When Alabama takes the field Monday in the College Football Playoff national championship game, it will be playing the same team it beat in last season’s title game.
Still, that won’t make it any easier for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama has won 26 games in a row and is going for its fifth title in eight season, but Clemson poses a viable threat.
Here are three keys for Alabama on offense and defense if it hopes to beat Clemson for the second year in a row.
Keys for Alabama’s offense
* Lane Kiffin is out and Steve Sarkisian is in. Expect more rushing attempts for Alabama’s talented trio of Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs. Each back has averaged better than 6.5 yards per carry this season. QB Jalen Hurts still will be asked to run the ball, but less than if Kiffin still were on the sideline. This should open up deep shots off play action. Hurts has been underwhelming with his deep-ball accuracy this season, but connecting on just one could be the difference Monday night.
* Sarkisian can’t ask too much of Hurts. In last week’s semifinal victory over Washington, Hurts played one of his worst games of the season. He was 7-of-14 for a season-low 57 yards, proved indecisive as a runner and even fumbled once – a recurring problem this season. As composed as he has been throughout the season, it’s important to remember that he is still a true freshman and this is the national championship game.
* The offensive line can’t commit stupid penalties. That was a problem in the 24-7 win over Washington. The bottom line is this offense isn’t good enough to keep having self-inflicted wounds, and it won’t be able to get away with another poor performance against Clemson. Even left tackle Cam Robinson, a possible top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, hasn’t often played a clean, penalty-free game.
Keys for Alabama defense
* Alabama must have an effective spy plan for Deshaun Watson. In last season’s national title game, time after time, Watson picked up chunks of yards and multiple first downs with his legs. Alabama’s trouble in defending mobile quarterbacks has been an overblown issue for some time now, but Watson proved to be an exception to that. Safety Ronnie Harrison and/or nickelback Tony Brown could potentially fill this role nicely in order to keep the star quarterback in check as best as possible.
* There must be safety help to defend Mike Williams. Tide cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Marlon Humphrey should have their fair share of battles against Williams, who is big (6 feet 3 225 pounds), fast and physical; he missed all but one series last season with a broken bone is his neck. Clemson also was without deep threat Deon Cain in last season’s game because of a suspension. Clemson’s receiving corps figures to pose a tough test for the Tide.
* Don’t let Wayne Gallman get going in the running game. Gallman is deceptively powerful and sneaky fast. The key to making Clemson one-dimensional will be bottling him up early. During last season’s game, he was largely ineffective on the ground though he did have 61 receiving yards out of the backfield.
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