Monday, January 7, 2019

Schaible's alphabet to Monday night's National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson

Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson- Getty Images

By: Brian Schaible
Twitter: @SBNationReports

Alabama and Clemson are set to meet for the 19th time in series history. It will also mark the fourth consecutive year these teams have matched up in the College Football Playoffs.

Clemson’s only recent victory against Alabama occurred in the 2017 National Championship Game. Coach Dabo Swinney led the Tigers to a 35-31 victory over his alma mater.

Let’s breakdown the championship matchup A-Z:

A: Alabama has won 69 times when ranked #1 under Nick Saban. The last time they were ranked outside of the Top 25 was in September, 2015.

B: Blowouts! This year these two teams have combined for 23 victories by a margin of 20 or more points per game.

C: Christian Miller is arguably the biggest question mark going into Monday night’s game. As of now, the star linebacker still questionable from a hamstring injury suffered in the Orange Bowl. According to Nick Saban, “He hasn’t been able to do a lot in practice. He is questionable for the game.”

D: Dabo Swinney on how his relationship with Nick Saban has evolved over time. “I don’t think we got off to a very good start because he offered me a job when he first came to Alabama, but I didn’t know him, and I didn’t take the job.”

E: Expanding the playoffs? Saban— “There’s players who aren’t playing in bowl games. Playing in the Sugar Bowl used to be a big thing. It’s used to be a really big thing. We played a top four team in the SEC Championship game, so we actually played an eight game playoff this year.” Swinney— “Every game has been a playoff game to get to this point. If we had lost to whoever, we’re probably not here.”

F: Field conditions. Levi’s Stadium has had its share of field turf criticism. First, Pete Carroll lambasted the playing conditions after the Seahawks loss in December. Photos published last week saw the field surface in disarray. How it looks now is anyone’s guess? Because of rainy conditions, the field has been completely covered since early Saturday.

G: Gauge on Gage. How will Gabe Cervenka, a redshirt junior, hold up against a dominating Crimson Tide Defensive Line. Cervenka performed well in the ACC Championship and Cotton Bowl victories. However, the National Championship will mark only his 7th career start.

H: Both Damien and Najee Harris likely wish they had more rushing attempts. Not only do they split carries with one another, there’s also Josh Jacobs very much in the mix. The players publicly have accepted their roles but, to win Monday night will most likely involve one of them having a breakout game.

I: Inconsistencies. These teams have very few. The main ones that jump out is Clemson forcing Tua Tagovailoa to be accurate running to his right. While incompletions are few and far between, he has sailed a number of throws in that direction. For Clemson, it’s to avoid getting into third down situations. Clemson is ranked just 22nd in the nation on third down conversion percentage.

J: Jerry Jeudy averaged 18.7 yards per catch and accumulated 13 receiving touchdowns. His 1176 yards this season is only behind Amari Cooper’s school record of 1727 in 2014.

K: Kelly Bryant made headlines when he abruptly left Clemson, and later transferred to Missouri, this past September. That same week, Trevor Lawrence was injured against Syracuse and forced to leave the game. Backup Chase Brice miraculously led the team all the way back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit.

L: Lawrence— “I really like the way Aaron Rodgers plays, just his style. I think he’s a great player. I think that’s the one (quarterback) I like watching the most right now.”

M: Moses is on a tear. If there was ever a true sophomore linebacker that was NFL ready, it would be Dylan Moses. While the Crimson Tide can be sure to have his services for at least one more season, he will certainly be in the spotlight on Monday. Moses has played well against Georgia and Oklahoma, recording six tackles in each game. His presence will be heavily counted on to prevent Travis Etienne from turning a seven yard run into 70 by getting through the last line of defense.

N: Nyles Pinckney is expected to get even more playing time as part of a rotation in place of suspended lineman, Dexter Lawrence. Pinckney has 23 tackles on the year and has made the most of limited opportunities.

O: Offensive output. With 538 yards in the Cotton Bowl, Clemson eclipsed 7,000 yards for the season. This marked on the third time this feat has been achieved.

P: Don’t forget about Pierschbacher. With so much attention being paid to Jonah Williams, perhaps the Crimson Tide’s most valuable offensive lineman is Ross Pierschbacher. The versatile Redshirt Senior has started every game at Alabama. This season he transitioned to playing center after three years at left guard.

Q: Quinnen Williams on remaining patient for his opportunities to play. “I really just had to put my pride to the side, mature, and really think Coach Saban has my best interests at heart. Whenever he feels I should play, I’m going to be a beast.”

R: Rushing to success. Alabama rushes for 200 yards against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. The team is now 115-6 when rushing for more than 140 yards in a game since the 2008 season.

S: Saban and first round draft choices. Saban has coached a total of 31 players who were chosen in the first round of the NFL draft.

T: Tua on Clemson’s defense. “They’re a very dynamic defense. They have a really good front seven. They do a pretty good job at disguising what they’re going to do. So I think the biggest challenge is us going in there and executing at a high level.”

U: Undefeated is rare. With both teams entering the contest at 14-0, we are assured this will be the first team to ever finish a season at 15-0 and also this will be the first undefeated champion in the College Football Playoffs era.

V:  Venables means business. “I like the challenge. I’ve always enjoyed the strategy of it, trying to help your players go out and execute. That’s enjoyable for me, especially when they’re buying in. Sometimes you've got to trick them into believing it.”

W: Christian Wilkins on keeping it light hearted. “This game can get really serious. We put a lot of hard work into it, so why not make it as fun as you can?”

X: Orange Bowl MVP, Xavier McKinney, gave Kyler Murray fits all night in Miami. With four pass breakups and five tackles, the sophomore defensive back helped shutdown Oklahoma’s Hollywood Brown. Although Brown was recovering from injury, he did play three quarters but recorded no catches.

Y: Youth is serving notice. Despite both teams being loaded with many talented upperclassmen, a remarkable 16 freshman and sophomores are expected to start for Alabama and Clemson in the Championship.

Z: Zebras letting them play. After much controversy surrounding some calls and no calls in the 2017 contest, last year just six penalties combined were called in the playoff matchup.