Alabama is back in the national championship game for the fourth consecutive year. Coach Nick Saban’s team is strong on defense as usual, but the offense is the driving force behind the Crimson Tide’s 14-0 record and No. 1 overall ranking. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was brilliant in his first year as the starter, and he’s surrounded by a deep group of running backs and playmakers at receiver on the outside. Saban has guided Alabama to five national championships over nine seasons and will be looking to add his seventh overall on Monday night. The Crimson Tide defeated Clemson in 2015 for the national championship but fell in ’16 to the Tigers. After beating Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in a CFB Playoff semifinal, Saban’s team knocked off Georgia in an overtime thriller last year.
Why will Alabama win on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara? Here are five reasons the Crimson Tide will claim the national title over Tigers:
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Beat Clemson for the National Title
1. Tua Showed No Rust Against Oklahoma
The health of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was a big storyline going into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma. The sophomore fell short of winning the Heisman Trophy after suffering an ankle injury against Georgia, which required surgery on Sunday of the CFB Playoff announcement. While Tagovailoa’s health and ankle were a concern and source of uncertainty, he showed no rust in the Crimson Tide’s 45-34 win over Oklahoma. Tagovailoa connected on 24 of 27 throws for 318 yards and four touchdowns and showcased his mobility with a couple of key runs, including a late first down to help seal the victory.
While Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy, a strong argument can be made Tagovailoa was the best quarterback in college football this season. The Hawaii native threw for 3,671 yards and 41 touchdowns to just four picks through 14 games. Tagovailoa also has a 69.5 percent completion percentage and has 22 completions of 40 yards or more.
With nearly 10 days to rest, Tagovailoa’s ankle will have more time to get closer to full strength and heal from any bumps and bruises from the Orange Bowl. With Tagovailoa at the controls and showing no rust from his ankle surgery, the Crimson Tide’s offense will be firing on all cylinders in Santa Clara.
2. Alabama’s Deep Stable of Running Backs
Clemson’s defensive front is going to be a tough challenge for Alabama’s ground game. However, the Crimson Tide pounded Oklahoma for 200 yards (4.8 yards per rush) on 42 attempts, with three different running backs accumulating at least 45 yards. Josh Jacobs led the team with 98 yards on 15 carries and grabbed four receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown. Damien Harris accounted for 48 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts, while Najee Harris contributed 45 yards on six rushes. Jacobs is capable of pounding away between the tackles, but he’s the most versatile option for coordinator Mike Locksley. Damien Harris and Najee Harris seem to be at their best pounding away on the interior or testing the edge with stretch plays.
It’s no secret Clemson has the best defensive line in college football, but Alabama can counter with a standout offensive line and ground game. The Crimson Tide surrendered only 14 sacks in 14 games so far this year and cleared the way for rushers to average 5.3 yards a carry. Left tackle Jonah Williams is among the nation’s best in the trenches. Notre Dame managed only 2.5 yards per carry and just 88 yards on 35 attempts in the Cotton Bowl against Clemson. Alabama may not gash the Tigers for 200 yards, but it’s safe to assume Saban’s team will find more success thanks to the line and a wealth of options at running back.
3. No Shortage of Options at Receiver
Clemson and Alabama possess arguably the top two receiving corps in college football, so the Jan. 7 showdown in Santa Clara is going to have its share of talent on the outside.
Not many teams gave Clemson’s defense trouble this season, but Texas A&M threw for 430 yards on Sept. 8, while South Carolina torched the Tigers for 510 on Nov. 24. Both teams weren’t afraid to attack Clemson’s secondary with tempo and by letting their receivers test the depth in this defensive backfield. The Tigers rank 13th in pass efficiency defense and allowed just 11 passing touchdowns (with eight combined coming against South Carolina and Texas A&M), so it’s not a massive weakness. Additionally, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an elite pass rush and line leading the way up front.
But considering Clemson’s potential vulnerability with depth at cornerback or at safety, Alabama’s receivers should be able to win plenty of one-on-one matchups. Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award after catching 63 passes for 1,176 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Jaylen Waddle capped a standout freshman campaign with 43 receptions for 823 yards and seven scores. Henry Ruggs (45 receptions for 738 yards and 11 touchdowns) and DeVonta Smith (36 catches for 628 yards and six scores) round out the top four options at receiver. Tight end Irv Smith (40 catches for 667 yards) is a nightmare matchup for linebackers or safeties and averages a whopping 16.7 yards per reception.
4. Quinnen Williams and the Rest of the Defensive Front
In order for Alabama to win on Monday night, it has to slow down Clemson running back Travis Etienne and generate pressure on freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. As expected, Saban’s defense has the pieces to accomplish that goal. Sophomore lineman Quinnen Williams (18 TFL) dominated in the trenches in his first year as a starter. In addition to his disruptive play around the line of scrimmage and ability to force negative plays, Williams was the catalyst behind a run defense that limited teams to just 3.5 yards per carry.
Helping Williams up front are a pair of standout ends, along with an athletic and speedy group of linebackers. Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis flank Williams up front on the line and combined for 19 tackles for a loss through 14 games. Linebacker Dylan Moses paces the team with 82 stops, and he’s joined in the middle by Mack Wilson (65 tackles). Junior Anfernee Jennings (9.5 TFL) and Christian Miller (11.5 TFL) are critical cogs in the pass rush at outside linebacker. Miller suffered a hamstring injury against Oklahoma and is questionable to play on Monday. If he can’t go, senior Jamey Mosley and freshman Eyabi Anoma will see an increased role on the outside.
Alabama’s secondary is a little more vulnerable than some of the groups Saban has utilized in the past. However, with safety Deionte Thompson and freshman cornerback Patrick Surtain leading the way, this group still poses a tough challenge for Lawrence and his receivers. And the job of the secondary will be made a little easier if Williams, Davis and the rest of the front seven consistently get into the backfield and disrupt Lawrence’s timing in the passing game.
5. Nick Saban
Nick Saban is college football’s No. 1 coach and might finish his career as the best in the history of the game. While Dabo Swinney ranks No. 2 on the list of best coaches in college football right now, Saban is the best in the business and it’s hard to pick against his team on Monday night. Alabama is 146-20 under Saban’s direction and has not lost more than one game in each of the last four years. Additionally, the Crimson Tide have only lost nine times since 2011. Alabama is the only team to make an appearance in the CFB Playoff in all five seasons since its inception and has claimed five out of the last nine national championships.
Even though Alabama has some personnel issues and may not be as deep as it normally is on defense, Saban’s team has been in the best in college football during the 2018 season. With just over a week to prepare, Saban will have his team refocused and well-prepared for the showdown against Clemson on Jan. 7.