Can Ohio State beat Alabama?


Former Ohio State coach City Meyer recollects one of the best pregame speech he ever gave. He by no means mentioned a phrase.

Within the wake of Ohio State’s 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin within the 2014 Massive Ten title recreation, the Buckeyes entered the School Soccer Playoff as heavy underdogs towards Alabama. They had been additionally going up towards the aura of the SEC, so Meyer confirmed Wisconsin’s 34-31 bowl win over Auburn that 12 months as a option to mock the supposed invincibility of the SEC. “They’d been instructed for 10 years that the SEC is unbeatable,” Meyer mentioned in a telephone interview final week. “You begin to consider it.”

For No. 3 Ohio State to upset No. 1 Alabama on Monday night time, it wants to hold over the swagger from the 49-28 throttling of Clemson within the School Soccer Playoff semifinals. Justin Fields threw six touchdowns in that recreation and had the identical quantity of incompletions. Trey Sermon accounted for 254 yards and Ohio State’s entrance seven stifled Clemson’s offense.

Because the Buckeyes enter the championship recreation as heavy underdogs, their upset likelihood is rooted in that mojo carrying over.

“What’s the ability of confidence?” Meyer mentioned. “You’ll be able to’t quantify that. They put it to Clemson. No pregame meal or apply plan or fortunate T-shirt you give them can examine to that confidence, actual confidence.”

How can Ohio State pull an upset? We spoke to go coaches who confronted or studied the Buckeyes this season to search out the keys to slowing down Alabama and carrying over the efficiency from the Clemson recreation.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, left, talk with quarterback Justin Fields during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Nebraska Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Nebraska 52-17. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, left, talks with quarterback Justin Fields in the course of the second half towards Nebraska on Oct. 24, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Nebraska 52-17. (AP Photograph/Jay LaPrete)

1) Cover your weak point

Ohio State’s obtrusive weak point on protection stays the security place particularly, however the secondary typically. Cornerback Shaun Wade seemed overmatched towards Clemson within the CFP semifinals, as Clemson’s Cornell Powell caught eight passes for 139 yards, principally towards Wade.

Wade has mentioned he’s trying ahead to guarding Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith on Monday night time. It’s the caliber of matchup that would both revive Wade’s sagging draft inventory or supply one other testomony to his middling season. (Ohio State’s different cornerback beginning, Sevyn Banks, has surged in latest weeks.)

However larger points come at security. “They’ve some gamers on the again finish who could possibly be uncovered,” mentioned South Alabama coach Kane Wommack, who confronted the Buckeyes as Indiana’s defensive coordinator this season. “They’re not nice within the again finish, particularly in comparison with Alabama’s talent.”

Ohio State safeties Josh Proctor and Marcus Williamson shall be within the crosshairs on Monday. (Marcus Hooker solely performed on particular groups towards Clemson, in line with Eleven Warriors.)

Freshman nook Lathan Ransom has emerged as OSU’s nickel nook, enjoying properly towards Clemson in his most intensive motion of the season. Anticipate Alabama’s Steve Sarkisian to try to govern matchups to show Proctor, Williamson and Ransom.

“Together with having actually good gamers, they stress you out a bit bit schematically,” Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea, the previous Notre Dame defensive coordinator, mentioned of Alabama. “That provides a layer of complexity to it.”

2) Rattle Mac Jones

What’s going to enlarge Ohio State’s shortcomings within the secondary is that if they will’t muster a constant go rush. The Buckeyes dominated Clemson’s offensive line, however that group was usually considered a middling ACC unit. Alabama’s offensive line is a lot better, although star heart Landon Dickerson is out.

“The man they misplaced was nearly as good as I’ve seen on movie,” Lea instructed Yahoo Sports activities in a telephone interview. “I do know he was additionally, from what I perceive, an emotional chief on the group. Clearly, that’s laborious to cowl. Anytime you lose a frontline man like that.”

With Dickerson changed by Chris Owens, the duty for the Buckeyes shall be to strain Jones. Ohio State was lacking two key defensive ends, Zach Harrison and Tyler Friday, towards Clemson. That place group shall be carefully watched when the supply report comes out on gameday.

“I believe the largest factor folks miss with Alabama is the offensive line,” Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz mentioned on the Yahoo Sports activities School Podcast. “Mac Jones performs with a clear jersey all recreation lengthy. He’s actually good at sliding away from strain and realizing when to do away with the soccer.

“In the event you return and research him … the one time he’s ever struggled is when he will get hit or must be moved off his spot. That actually is the vital part of that recreation.” (For extra from Drinkwitz breaking down the detailed X’s and O’s, hearken to the podcast right here.)

3) What if Jaylen Waddle performs?

Properly, good luck. It’s laborious to overstate the luxurious of expertise if each Jaylen Waddle, who was considered Alabama’s finest receiver, and DeVonta Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner, are each on the sector.

It’s unlikely that Waddle would be capable of play 50 snaps after being out since fracturing his ankle on Oct. 24 and simply returning to apply this previous week. He’s a game-time determination, however his presence creates the final word conundrum — do you cowl the Heiman winner or the extra explosive participant?

“In the event you’ve bought 17 and 6 on the market, it’s an entire completely different beast,” Drinkwitz mentioned.

Drinkwitz mentioned Missouri’s recreation plan on protection revolved round not letting Waddle beat them. He completed with eight receptions, 134 yards and a landing. Smith caught eight balls for 89 yards.

When each are wholesome, what are you able to do?

“I don’t know which you can play man, you possibly can’t tilt a security by some means,” Drinkwitz mentioned. “I don’t know which you can play zone. They’ll run by zone. You’ll be able to’t play 2-man. They’re going handy off the ball to the unbelievable tailback [Najee Harris] that they’ve. It’s choose your poison. I don’t know.”

4) How do you gradual Alabama down?

Missouri and Notre Dame had been the one two groups to carry Alabama underneath 40 factors this 12 months, because the Tide completed first within the Energy 5 with 48.2 factors per recreation.

Lea’s Notre Dame group gave up touchdowns on the primary three drives after which had been in a position to comparatively gradual Alabama down from there in a 31-14 Tide win.

He described Notre Dame’s recreation plan as “constructed a triangle,” with three deep defenders. That put a stress on their linebackers to make tackles and in addition carry out in protection. Within the secondary, the sport plan revolved round “leverage the overs and preserve the center closed.” In different phrases, cease the run and don’t get beat excessive.

Lea chuckled on the quantity of one-play drives he noticed on movie. By stopping these and managing the road of scrimmage, he hoped to drive them into longer drives and infrequently throw them behind the chains with a strain. “We wished to drive them to drive and see if we are able to get the sector aim kicker on the market,” Lea mentioned.

Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, center, celebrates with teammates DeVonta Smith, left, and John Metchie III, right, after scoring a TD against Missouri on Sept. 26. (AP)
Alabama broad receiver Jaylen Waddle, heart, celebrates with teammates DeVonta Smith, left, and John Metchie III, proper, after scoring a TD towards Missouri on Sept. 26. (AP)

5) Exploit a obtrusive benefit

Wommack introduced up an attention-grabbing level that could possibly be a part of a blueprint for Ohio State to win the sport. He talked about the flexibility of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to run the ball. Fields appeared high-quality after his crushing hit within the Clemson recreation, and the speak about Fields’ harm gave the impression to be extra pushed from media inquiries and Saban household conspiracy theories than any particular actuality.

Can Fields’ legs be the distinction? The mobility of the quarterback and his skill to create explosive performs along with his legs is without doubt one of the few locations on this recreation the place Ohio State has a definite benefit over Alabama. They’ve an edge elsewhere, however not this obtrusive.

“The outlier within the recreation is Justin Fields’ skill to maneuver the soccer along with his toes,” Wommack mentioned. “If he can discover methods to increase performs and create issues along with his toes and clearly with the ability to create sufficient to increase performs along with his toes and throw the ball down the sector. Pretty much as good as Mac Jones is, that’s the outlier. [Fields] can create one thing that nobody else on the sector can.”

6) Can Ohio State maintain up inside?

One of many areas the place Wommack mentioned that Indiana zeroed in on towards the Buckeyes was blitzing their inside line. He mentioned one of many methods they bought to Fields to rattle him and drive him into some errors — he threw three interceptions in that recreation — was pressuring up the center.

Wommack was clear to say, “That is all relative,” which means that the OSU’s guards weren’t fairly as dynamic as in previous years. “Our linebackers blitzing one-on-one towards their guards created adverse performs and bought into the backfield. It helped drive some interceptions and takeaways on our finish.”

Can Alabama’s linebackers exploit comparable matchups? That shall be one of many elementary tensions of the sport. Ohio State blew Clemson’s defensive entrance off the ball within the CFP semis, because the Buckeyes averaged 5.8 yards per rush.

Alabama doesn’t have the caliber of front-seven personnel it did earlier this decade, however that group ought to put up extra resistance within the field than Clemson’s underwhelming group. OSU wants to present Fields the luxurious of time.

7) Hold the mojo rolling

It was attention-grabbing that issues lastly clicked for Ohio State towards Clemson. A part of Ohio State’s inconsistency within the common season has been comprehensible, as they’d been shuffling lineups due to COVID-19 points all season.

Maybe a contact of tempo helped construct some synergy, as a number of occasions Ohio State broke off chunk performs from hurry-up tempo conditions. A few of that was operating as much as the road after a sugar huddle and snapping the ball nearly instantaneously to mitigate Clemson’s sign-stealing operation.

Will OSU proceed to rush up? The Alabama protection doesn’t have the identical reliance on sign-stealing and late calls as Clemson. However will we once more see a mixture of tempos to maintain Alabama off stability?

8) Who gambles on fourth down?

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is broadcasting the sport in ESPN’s “Movie Room,” a cool annual custom the place they’ve coaches dive into the X’s and O’s and broadcast the sport in a non-traditional method. (He’ll be joined by former Auburn coach Gene Chizik and Liberty’s Hugh Freeze.)

Clawson mentioned he was struck by how few occasions Ohio State and Alabama went on fourth downs this season (each went for it simply seven occasions). That places the groups within the backside 10 in makes an attempt.

Sure, it is a bit clunky as a result of Alabama has performed 12 video games and OSU simply seven. And, sure, Day’s determination to go on fourth down towards Indiana as a substitute of constructing it a two-score recreation was aggressive bordering on reckless. However the quantity nonetheless stands out.

Clawson attributed a few of this to the packages controlling the sport. Will they tackle extra threat on Monday night time?

“To me, it’s going to be very attention-grabbing to see if both of those groups change their fourth-down strategy realizing the caliber of offenses they’re going towards,” he mentioned. “Do they handle the sport completely different?”

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