The Buckeyes did kick Clemson’s butt. For the second year in a row, they pushed them around and won the line of scrimmage both ways. This time it was more pronounced, which was not at all surprising because Clemson lost a lot to graduation on the offensive line and was very young on the defensive line.
Ohio State also whipped the Tigers from a coaching standpoint. They drew up things Clemson couldn’t stop and came out with a defensive plan that kept made them one-dimensional. I think in that regard the Buckeye coaching staff was helped by having faced the Tigers just last year, an advantage they won’t have this time around.
(Preventing Clemson from stealing their signals also likely helped.)
I don’t expect either team to have a big schematic advantage tonight, though some of the Xs and Os gurus complain Ohio State’s scheme is too basic. Maybe that is true, but I think it comes down to the Jimmys and the Joes in this case, and Alabama’s offensive personnel is certainly better than Ohio State’s defensive personnel (which allows the Tide to do a lot on offense). It’s probably too late in the year to roll out a new defense, but that’s also where I think a lack of games hurt Ohio State more than it helped because I suspect after the way their nickel defense struggled against Clemson last season they would have liked to try out some new things during the regular season but rarely got the chance.
Neither team will be basic on the flip side — the Ohio State offense and Alabama defense are both intricate and well-designed. I expect Ohio State to be able to move the ball and score points. Will it be enough?
It’s easy to say this game will come down to turnovers — most of them do — so beyond that the difference to me is likely to be an Alabama offensive line that is a lot better than Clemson’s. That’s a great trump card to be able to play in any era of football. Ohio State’s front seven is very good, but I see Alabama being able to lean on the Buckeyes and use that front and mega-talented running back Najee Harris to squeeze out extra yards when needed, enough to keep the Crimson Tide a step ahead if the passing game excels as expected.
If I’m wrong, then Ohio State has a great chance to win. And I certainly could be wrong. That’s one thing about college football — you just never know how teams are going to match up until they do, especially in the trenches. (That’s also why I believe playoff that includes all of the Power 5 champions and preferably more is necessary, but that’s a discussion for another day.)