10 bold predictions for Alabama-Clemson
Monday night’s Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Clemson is being hyped as one for the ages. It should be, considering the previous two games these teams gave us produced an average victory margin of only 4.5 points.
Remember, all of life’s greatest gifts come in threes: the original Star Wars trilogy, The Three Stooges and the band Hanson, which gave us arguably one of the greatest songs of all-time in “MMMBop.” Okay, that last one was a lie, but you get the point.
There are several intriguing story lines. Here are 10 bold — or, should we say … bowl’d — predictions that could end up playing a major role in which team earns its way into a third consecutive national championship appearance.
1. Hurts utilizes the tight end … again
Compared to the other 28 games he played in from 2015-16, former tight end O.J. Howard saw a drastic increase in utilization in both contests against Clemson.
Of the 1,197 yards receiving that he recorded in that two-year period, 26.2 percent (314) of it was earned against the Tigers. As if that wasn’t already impressive enough, three of his five touchdowns were as well.
The Tide’s top two tight ends — Hale Hentges and Irv Smith Jr. — have combined for only 195 yards on 19 receptions. Like with Howard, don’t be surprised if that changes come Monday night.
2. There won’t be an offensive explosion in the second half
There were a combined 151 points scored over the course of the past two games between Alabama and Clemson. Of those 151 points, 67.5 percent (102) were scored during the second half.
Clemson’s defense is better while its offense isn’t as capable of producing explosive plays against an elite Alabama defense without Deshaun Watson. Expect the second half to lack the offensive explosion we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
3. Kelly Bryant makes a name for himself
Bryant isn’t going to put up anywhere near the numbers that Watson did during his two-game stretch against the Tide. The now Houston Texans quarterback averaged 470.5 total yards and four touchdowns, after all.
Bryant is still talented, however. He’ll make enough plays to at least earn people’s respect — even if it isn’t on Watson’s level.
4. Alabama racks up more sacks than Clemson
Clemson’s defensive line is littered with future NFL players, which has gone a long way in helping the Tigers become the nation’s sack leader (44 sacks) in 2017.
With that said, Alabama should have two of its top pass rushers back at full strength in Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller.
Clemson should be able to get to Hurts, but don’t be surprised if Alabama gets even more familiar with Bryant.
5. Hunter Renfrow has a quiet game
If there is one name that can scare Alabama fans as much as Deshaun Watson, it’s Renfrow … Hunter Renfrow.
The senior slot receiver has become a focal point for Clemson’s offense. It all started with performances against the Crimson Tide, too.
In two games, he’s hauled in 17 catches for 180 yards and four touchdowns, including this game-winning 2-yard touchdown last season:
— TheInsideZone.com (@TheInsideZone) January 10, 2017
6. Hurts produces more turnovers than TDs
One of the most impressive parts of Hurts sophomore season has been his ability to limit turnovers. Despite accounting for 23 touchdowns (15 passing, 8 rushing), he’s only coughed up the ball twice.
This Clemson defensive line is a different beast, however.
It’s possible that the Tigers are able to force Hurts into more turnovers than touchdowns for the first time this season.
7. Damien Harris produces another big run
Harris has taken a backseat recently to some of the other Alabama running backs after an impressive start to the season. He’s still the best bet to break off a big one against the Tigers, however.
The junior running back has already taken three of his 110 rushing attempts for 60-plus yards, which ties him for No. 6 in the nation.
After only rushing for 24 yards on five carries in last year’s game against Clemson, Harris rips off the longest gain of either team en route to leading both teams in rushing yards.
8. Nick Saban reveals a trick up his sleeve
Remember when Saban decided to create a massive shift in momentum by calling a surprise onside kick against Clemson in 2016? If not, here is the play that was crucial to Alabama’s victory in that game:
The Alabama onside kick that changed the game: pic.twitter.com/X2ZGNgmi1S
— FanBuzz (@FanBuzz) January 12, 2016
Last year’s game didn’t feature any big tricks, and the result played in Clemson’s favor.
Coincidence? I think not.
9. Alex Spence can’t get the job done …
No one is going to confuse Alabama’s kicker for a weapon. Andy Pappanastos has been solid at times, but he’s been a liability as well.
But he isn’t as bad as Clemson kicker Adam Spence.
Spence has only connected on 7 of his 12 field goal attempts this season. That 58.3 percent conversion rate is one of the worst in the country. He’s also missed two extra points.
The junior is given the chance to create a different legacy for himself, but he shanks it left.
10. … but Andy Pappanastos can
Pappanastos doesn’t have the best leg in the country, but he has been able to produce better results than any recent kicker for the Crimson Tide.
The transfer from Ole Miss has converted on 15 of his 19 attempts, making his 78.9 percent conversion rate the best for an Alabama kicker since Jeremy Shelley went 11 for 11 in 2012.
Spence misses his opportunity; Pappanastos doesn’t. He makes a game-winning field goal to send Alabama to the national championship.