Alabama vs. Clemson Part IV? Let's do it, but let's do it a little differently
If Part III was the grudge match, I don’t know what to call Part IV of the Alabama-Clemson matchup.
What I do know is that time will be a little different.
Why, you ask? Isn’t it still Nick Saban vs. Dabo Swinney for a national title? Isn’t it still 5-star recruits all over the field who will go on to make millions in the NFL? Yes and yes. So what’s different?
It’s actually the same. Both Saban and Swinney have elite passers for the first time. Both quarterbacks are former 5-star recruits who uprooted established starters because of how impressive they were as true freshmen. Both will probably lead the Heisman Trophy odds next season and again lead preseason top-2 teams.
While it is indeed Part IV for the Alabama-Clemson matchup in as many years, it’s Part I for the Tua Tagovailoa vs. Trevor Lawrence matchup. Even for the person who is sick of these two juggernauts battle it out in the Playoff, that’s worth something because for the first time that these teams have met, all signs point to this being a high-flying, 21st century shootout with highlight-reel plays galore.
That’s not a knock on Jalen Hurts, who led Alabama to a win against Clemson in last year’s semifinal and nearly fueled the Crimson Tide to a title in 2016. But let’s be honest here. Hurts didn’t have more than 131 passing yards in either game.
Tagovailoa could have that by the end of the first quarter.
And with all due respect to Jake Coker, who balled in that 2015 National Championship victory against Deshaun Watson’s Clemson squad, he wasn’t anywhere near the talent that Tagovailoa is. Alabama’s game plan that night was still to feed Derrick Henry, who had 36 carries.
In other words, Part IV is going to have a much different game flow than any of the first 3 matchups because of these uber-talents at quarterback. Is it a sign of the times? Probably.
It helps that both teams are loaded at receiver in ways that perhaps they’ve never been. Everything we saw from Alabama and Clemson on Saturday was proof of that. Tagovailoa spread the wealth to the likes of Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III. Lawrence spread the wealth to the likes of Justyn Ross (an Alabama native who turned down Saban), Tee Higgins and Hunter Renfrow.
Oh, I probably should have mentioned the 35-year-old Renfrow as the other common denominator in these matchups. Like Saban’s hair, Renfrow is an ageless wonder that cannot be defined.
Renfrow is just one of many players who will likely benefit from a different kind of tempo that this game had last year, when there was 1 touchdown scored by an offensive player (well, unless you count Da’Ron Payne as a tight end). The best bet for this game is that it won’t follow the 2017 script.
Speaking of bets, nobody would be surprised to see the over hit on 61 points, which was where it opened Saturday night. Even that seems too low for these teams with these quarterbacks.
If you’re wondering why I’m doubting Clemson’s ability to stop Alabama, I’ll just point you in the direction of Jake Bentley and Kellen Mond, both of whom went bonkers against the Tigers in nonconference play. I’d expect the Heisman runner-up to do the same, regardless of if Dexter Lawrence gets a miracle and has his suspension overturned.
And the beauty of this year’s Alabama team — at least from a viewership standpoint — is that it isn’t exactly an all-time Saban defense. Clemson will probably try and do what Oklahoma did, which was pick on true freshman cornerback Patrick Surtain and hope that Quinnen Williams is playing at less than 100 percent. As we saw, that’s not the worst formula to put up some points. The Tigers have the ability to do that.
This is all worth bringing up because the following week is about to be a bunch of talking heads claiming that we’ve been there, done that when it comes to Alabama-Clemson. Everyone has already beaten every Saban-Swinney storyline into the ground and running this back again was the unsexy prediction all year.
But in a time when offense and high-powered, spread-it-out passing attacks are all the rage, Alabama and Clemson are going to entertain yet again. They’ll just be doing so in a different way that we’re used to seeing. Maybe we’ll get a game reminiscent of that Rams-Chiefs game on Monday Night Football that broke the internet. With how good these offenses are, I wouldn’t rule that out.
You can be bored of Alabama-Clemson, or you can look forward to the first sure-to-be-electric edition of Tagovailoa-Lawrence.
Sign me up for the latter.