Clemson will get their shot at a perfect 15-0 record tonight, but mighty Alabama is standing in their way. Clemson has strolled through their season to this point, but they've yet to face a defense as talented as Alabama's. The Tide's third ranked defense should offer Deshaun Watson a tough test tonight, but he's yet to fail this season.
The sophomore quarterback is the catalyst behind the Tiger's sixth ranked offensive attack. Watson's 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns through the air nearly landed him a Heisman trophy. Watson will have to succeed tonight against Alabama's pass rush and solid secondary, especially if Clemson can't get Wayne Gallman and the rushing attack going.
Alabama has allowed just one 50 yard rusher (Jovon Robinson, Auburn) in their last six games. They allow a stunning 74 yards on the ground per contest. Only one player (Nick Chubb, Georgia) was able to get over the century mark on the ground all year against Alabama. You see where I'm going with this. For Clemson to hang with Alabama tonight, Deshaun Watson must beat them through the air.
In Alabama's lone loss this season, Ole Miss' Chad Kelly torched the Tide for 341 yards and three scores. That's the formula -- which is a very different one from what the Tigers did to the Sooners twelve days ago. Clemson won in the trenches, with Gallman rushing for 150 and Watson rushing for another 146. I'll be shocked if they are able to do that to Reggie Ragland, Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson and company.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson will likely load the box and try to make Jake Coker beat them through the air. That's what Michigan State did, but Coker was able to beat them. Clemson is statistically worse than Michigan State against the run, but they're no slouch. They rank 23rd in the country, allowing just 128 yards per game. One key in this one will be the health of Clemson's star defensive end Shaq Lawson. A sprained MCL forced him to exit early against Oklahoma, but it looks like he'll at least be able to give it a go tonight.
Alabama's best receiver -- Calvin Ridley -- will hopefully get to know Clemson's Mackensie Alexander tonight. Alexander is one of the top corners in the nation and a likely first round pick this spring. However, Alexander is dealing with a hamstring issue and is questionable for tonight.
Just got a text message from Mackensie Alexander. Confirms hamstring issue. Team will evaluate him during warmups to determine effectiveness— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) January 11, 2016
Losing Alexander would be a big deal for Clemson with Calvin Ridley lining up on the other side. Ridley has proven he can win one on one matchups down the field this season and has been a big reason for Alabama's success through the air. If Alexander plays, this should be a juicy one on one matchup to watch.
Draft Prospects to Watch
This is a game full of NFL talent for years to come. Not only do you have five or six potential 2016 first round picks playing, but Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Alabama's tackle Cam Robinson are likely top picks in 2017.
DL A'Shawn Robinson, DL Jarran Reed, LB Reggie Ragland, DL Jonathan Allen, RB Derrick Henry, C Ryan Kelly, RB Kenyan Drake, CB Cyrus Jones, TE OJ Howard
CB Mackensie Alexander, DE Shaq Lawson, S Jayron Kearse
Alabama 27, Clemson 17
I think Alabama turns out to be too talented up front for Clemson. Deshaun Watson is going to have to make some huge plays to keep the Tigers in the game -- which he is very capable of, but I think Alabama controls the game with Derrick Henry and that nasty defense.