Monday, January 11, 2016

Trench War Will Decide the FBS Champ

By Jean Neuberger

When asked about his approach to football, Bear Bryant said this...

"My approach to the game has been the same at all the places I've been. Vanilla. The sure way. That means, first of all, to win physically. If you got 11 on a field, and they beat the other eleven physically, they'll win. They will start forcing mistakes. They'll win in the fourth quarter."

As Clemson and Alabama meet Monday night for the National Championship, it's Bryant's words that still ring true. This game will be decided by the big, tough, fierce defensive lines that both teams utilized on their way to Arizona.

Granted, the offensive game plans from both squads were superb in their New Year's Eve bowl clashes. Clemson kept Wayne Gallman fresh in the first half, using him sparingly while battling toe to toe with Oklahoma, then turning him loose in the second half. The Sooners had no answers for him, which provided Deshaun Watson all the chances possible to pick apart the Oklahoma defense. Meanwhile, Michigan State was so primed to stop Alabama's Heisman winner, Derrick Henry, that Lane Kiffin set up Jake Coker to find Calvin Ridley and Richard Mullaney all night. The Tide rolled without having to use their best weapon often.

However, this game will be a little different. Neither Clemson nor Alabama can afford to utilize a game plan that doesn't allow their top rusher to establish the ground game. Furthermore, if Alabama's massive defensive line has their way in shutting down all avenues of a ground attack, Clemson's offense takes the biggest hit. Watson's a good passer, but the Tigers are a more potent ground attack team. Watson must be able to keep the Tide defense guessing all night.

Meanwhile, Alabama has to worry about Clemson's defensive line, with or without Shaq Lawson. Clemson completely shut down Oklahoma's rushing attack, limiting the Sooners to just 67 total yards. The one-dimensional Sooners had no chance to comeback, as the Tigers rattled Baker Mayfield into making too many mental mistakes and, similar to Bryant's words, Clemson easily won the fourth quarter, something that's become a staple under Dabo Swinney. Alabama needs Henry to help establish the pass, but they also need Coker to be quick and smart in his decision making.

If Clemson rattles Coker to where Alabama is forced to try and let Henry win the game for them, the Tide's in trouble. If Clemson shuts down Henry and Coker gets rattled, it's a long night for the Alabama. I wouldn't be surprised if Coker starts the game with a couple of screens early to try and throw wrenches into the Clemson defense. Both teams have to be remarkably unpredictable on offense to win.

Bottom line, the defensive line that turns the other team one-dimensional will hoist the trophy Monday night. War is fought in trenches, and this certainly will be one heck of a war.

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