Examining which under-the-radar players or factors could be crucial to deciding the national title
Ohio State is one win away from the program's first national championship since the 2014 season. Coach Ryan Day's team dominated Clemson on Jan. 1 to book a trip to the national title game behind a complete team effort. Quarterback Justin Fields had a monster game throwing to Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, while the offense got another huge game from running back Trey Sermon and the offensive line. The Buckeyes gave up some yards early but settled in on defense thanks to strong play in the trenches.
While all eyes will be on Fields, Sermon, and receivers Olave and Wilson, a couple of under-the-radar players always break out with performances that could help decide the winner of the national championship. Which players or other aspects could be an x-factor on Monday? Here are five things to watch:
5 Ohio State X-Factors That Could Determine National Title
Sevyn Banks, CB
Defending the Alabama passing attack is a tall order for Ohio State’s secondary on Monday night. The Buckeyes gave up 400 passing yards to Clemson in the Sugar Bowl but some of the damage was limited due to a strong pass rush. Ohio State will need to replicate that formula again, as DeVonta Smith, Jahleel Billingsley, John Metchie III and potentially Jaylen Waddle are a better receiving corps than what the Tigers brought to New Orleans. Shaun Wade is regarded as Ohio State’s top cornerback and it’s uncertain if he will match up against Smith or follow another receiver. Regardless, Banks will be under pressure on Monday night as the No. 2 corner. He’s been targeted 42 times and has allowed 20 receptions (15.4 yards per reception) in 2020. Banks has improved throughout the year and will be tested once again on Monday night.
Baron Browning, LB
Browning did not play against Northwestern and managed two tackles (one for a loss) in the win over Clemson. While Browning had just 38 snaps (his lowest of the season), the film shows the senior kicking down to end for a couple of plays and creating havoc off the edge. With Ohio State coming into this game with concerns about depth up front, could Browning play a handful of snaps as an edge rusher?
Luke Farrell/Jeremy Ruckert, TE
Farrell and Ruckert were a big part of Ohio State’s win over Clemson by combining for five receptions for 66 yards and three touchdowns. It’s no secret that Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are the go-to options for quarterback Justin Fields, but other receivers will have to step up on Monday night. Alabama’s linebackers have been vulnerable in coverage, so there should be opportunities for Farrell and Ruckert once again.
Haskell Garrett, DT
There’s some uncertainty surrounding Ohio State’s defensive line after a couple of players missed the Sugar Bowl against Clemson. However, one place the concern level should low is on the interior with Garrett leading the way at defensive tackle. He barely dented the stat sheet against the Tigers (one tackle), but the senior has been disruptive all year and ranks among the best in college football at his position. Garrett and his teammates on the interior are crucial to the win, as they will be going up against Chris Owens (second start at center in the 2020 season) and a pair of guards (Deonte Brown and Emil Ekiyor) that allowed 26 quarterback pressures.
Mobility of Justin Fields
All signs point to Fields playing on Monday night after taking a painful hit against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl victory. Fields missed only one snap in that game, but it was evident the junior quarterback was less than 100 percent. While coach Ryan Day isn’t revealing much about his injuries, Fields should be under center Monday night. But will the junior have any lingering problems from the injury or show any limitation on mobility? Ohio State doesn’t need 100 rushing yards from Fields in order to win. However, his mobility would be another element Alabama’s defense would have to account for.
Podcast: Previewing and Predicting the National Championship