this happens Monday night, because this is a sneaky good Clemson offense.
The Running Games from Both Teams
Both Clemson and Alabama possess Top 25 rush offenses and they both do a great job of using multiple players to get it done.
For Clemson, it’s sophomore Tavien Feaster and freshman Travis Etienne. For Alabama, it’s juniors Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough.
Feaster and Etienne have combined for 1,403 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns while Harris and Scarbrough have combined for 1,455 and 19 touchdowns.
About as even as you can get, right?
Tack on both teams’ quarterback’s abilities to take off when necessary and you can understand why both front sevens will be busy trying to quell the opposing offense.
Harris and Scarbrough have played on this stage together before, so it’ll be interesting to see how Feaster and Etienne attack the opportunity to run at a Bama defense that has been susceptible against the run in 2017.
No matter, there will be plenty of yards up for grabs.
So, Who Wins?
There’s more logic involved in a game like this than one thinks.
Clemson has a dominant front on both sides of the ball. Alabama’s offensive line has had difficulty in pass protection against elite front sevens and their defense has been banged up.
There’s just something about Saban having a month to prepare, though. Granted, it’s been in the midst of the first early signing period in recruiting, but Swinney has dealt with it as well.
People are going to point to Bama’s 0-3 record in New Orleans under Saban and that certainly gives one pause, but in the end, both teams have a lot to prove and I trust the preparation of the guy with 5 championships a little bit more than the one with 1.
Alabama returns their entire offensive backfield from the national championship last year while Clemson has replaced theirs. For that, I give the Tide a slight edge.
Score: Alabama 31 Clemson 27