No. 1 Alabama has had an easy time of it en route to the SEC Championship and berth in the College Football Playoff. Nick Saban’s squad has topped the 40-point mark in every game sans the opener vs. Missouri, has two finalists for the Heisman Trophy (quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith) and has the pedigree of success that championship-caliber teams desire heading into the postseason.
There is a challenge ahead, though. No. 4 Notre Dame — the Crimson Tide’s opponent in the Rose Bowl national semifinal — has shown the upside it takes to beat the best of the best when it topped then-No. 1 Clemson during the regular season. Beyond that, can the Crimson Tide take care of either No. 2 Clemson or No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship? Absolutely. Here’s why.
1. Styles make fights: That phrase is used in boxing lexicon, but it also applies to the Crimson Tide. In this day and age of offensive football, defense doesn’t win championships anymore — just enough defense does. Alabama’s high-octane offense that stresses defenses on the ground, through the air and with eye candy has created the top offense in program history. That’s right — better than those led by former superstar quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian won the Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach in 2020, and for good reason. Smith, fellow receiver John Metchie III, running back Najee Harris and Jaylen Waddle have all been used as the focal point of the offense at times throughout the season. Waddle won’t be able to suit up against the Fighting Irish, but that hasn’t been an issue at any point since his injury. Why would that change now?
Can Notre Dame slow down this attack? Texas A&M and Georgia didn’t, and those two defenses are statistically comparable to the Fighting Irish in virtually every metric. Alabama racked up 5.84 yards per play and 52 points against the Aggies, and 5.91 yards per play and 41 points against the Bulldogs. Can Clemson or Ohio State? Definitely not the Buckeyes. The middle of that defense has been a liability all season. Clemson has the talent and, when healthy, is dangerous … especially with defensive coordinator Brent Venables calling the shots. But even the Tigers would have to do what no other team has done this season.
2. Tough when it matters: It’s hard to believe, but the jury is still out on the Tide defense. Is it the unit that got lit up like a Christmas tree by Florida and Ole Miss? Or should Saban just tip his cap to offenses that have been lighting every opponent up all season? The latter. Why? Because the Tide shine in two key areas.
The first is getting opponents behind the sticks. They lead the SEC in tackles for loss per game at 6.73 and have racked eight per game in their three games this month. Translation: They’re getting hot at the right time. How about the red zone? The Tide are just fine there too. They lead the SEC in opponent red zone touchdown percentage at 50%, and you don’t outscore the Tide offense with field goals.
I wrote above that “just enough” defense wins championships. Alabama has more than enough due to its ability to stand tough when it matters most. That’s called complementary football. Nobody does it like the Tide.
3. Quarterback play: Yes, it seems lazy to focus on the quarterbacks at times even though it is the most important position on the field. Not in this case, though. Jones — who I thought would be nothing more than a game-manager before the season — has become one of the top difference-makers in the country.
He has completed 63% of his passes that have traveled 15 or more air yards. That’s good enough for the No. 2 mark in the country behind Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Sure, Fields’ presence in the College Football Playoff matters in this discussion. But let’s be real — there’s a big difference between doing it for six games and doing it for 12.
His ability to make explosive plays deep downfield has been tremendous all season. He has 10 touchdowns and only one interception on passes that travel 20 or more yards beyond the sticks. Those are the kinds of plays that drastically change the style of game. As noted above … styles make fights. Alabama imposes its style on other teams because of Jones.
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