5 things Alabama must clean up in the national title game
Alabama returned to what has made it successful over the years — running the ball with authority while playing sound defense — against Clemson on Monday night. The results were impressive, to say the least.
The Crimson Tide did a lot of great things in their 24-6 Sugar Bowl victory, but there are some things they need to clean up before the showdown against Georgia in next week’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Here are five of those things:
1. Andy Pappanastos and the kicking game
Alabama’s kicking game has been a problem for a while, and it continued against Clemson.
Pappanastos had a chance to make it a two-score game before halftime when the Tide was up 10-3. But he missed a 38-yard field goal, giving Clemson a break heading into halftime.
On the year, Pappanastos is now 16-of-21; that 76.2 percentage is only No. 8 in the SEC.
Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, on the other hand, is 17-of-20 (85 percent), including a 55-yarder before halftime against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
Pappanastos can’t continue to be a liability against the Bulldogs.
2. Jalen Hurts has to improve
It was surprising that Hurts was named the offensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl. Sure, his 66.7 completion percentage and two touchdown passes look nice on paper, but he didn’t have one of his strongest performances this season.
Hurts missed some throws, and even some of the completions were off target. The biggest two miscues were an underthrown flea flicker and the 12-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley, which should’ve been thrown much earlier when the go-to receiver was open in the middle of the end zone.
He also had a costly fumble on an attempted exchange with running back Damien Harris on the first play of the second half. That simply cannot happen.
The bottom line is Hurts can’t have another performance like the Sugar Bowl if Alabama wants a chance to beat Georgia.
3. The distribution of carries among the running backs
On the surface, this might seem a little strange to include among things Alabama needs to clean up.
Alabama’s top two running backs combined for 31 carries on Monday including 19 for starter Harris. Yes, that’s a lot better than the six he received against Auburn a month earlier, but the distribution of carries still isn’t where it needs to be.
Bo Scarbrough looked like a shell of the guy who rumbled down the stretch in 2016 before his leg injury in the national championship game. One could argue that another running back should get a higher percentage of carries.
Josh Jacobs only got two touches on Monday night, both catches. He’s more explosive than Scarbrough, and he brings a different element which would provide the perfect complement to Harris.
Get Harris 20-plus touches with Jacobs spelling him. The former 3-star recruit’s receiving ability will only help make Alabama’s offense more explosive.
4. The stamina of Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis
It was excellent to see Miller and Lewis back at full speed. You can tell both players would’ve had a significant impact had they been healthy enough to play earlier in the season.
It looks more and more likely that linebacker Anfernee Jennings could miss the national championship after suffering a knee injury on Monday night. At the very least, he’ll be limited, so Lewis and Miller will carry more of the workload.
Both are extremely talented and capable of being a headache for quarterback Jake Fromm and Georgia’s passing game, but it’ll be hard to replace Jennings. He has been Alabama’s most underrated player on defense this season.
He only recorded his second sack of the season in the Sugar Bowl, but he has been dynamic in providing QB hits and hurries. In fact, he leads the Tide in QB pressures.
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) December 18, 2017
Players such as Jamey Mosley will need to step up too, but this is going to all about how Miller and Lewis can handle playing a heavy percentage of the snaps if Jennings can’t go.
5. Putting the final nail in the coffin
After Mack Wilson’s 18-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the third quarter, Alabama had a commanding 24-6 lead over Clemson.
That was the final score, but the Tide had plenty of opportunities to add to that lead. Instead, all three of team’s following drives resulted in a punt.
It’s a good thing for Alabama that the defense was playing such a stellar game. If it hadn’t, Clemson likely would’ve crept back into the game because of the way the Tide offense stalled.
They need to finish and come away with points in crucial moments against Georgia if they want to walk away with a win in Atlanta next Monday night.