New Orleans–There are at least a dozen ways to break down Thursday night’s national College Football Playoff semifinal between No. 1 Alabama (12-1) and No. 4 Ohio State (12-1). But there are five things you really need to know as you watch the Sugar Bowl:
1) This is not your father’s Ohio State: When former Florida coach Urban Meyer became head coach of the Buckeyes you knew he would go South to recruit faster and more athletic players. Two examples: Sophomore DE Joey Bosa, a unanimous All-American from Ft. Lauderdale, turned down Alabama to sign with Ohio State. Sophomore safety Von Bell, from Rossville, Ga. (Ridgeland HS), turned down Alabama and Tennessee to become a Buckeye. “I don’t think they’ve seen a defensive line like ours,” Bosa said.
2) But Ohio State hasn’t seen an offensive line like Alabama’s: Even Bosa agrees with this. Ohio State had 40 quarterback sacks this season, more than every SEC team except Missouri (42). But Alabama’s offensive line has done a great job of protecting the quarterback. Ohio State’s Bosa had 13.5 sacks this season. Alabama allowed only 13 sacks the ENTIRE season. In fact, Alabama faced seven of the SEC’s top eight players in sacks this season. Those seven players combined for only 2.5 sacks against the Crimson Tide.
3) The Tide had better keep an eye on Devin Smith: Ohio State has a lot of offensive weapons. The Buckeyes have scored 79 touchdowns this season, second only to Oregon’s 80 among the Power Five conference teams. Alabama’s only apparent weakness on defense has been the tendency to give up big passing plays. Auburn had 456 yards passing, a lot of it on big plays. Missouri had completions of 63, 47, and 32 yards in the SEC Championship game. Ohio State WR Devin Smith has 29 career touchdown catches. Twenty-three of those touchdowns have been for 20 yards or more. In fact, Smith has career average of 37.6 yards on his touchdown catches. “Devin has come a long, long way as a receiver,” said Tom Herman, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator.
4) Amari Cooper is the best player Ohio State has faced: Don’t take my word for it. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell raved about the Biletnikoff Award winner who led the nation in receiving yards (1,656) and catches (115) this season. “It’s not just the catch to me. It’s the runs after the catch,” said Fickell, who compared Cooper to Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. “(He has) the ability to make something when there’s nothing there. He does the intangible things. He’s going to block and do some things that sometimes you don’t see the first-rounders or the truly top dogs do. So I think what we’ve seen is one of the most complete players we’ve played against.” Meyer said Cooper reminds him of Percy Harvin, the former Florida superstar. “When you have a guy like that you have to be creative in getting him the ball,” said Meyer.
5) Offense is fun, but defense still wins championships: There is no question that up-tempo offenses have changed the game. Nick Saban changed his offensive philosophy at Alabama by bringing in Lane Kiffin and the results have been impressive (37.1 ppg). Ohio State is No. 5 in scoring at 45.3 ppg. Still this must be said: Since the start of the 2009 season Alabama has gone 72-8 with three national championships and now has a chance to win a fourth. In that stretch of 80 games Alabama’s defense has allowed only 114 touchdowns. That is 35 fewer touchdowns than No. 2 on that list (LSU, 149), and 41 fewer than No. 3 (Florida, 155).
Happy New Year, everybody!