The champion of the 2015 college football season will be crowned on Monday night in Glendale, Ariz. as Clemson and Alabama meet in University of Phoenix Stadium with a national title at stake. It’s no secret the superstars and a few x-factors for both teams have to deliver in order to hoist the championship trophy. The Crimson Tide’s defense will be geared to stop the Tigers’ explosive offense, which is led by quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman. When Alabama has the ball, Clemson wants to limit running back Derrick Henry’s damage on first and second downs, forcing quarterback Jake Coker to win this game through the air.
Winning games at any point of the season always starts with individual matchups. Whether it’s an offensive lineman against a defensive end or a cornerback against receiver, matchups are a critical aspect to the outcome. Which matchups might determine the winner on Monday night? Here are five to watch when college football’s national championship starts just after 8:30 p.m. ET.
5 Must-See Player Matchups in Clemson vs. Alabama
Alabama OT Cam Robinson vs. Clemson DE Kevin Dodd/Shaq Lawson
Robinson has been a key piece of Alabama’s offensive line since he stepped on campus in 2014. The Louisiana native has started all 28 games in his career at left tackle and finished 2015 by earning first-team All-SEC honors. Robinson faced a tough defensive line (Michigan State) in the Cotton Bowl, and the sophomore could be matched against Clemson’s All-America defensive end Shaq Lawson on Monday night. However, how healthy is Lawson after a knee injury against Oklahoma? If Lawson is limited, the defensive end position needs more out of Dodd, Richard Yeargin and Austin Bryant. Can Robinson keep the Tigers’ athletic pass rush away from quarterback Jake Coker?
Clemson OT Mitch Hyatt vs. Alabama Defensive Line
Clemson’s offensive line was a question mark entering 2015, but this group emerged as one of the best units in the ACC. The Tigers only allowed 16 sacks in 14 games and cleared the way for quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman to each eclipse 1,000 rushing yards. Hyatt – a true freshman – has been a critical piece of the success for the Tigers in the trenches. However, Monday night is easily the toughest test for Hyatt this year. Alabama’s defensive front is loaded with talent, including three potential first-round picks in Jarran Reed, Jonathan Allen and A’Shawn Robinson. Hyatt and the Clemson offensive line need to keep Watson upright in the pocket in order to win on Monday night.
Alabama LB Reggie Ragland vs. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
When Clemson’s offense has the ball, this unit wants to go fast, press the tempo and prevent the Alabama defense from subbing in fresh bodies. The Crimson Tide owns the nation’s best front seven, including standout linebacker Reggie Ragland. The senior is the leader is the leader for this unit and plays a critical role in getting all of the defenders aligned before each snap. Additionally, Ragland’s ability to make sure tackles at the line of scrimmage will be critical to limit Watson’s yardage at the line of scrimmage on running plays. If Clemson presses the tempo and Alabama is unable to sub, Ragland’s presence is an asset for coach Nick Saban in keeping the defense aligned against the high-powered attack.
Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander vs. Alabama WR Calvin Ridley
Alexander is one of the nation’s best cornerbacks and is rarely tested by opposing quarterbacks. Ridley is Alabama’s top weapon in the passing game, catching 83 passes for 1,031 yards and seven scores this season. If Alexander blankets Ridley, the Crimson Tide need receivers ArDarius Stewart and Richard Mullaney and tight end O.J. Howard to step up as prominent options for quarterback Jake Coker.
Alabama RB Derrick Henry vs. Clemson LB B.J. Goodson
Pencil in any Clemson player outside of the front four in this space. When Henry is able to hit the second level of the defense, the Tigers have to limit the damage and prevent big plays from Alabama’s ground attack. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound back has the size, power and speed to wear on a defense. The three-yard runs in the first quarter often become 10-yard gains in the second half. Depth is an issue for the Tigers and was a big reason why this defense gave up its share of big plays. Goodson and fellow linebacker Ben Boulware were two of the best in the ACC at their position in 2015. Goodson led the team with 98 tackles, recorded 14 for a loss and forced one fumble. Will the senior contain Henry around the line of scrimmage and prevent the Heisman Trophy winner from breaking into the secondary early and often on Monday night?