Before Alabama’s College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Washington, a picture allegedly of Alabama’s locker room bulletin board surfaced. It contained various negative quotes from clippings about the Crimson Tide, including one that said “Washington will BEAT ALABAMA because ALABAMA is overconfident,” a quote attributed to “National Media.”
Everything on that board was a lie. The quote attributed to the Washington player was made up. There is no writer named National Media, and nobody ever said that quote about Washington beating Alabama. Essentially the only person who gave Washington a chance was our Zach Kram, and as good as Zach is, Bama would be going a bit overboard if it considered Zach as speaking for the entirety of national media. Every single writer at ESPN, CBS, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Bleacher Report picked Alabama to beat Washington.
But Alabama’s players bought it. Just listen to defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson after the Tide’s 24–7 win over the Huskies:
In other words, no one had said anything critical about Alabama, so the Crimson Tide created their own kind of fake news to motivate themselves. When they take the field tonight, they won’t need to resort to lies. I’m a member of the National Media, and I’m here to say that Clemson is good enough to beat Alabama.
Clemson’s strengths do happen to match up pretty nicely with Alabama’s weaknesses. If the Tigers win, the following three reasons will be why. If the Tide win, let it be known that the purpose of this post was to help fight the spread of fake news by giving Nick Saban and his coaching staff some proper bulletin board material instead of resorting to lies. Please, Alabama fans, don’t write me emails or plot against my favorite plants: I was only trying to help.
Clemson’s Passing Game Can Torch Alabama
If there is a weak point for the Tide, it’s their secondary. It’s still a pretty damn good secondary — even Alabama’s weak points are strong. Sophomore defensive backs Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick are both potential first-round draft picks. But compared to a run defense that ranks first in the country in every conceivable category, the back four is worse, especially after the loss of stud safety Eddie Jackson in October.
Plus, we know Clemson can pass the ball on Alabama. We saw it last year in the national title game, when Deshaun Watson passed for 405 yards. He’s throwing to one of the best receiving corps in football. Michael Baumann wrote about the brilliance of Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, and let’s not forget tight end Jordan Leggett and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, each close to the archetype of a Big Target and a Little Target.
Alabama is Achilles, the seemingly unkillable champion. The Crimson Tide do have a really tiny point of vulnerability, but even if you know where it is, it’s hard to kill somebody by hitting them in the heel. It would take a poisoned arrow and someone with nearly perfect aim to hit somebody in that one point.
Hmm. I wonder if Clemson has anybody with tremendously good arrow-shooting aim?
Clemson’s Front Seven Can Bring Alabama Down
Alabama washed Washington, but it wasn’t as easy as many expected. Jalen Hurts and the passing game struggled against the Huskies, especially so against a pesky defensive line that battled far past the point when the game was in Alabama’s hands. It was a brutal defeat, but Washington’s front seven did themselves proud: They proved their team belonged in the playoff.
Clemson’s front seven is even better than Washington’s. Defensive linemen Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins, and Clelin Ferrell completely dominated an Ohio State offensive line with two All-Americans. Last week, I said Alabama had the best defensive line in college football. If I were rewriting that post today, I’d have Alabama second behind Clemson.
Hurts has only played a few games against strong defenses, and he hasn’t looked good in them. He’s incredibly talented and I think someday soon he’ll be the best quarterback in the sport, but the true freshman still struggles when faced with pressure — and Clemson can bring plenty of it.
The Tigers can ruin the Tide up front. And although Alabama can still win if that happens — it just did — the rest of Clemson is better than the rest of Washington.
Alabama’s Offense Is in Trouble After Their Coaching Switch
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is the best coordinator in the country. That’s not an opinion, either: He was voted winner of the Broyles Award for the nation’s best assistant coach. If you saw Clemson shut out Ohio State, a program that hadn’t been blanked in a game since 1993, you understand why.
His defense will be facing off against an Alabama offense going through some unexpected turmoil. Since 2014, the Tide’s offense was led by Lane Kiffin, who redeemed his early career failings by consistently figuring out how best to use the vast array of talent the Tide had to offer. But Kiffin took the head-coaching job at Florida Atlantic in December, and he didn’t call his best game in the Peach Bowl. Alabama’s only consistent success came when handing the ball off to Bo Scarbrough, a backup running back who hadn’t played much all year. Scarbrough bowled over Washington defenders at will, and yet Kiffin seemed insistent on going back to a passing game that wasn’t doing much. And wait — why was that guy fourth on the team in rushing yardage coming into the game?
After the game, Kiffin left Alabama, reportedly by a mutual decision, as both parties believed he was struggling to balance the dual duties of finishing his job as Alabama’s offensive coordinator while trying to get started as FAU’s head coach. Saban switched to Steve Sarkisian, the former Washington and USC coach who was fired by the Trojans in October of 2015.
Sure, Sarkisian worked on Alabama’s staff for most of the year as an analyst, but he wasn’t allowed to interact with players in that role. Now, before the most important game of the season, Alabama is making a change from the guy who served as OC all year to a guy who hasn’t called plays since the 2014 Holiday Bowl.
Alabama has won 14 straight games this year — and 26 overall. Not all the games were perfect, but they were all wins. Alabama has been doing a lot more things right than it’s been doing wrong. Typically, when you’re that successful, you cling to consistency. Instead, the team is making a rather important change before facing a defense that could shut them down.
I still think Alabama will beat Clemson in the national championship game. They have one of the best defenses in recent college football memory, and the Tide’s offense has enough studs to score enough points to beat the Tigers. But Clemson can win the national title game. And now that I’ve said it, Saban can post this on every visible surface in Alabama’s locker room, ensuring the Tide actually focus and win as comfortably as they should.