Photo courtesy of Butch Dill – AP Photo
This is it. One last game for all the marbles.
I think that this may be the highest scoring championship game in the history of the game. The current mark is set at 86 which came in the 1995 National Championship between Nebraska and Florida. Right behind that is the 2016 game which featured Clemson and Alabama with a final score of 45-40 in favor of the Tide. These are two of the most explosive offenses in college football, and they both just so happened to have struggled on defense throughout the year. The total is set at 75 but I can see this one winding up as a shootout for the ages between the firepower and defensive woes.
I also don’t believe that it will take a miracle for Ohio State to win this game. Coming in as 9-point underdogs the media would lead you to believe that this is David vs. Goliath part two. These programs are among the master-class of the sport, and Ohio State’s talent not only stacks up against the Tide, but exceeds it at multiple positions.
We’ll start with Justin Fields and the offense. The offensive line of the Buckeyes has improved leaps and bounds from where they started the 2020 season. As the Michigan State game closed, we saw fewer mistakes and an increase in physicality which propelled them over Clemson in the semifinal. The hogs up front have allowed just 5 sacks since the regular season ended, and have been the driving force behind the emergence of Trey Sermon and the rushing attack. Sermon will be a key player in both the rushing and passing games, and I expect Ryan Day to get him involved early and often.
Sermon should be able to have a day in all facets of the game as Alabama boasts one of their weakest linebacking corps in Nick Saban’s tenure. The Tide rank dead last in the country in pass defense versus tight ends, and the Buckeyes just so happen to have two of the best that Alabama will have faced this season. Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell had their best games of the season last Friday against Clemson, and that was likely by design. Many including myself were weary of the duo’s usage rate throughout the season, but nearly all questions about the scheme were answered.
The final key for the offense is health. Justin Fields suffered a brutal hit in the 2nd quarter of the Sugar Bowl, and despite continuing on for 4 touchdowns it was clear that Fields was hobbled. From all indications over the week he looks to be near 100%, but his mobility is a huge factor in how teams must defend him. The receiving corps will be elite as they have been all season, but beaters over the middle will likely be harder to come by than they were against Clemson. Short and intermediate routes, as well as play-action and the rushing attack should set up situations in which the deep ball is available.
As I mentioned, Alabama’s defense has a true star in Patrick Surtain II at the defensive back position but has been relatively weak compared to previous Saban led championship teams. On the other side of things, Ohio State will have the task of all tasks in stopping Steve Sarkisian’s offense. Award winners across the board, including Heisman winner Devonta Smith, will put Kerry Coombs to the test. Play calling on the defensive side against Clemson was fantastic, but the Tigers didn’t quite have the playmakers that Saban’s Tide will.
The Buckeye front-seven, unlike Alabama’s, is the best in the country when healthy. It’s a veteran group with enough discipline and talent to change this game, especially against a somewhat depleted offensive line. Tuff Borland, Baron Browning, and Pete Werner get a lot of buzz, but Justin Hilliard was as important as anyone to the team’s semifinal success.
I did add the caveat of health to my above statement. Last weekend we saw the Buckeyes thrive without Tyler Friday and Zach Harrison in the lineup, but rumors have been swirling that Tommy Togiai may be missing for Larry Johnson’s defensive line. Togiai has been a superstar for Ohio State this season, and was essential in the turnaround in this defense so his absence would be a huge break for Alabama.
On the back end, the defensive backs have been statistically the worst unit thus far this season. Shaun Wade has been a bright spot in an otherwise suspect secondary, but he will face his toughest task as a Buckeye. Wade made it clear that he was looking forward to matching up against the Heisman winner himself, and while he will likely not be able to shut him down completely, I think Wade has the best game of his career ahead of him. Around Wade, Marcus Williamson and Sevyn Banks must step up against guys like John Metchie and (potentially) Jaylen Waddle if the Buckeyes are to come up with the necessary stops.
As I mentioned this will likely be a shootout for the ages, but there is a not-so-unlikely path to victory for Ryan Day and the Buckeyes. The run game of Alabama must be slowed, and 3rd downs will be key. The defense must get off the field when they are presented the opportunity, and the offense has to power through when faced with similar situations. I don’t see a blowout coming from either side due to the similarities in roster talent and coaching level.
For the National Championship
Ohio State 48, Alabama 38.
If you’re still here, this is a message that I think people need to hear.
I’ve never been as excited for a game as I am for this one, and that’s due in large part to my thoughts on this team from the beginning. People can call me an Ohio State homer all they’d like, but I have been absolutely and unequivocally right about this team from jump. Coming into the season the AP ranked Ohio State 2nd in the country coming off of their loss to Clemson, and kept them there until the Big Ten fell behind the rest of the country.
At that moment the Buckeyes were counted out by media and opposing bases, even drawing fans of the team into despair. I will not apologize for believing in a team that has proven me right almost every step of the way. No, the Buckeyes don’t win the National Championship every year, but they have consistently shown that they have National Championship potential over a span of two decades. I picked Ohio State to beat Clemson and to my knowledge I was one of the few to do so.