March 22, 2018

Sugar Bowl Film Preview: Alabama

Well, the day has come for Clemson and Alabama face off in the CFP Playoffs for the third time in as many years. Incredible, really, for the two programs to see each other each year with the highest of stakes on the line. It shows the level that each program is currently at, as we’ve seen many high-level players come and go, but the same teams meeting once again. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled to see Alabama in the fourth spot, I mean who would be? Clemson is #1, meaning the Tigers should have the easiest path to the Championship, not get paired with an Alabama team with extra rest, a short drive to New Orleans, and with revenge on their minds. If Wisconsin manages to knock off OSU in the Big 10 championship, Clemson’s probably sitting pretty in New Orleans as a double digit favorite. Instead, big bad Saban with a month to prepare is rolling in against the Tigers, and has Clemson as a 3 point underdog in Vegas. It’s a big swing, but if the Tiger faithful have learned anything in year’s past, this coaching staff can also perform at a HIGH, HIGH level with ample time to prep, and also find ways to perform their best when an underdog. Let’s go ahead and take a look at the matchups:


Move the sticks, manage the clock, provide the defense time to rest. These things are imperative against an Alabama offense that will wear you down if the defense is on the field for too long. Per usual, Alabama’s defense is one of the best in the country even after losing several key members in the offseason.


Clemson’s offense has been run oriented in 2017 and now faces the #2 rush defense in the nation. A difficult matchup, but that doesn’t mean that the Tigers won’t still work to establish the run, just like they did against the Tide last year in Tampa. It’s also important to note that Alabama’s LB corps have dealt with a myriad of injuries, including starting MLB Dylan Moses, who will be sidelined for the game. Expect Clemson to show different looks and window dressing in the run game, testing the health and discipline of the LB corps. The Tigers don’t possess the same big receiving threats that they did last year in Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett, who had the ability to often win 50-50 balls. Because of this, I do anticipate it’ll more difficult to pass against Alabama this time around, and that the run game MUST be established to force Alabama to cheat on the run, thus opening the pass.

MSU does well here, finding a running lane and then utilizing the previously play’s success to open up the RPO to the tight end. Watch the FS, 15 Harrison step up, anticipating the run.


With the expectation that Alabama will be able to relatively neutralize up the middle rushes, KB’s legs will have to be live for keepers like Fitzgerald’s. A key component in this game is that although Clemson is without DW4 this time around, KB is a better fit to establish the running game against this Alabama defense.


And when things break down against man coverage, Bryant will need to utilize his legs to create yards.


Auburn using Kerryon Johnson as the decoy to open up space for Stidham.


Alabama in man coverage means backs are turned to receivers. Once Stidham has a lane, it’s easy yardage. Anticipate similar calls for KB, the key being that the offensive line must hold their own against the pass rush.


Moving to the pass game, Alabama plays lots of tight coverage, meaning tight routes and throws with be a necessity. And of course, Clemson would be smart to work in rub routes once again this year. Really like the rollout here on third down, allowing Auburn’s quickest receiver to find space against the corner.


The Auburn Tigers also utilized a variety of crossing routes, particularly in traffic to find space against tight coverage. Renfrow and McCloud have the quickness to find separation here. Crossing routes from both sides well-timed against an Alabama blitz.


And again, Auburn’s quick slot man, Will Hastings, is able to create space across the middle.


And again, this time Auburn stacking receivers to create confusion for the Alabama’s DB’s. This is actually covered pretty well, but the speed of Davis creates just enough space for Stidham to hit him.


More of Davis finding space and Auburn rolling Stidham out with additional protection by way of his FB and RB. Looks quite similar to what Clemson has gone to with KB in critical third down plays to Renfrow.



Alabama’s run game is the major threat, so we’ll start with what they have in the passing game and it’s pretty simple: cover Calvin Ridley. Ridley is by far Hurts’ favorite target, shown by the fact that he has 55 catches on the season, whereas the next leading receiver in catches is RB Bo Scarborough with just 14. Incredible, really, and it means that Venables will be keying in and likely shadowing Ridley with a safety at all times.

Ridley getting open on a third and long…


Another third down with Hurts looking to Ridley…


And more Hurts to Ridley. Moral of the story, don’t let Ridley find space and force Hurts to consider secondary receiving options.


BUCK LB Jeff Holland found success beating Alabama’s RT and forcing Hurts out of the pocket.


This is a key matchup for Austin Bryant as he goes up against 77 Matt Womack, who has shown flaws in pass protection against top end rushers.


Arden Key getting the best of Womack…


Now the key when getting pressure is not allowing Hurts to find alternate running lanes for yardage, like below:


Lawrence and Wilkins have to maintain gap integrity, forcing Hurts into TFL’s.


As mentioned previously, Alabama’s monster of a running game is the pivotal matchup here. The Tide roll out three big-time backs in Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, and Josh Jacobs. That’s not the mention the running threat that is QB Jalen Hurts, as well. Plain and simply, Alabama has the run game to wear you down and gash you if you cannot get off the field defensively. That means that Clemson MUST find ways to limit early down yardage, forcing the Tide into third and long(or passing down) situations. Consistent third and short opportunities will play right into Alabama’s wheelhouse and spell bad news for the Tigers.

Here’s a read keep, opened by early success with Bo Scarborough.


A way for Alabama to try and neutralize the Clemson defensive line in the run game, by using the backs in passes out in the flats. Just an extension of the run game, but places pressure on DB’s to get off blocks.


The end of a typical Alabama “wear you down” drive. Obvious fatigue from the Auburn defense as they’re easily pushed around and Scarborough finds the endzone.


Another wrinkle in the run game. Alabama brings RB Josh Jacobs in motion as jet sweep option, opens up the hole for Damien Harris. Defenders are also forced to keep an eye on Hurts on the keeper. Tough to defend so many playmakers.


3 consecutive plays that are a good example at the different rushing attack looks Alabama can show. Opens with showing a passing option to the flats, turns into Jalen Hurts draw play for significant yardage. Followed up by Hurts read option give to big Josh Jacobs, and then Hurts read option keeper. Defensive discipline to not lose numbers in pursuit of the ball carrier is so imperative.


Another 3 consecutive plays against a gasses MSU defense late in game. Scarborough run outside to left, followed by run to the right, followed by Harris run.



Clemson’s defense MUST force Alabama into third and long situations in order to get off the field and win the field position battle. If the Tigers can win in the trenches against the Tide’s vaunted run game, their chances to win are much better as the Tide is not equipped to beat teams through the air.

On the other side, Clemson must establish the run game, both in an effort to open the pass game and provide the defense rest. This is KB’s biggest stage of his career thus far, and so he’ll need to stay cool, calm, and collected, managing the game as he’s done all year and avoid turnovers. Lose the turnover battle, lose the game. If Clemson knocks off the Tide tonight, I anticipate it’s because the Tigers were able to target and take advantage of a rusty and injured Alabama LB corps.

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