Ohio State vs. Alabama: Keys To Victory For Each Team

After a chaotic, albeit successful college football season, the national championship is finally upon us. The NCAA has done a fantastic job navigating through this pandemic plagued season, and now we are down to the final game which is between two of college football’s most prestigious programs in the country, Alabama and Ohio State.

Alabama’s lopsided victory over Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff semifinals came as no surprise to anyone. Led by QB Mac Jones, Heisman Trophy-winning WR Devonta Smith, and RB Najee Harris, the Crimson Tide have been an absolute juggernaut all season long and have showed no signs of slowing down.

On the other hand, QB Justin Fields and Ohio State shocked the world on New Year’s Day when they beat Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers 49-28 in the other semifinal game. Fields had a heroic performance in this game, playing through a rib injury while putting together his most impressive performance of the year. There were a lot of critics saying that Ohio State didn’t deserve a playoff spot due to only playing six regular season games, but the Buckeyes shut these haters up by taking down the #2 team in the nation in convincing fashion. Now they are tasked with an even bigger challenge.

Alabama is undoubtedly the favorite in this game (line is -8 according to William Hill Sports Book), but each team has a path to victory in this game with proper execution. Below, I will explain what each team has to do to come out victorious on Monday night.

Alabama’s Keys To Victory

The development of the Alabama offense this season has been spectacular to watch. After stud WR Jaylen Waddle fractured his right ankle returning the opening kickoff against Tennessee back on Oct. 24, there was a lot more pressure put on Alabama’s other skilled players. Sophomore WR John Metchie stepped up in a big way, and senior WR Devonta Smith blossomed into a Heisman Trophy winner and is now widely viewed as the top wide receiver prospect in next year’s NFL Draft. In other words, Alabama didn’t skip a beat after losing Waddle. However, reports have come out that Waddle has a chance to play on Monday night. With that being said, the offensive game plan should not change regardless. The key for Alabama’s offense is to establish the run early with star running back and projected first round draft pick Najee Harris. This is what will open things up and give Devonta Smith the opportunity to make big plays down the field. The Tide have had no problem establishing a strong run game at any point this season, but they also haven’t played a defense like Ohio State. Even if the Buckeyes can contain Harris early in the game, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian must stay true to the run because this is what will keep the defense honest and allow the Alabama wide receivers to expose Ohio State’s secondary.

WR Devonta Smith (left) and RB Najee Harris (right)

From a defensive standpoint, Alabama’s goal should be simple: don’t let Justin Fields beat you with the deep ball. We all know how elite Fields’s arm is and if Alabama lets him score quickly on long passes, they won’t be able to expose his weaknesses. Fields doesn’t have many visible weaknesses, but one thing I noticed is that when he’s forced to put together long drives with a lot of plays, he tends to become inaccurate on short to medium passes, especially when he’s under pressure. If Alabama’s defensive line can make Fields uncomfortable and the secondary, led by projected top 10 draft pick Patrick Surtain II, can keep Ohio State’s wide receivers in front of them, the Crimson Tide will be in good shape.

Ohio State’s Keys To Victory

Ohio State’s best bet to win this game is to play exactly how they played against Clemson. Alabama is similar to Clemson in many ways and Ohio State was able to have a lot of success against them. With that said, Alabama is just a tad more talented than Clemson at a variety of positions, especially in the secondary. Surtain II is a special cornerback and he will present a unique challenge for Fields. Josh Jobe, Alabama’s other top cornerback, is also extremely skilled and safety Jordan Battle is another notable player in this stacked secondary who wreaks havoc on the field. Fields will have his hands full when it comes to making plays down the field, and ultimately they won’t be able to win this game through the air. Senior RB Trey Sermon and the Ohio State running game is going to have to come through in a big way for the Buckeyes. Against Clemson, Sermon played the game of his life, rushing for 193 yards on 6.2 YDS/RA. This elite rushing performance opened up so much in the passing game and this rushing attack will be even more important against Alabama considering the incredible secondary they possess.

Defensively, it’s no secret that the Buckeyes will have their hands full against Alabama’s explosive offense. To be completely honest, there is absolutely no chance that Ohio State shuts down this offense. Alabama can simply beat you in too many ways. With that said, there is a way for the Buckeyes to somewhat contain Alabama. To me, Ohio State has to make it their top priority to limit Najee Harris on the ground. If Harris can run through the defense and get over 8 yards per carry the way he did against Notre Dame, Ohio State is in for a long night. You may be surprised that I haven’t even mentioned a game plan to stop Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith and the other Alabama wide receivers. That’s because they are essentially unstoppable, especially if Jaylen Waddle is active. It’s in Ohio State’s best interest to turn most of their attention to stopping the run and trust that their top cornerback Shaun Wade will keep Devonta Smith in check. This formula is the Buckeyes’ best and only chance to slow down the Tide offense.

CB Shaun Wade

Prediction: Alabama wins 41-31

I think we’re going to see a close game in the first half with a lot of offense from both sides, but in the second half Alabama’s defense will make adjustments against Fields and it will disrupt him enough for the Tide to pull away late in the game. Both of these teams are great, but ultimately Alabama’s impeccable offense will be too much for Ohio State’s defense to handle, and Alabama’s defense will limit Fields’s big play ability which will make the Buckeyes much less effective. Anything can happen, but the reality is that it would take an almost perfect performance to beat this Crimson Tide team.

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