After watching Ohio State rout Clemson, how big of a threat are the Buckeyes to Alabama?
Is it Jan. 11 yet?
We’ve now got to wait more than a week not for Alabama-Clemson Part V, but Alabama-Ohio State Part … II? I don’t know. Maybe it’s Part II because of the semifinal matchup in 2014, or maybe it’s Part I because they haven’t faced off in a title game. Besides, this is Ryan Day’s team, not Urban Meyer’s.
So yeah. Sign. Me. Up.
After how good Ohio State looked on Friday night, this Alabama-Ohio State College Football Playoff National Championship matchup suddenly looks all the more interesting. Ohio State’s defense actually showed up, and a banged up Justin Fields dunked all over Trevor Lawrence. Meanwhile in the Rose Bowl, Alabama failed to hit 35 points for the first time since the 2018 title game.
Easy, Alabama fans. That’s not my way of saying this is going to be an Ohio State rout or even an Ohio State victory. But Friday’s events certainly changed the conversation of the title game, which once looked like an obvious Alabama-Clemson, Part V.
Now the question is obvious — is Ohio State a legitimate threat to Alabama?
To answer that in a word, absolutely. Being a “threat” isn’t exactly the same thing as saying the Buckeyes will undoubtedly beat Alabama. Clemson was supposed to undoubtedly beat Ohio State, then Fields put on his cape and got the Buckeyes over the hump.
Shoutout to the selection committee, who obviously knew that Ohio State was elite despite 6 somewhat uninspiring games.
(That’s a joke, people. They guessed right and got rewarded.)
Dare I say, 1 game against Clemson told us more than the previous 6 against, um, not Clemson.
Fields is capable of doing what Kyle Trask and Matt Corral did against Alabama. That is, stretch the field vertically and attack the Alabama secondary. That’s true whether Fields has any ribs left or not. These 2 throws came AFTER he suffered that brutal hit at the hands of James Skalski.
WOW! JUSTIN FIELDS LET IT FLY FOR A 56-YARD TOUCHDOWN 🎯 pic.twitter.com/9z8zy0qEJC
— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2021
6 TOUCHDOWNS FOR JUSTIN FIELDS 🤯 pic.twitter.com/9WecXeo91H
— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2021
Dimes. Don’t doubt Fields. And if you’re telling yourself that Alabama will do to him what Northwestern did in the Big Ten Championship, surely one would think that Brent Venables, AKA the highest-paid defensive coordinator in America, would’ve been able to replicate that. Nope. Instead, Clemson’s secondary looked lost all night.
Part of that could’ve been the Chris Olave return. Fields’ go-to guy wasn’t available against Northwestern because of COVID, but he certainly was there early and often against Clemson. Olave and Garrett Wilson are plenty capable of burning the Alabama secondary deep, especially if Fields can step into throws like he did against Clemson.
That wasn’t necessarily news, but it was noteworthy to see Fields play well against a quality defense for the first time in 2020.
What was even more noteworthy was what we saw from the Ohio State defense. Heading into Friday night, nobody would’ve predicted that it would’ve looked like a potential strength. It might not against Alabama, but the Buckeyes harassed Lawrence and Travis Etienne. Don’t just look at the raw numbers. Lawrence was uncomfortable. Tuf Borland was everywhere.
Jones might have elite pocket presence, but he doesn’t move like Lawrence. Ohio State did a fantastic job of not letting Lawrence get clean looks downfield.
It’ll be interesting to see if Alabama copies what worked for Clemson early on with those scripted plays. That is, attack the edges. They went after preseason All-American cornerback Shaun Wade, which was a mostly successful endeavor. Alabama can do that. Steve Sarkisian probably watched that game and proceeded to dream about bubble screens to DeVonta Smith. That’ll be there.
What might be tough sledding is running the ball against Ohio State. Haskell Garrett and Co. had the nation’s No. 6 run defense entering the night, and despite the limited sample size, that looked legitimate. That group against Najee Harris is a fantastic strength on strength matchup.
Harris’ counterpart is the wild card in this whole thing. Trey Sermon is on some kind of run. After he ran for 331 yards in the Big Ten Championship against a solid Northwestern team, the Oklahoma transfer had 252 scrimmage yards (191 rushing) against Clemson.
Yeah, that was with Fields going off. Ohio State suddenly has balance. Like, balance that Alabama hasn’t seen all year.
The other thing worth remembering is perhaps why Ohio State took it to a different level on Friday against Clemson. Dabo Swinney’s ranking of Ohio State at No. 11 was one thing. But last year’s semifinal game that saw Ohio State get robbed of a title game berth because of a botched fumble call was the driving force behind everything the Buckeyes did in the offseason. That final score was hung on a board in the Buckeyes’ weight room all year. Was Clemson Ohio State’s Super Bowl?
Also, you could ask the same question about Fields. Was Lawrence his Super Bowl? Think about it. Both came out of the 2018 class from Georgia. Lawrence was No. 1 nationally, Fields was No. 2. While Lawrence got to start for a historically good Clemson team as a true freshman, Fields was a backup at Georgia … and we all know how that ended.
Chris Fowler just said that Justin Fields “has only played a season and a half of college football.”
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) January 2, 2021
Everyone remembered what happened when they were sophomores with the aforementioned thrilling semifinal matchup. As juniors all year, it was Lawrence — not Fields — who was considered the No. 1 pick in all the mock drafts. And of course, it was Lawrence’s Clemson squad who was expected to move on to a title game showdown against Alabama.
There’s certainly a chance that Friday night’s stunner was the result of an “everything we have in the tank” mentality for Ohio State. If Alabama rolls, that’ll be an easy conclusion to jump to.
Maybe Fields will show Alabama that he can do much more than take the fall for poorly timed fake punts. Or perhaps it’s Saban who would like to get a little revenge after the 2014 Sugar Bowl loss to the Buckeyes.
Whatever the case, we figure to have a fun championship matchup ahead. By “fun,” I mean we’ll get to watch a bunch of superstar players with the ability to score 75-yard touchdowns on a moment’s notice. Ohio State is absolutely a significant threat to Alabama, though that doesn’t mean history will repeat itself.
If Alabama wants to cap off one of the most dominant seasons we’ve ever seen, it’ll need to beat an Ohio State team who looks like it hit its midseason stride. Win No. 7 was darn impressive from the team in scarlet and gray. Alabama has some heavy lifting to do if it wants to prevent win No. 8.
A unique challenge awaits in Miami.