College Football National Championship Preview: Alabama vs. Ohio State


Photo: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Lalin

Last year, in the most anticipated game of the year—the National Championship—we watched an overmatched Clemson team lose to one of the most prolific offenses college football has ever seen. Although led by what some say to be the best college football prospect since John Elway in Trevor Lawrence, the Clemson Tigers lost by not one, not two, but THREE scores in the National Championship Game. While previewing this year’s match-up between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Alabama Crimson Tide, I strongly believe that we will not be watching another blowout. Both of these teams are stacked with next-level talent combined with elite coaches that utilize every ounce of production from their players. 

The last time the Buckeyes made it to the championship game they were led by coach Urban Meyer and Zeke Elliot who rushed for a whopping 246 years and four touchdowns as the Buckeyes humiliated the Oregon Ducks 42-20. This year is similar, as Ohio State has found their main workhorse in Trey Sermon. After his record-setting 331-yard performance against Northwestern helped Ohio State secure the Big Ten Championship, Sermon put up 193 yards against a very solid (though young) front seven for Clemson. Ohio State’s offensive and defensive lines looked extremely impressive in their semifinal win against Clemson. Although Trevor Lawrence escaped with a very quiet 400 yard passing night, he rarely had more than a few seconds to sit in the pocket. That is not to say that Clemson lacks talent on their line. Upon research, one has to travel all the way down to Clemson’s three deep to find a lineman who came into the program not ranked within the ESPN Top 300 players. Ohio State’s defensive line was getting after Lawrence and keeping Travis Etienne, a very good running back, to a mere 32 yards. Though I am not a betting man, I can almost guarantee you that Najee Harris will have more than that; this just proves how stout the front line is for Ohio State. Justin Fields was spectacular, exploiting what was in my opinion Clemson’s greatest weakness—their secondary—as he threw for 385 yards and SIX touchdowns to stars like Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. However, speaking of secondaries, my biggest concern for this Ohio State team is their porous defensive back group. One doesn’t have to be a star quarterback to see just how open some of these Clemson receivers were during the game (though I am sure Cole Freeman will agree). Had Trevor Lawrence ever had enough time to plant his feet and throw, I think this article is being written about the Clemson vs. ‘Bama rematch championship. But, “woulda, coulda, shoulda” and Ohio State has their great defensive line to thank for that. However, Alabama’s line will give Mac Jones the time necessary to make his throws, which is very concerning considering Ohio State’s secondary is going to have to worry about Heisman winner, wide receiver Devonta Smith. 

On the other hand, there is not much more to say about Alabama. In a team that is arguably one of if not Saban’s best teams since arriving at Alabama in 2009 and a team that had 3 out of 5 Heisman finalists, this Alabama team has all the talent in the world. However, with that said, they looked lackluster in the second half of their semifinal game. While they set the tone early and put Notre Dame away, if they start like that or have a lull period against Justin Fields, they will pay the price. To me the unit to watch is Alabama’s defense—specifically their front seven. We all know that this Alabama offense, led by offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, will put up points and do their job, but Pete Golding’s defense has not been getting much praise. If Alabama can find a way to shut down Trey Sermon (or even mildly slow him from his current tear) it could be a LONG day for the Buckeyes. Historically, Ryan Day’s offenses revolve around the RPO (Run-Pass Option where the quarterback has the option to hand it off or pass it on the same play). However, for this to be effective they need a strong running attack to really sell the run and create passing lanes. Although Fields showed his elite arm talent on New Year’s Day, the Alabama cornerbacks are athletic and absolute ballhawks. For example, Patrick Surtain, one of the leaders of this ‘Bama defense, is at a whopping 6’ 2’’ and he has the length to back up that height. That is a receiver’s nightmare and very difficult for a quarterback to pass into such tight spaces if Sermon can’t sell the run in the RPO attack. Don’t believe me? Just go watch the Ohio State vs. Indiana tape—Ohio State’s closest win. Although Tom Allen called a masterful game, they sold out against the run and their corners came up big. If not for some untimely turnovers, we would have a different match-up. 

Overall, if you tune into any major sports network they are all calling in for a major Alabama victory but in the words of coach Lee Corso: “Not so fast my friends.” This Ohio State team is legit and they are tired of everyone counting them out. Just ask coach Dabo how that went for him after he ranked them 11th in the Coaching Poll. My final prediction is that the game will be set from the beginning. If Ohio State can establish their run game and their cornerbacks like Shaun Wade are able to do their job and capitalize on the pressure their defensive line will create we could see a repeat of the 2014 semifinal between these two. But, I just think in the end this ‘Bama offense has too much firepower to contain and the Tide will pull away late. But only time will tell.