5 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Beat Alabama in the CFP National Championship
There have been doubters, skeptics and those that say they don’t belong, but like it or not, the Ohio State Buckeyes will play Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.
Ohio State blew the roof off in the national semifinals, knocking off the Clemson Tigers 49-28 despite being underdogs. The Buckeyes will once again be underdogs against the Crimson Tide in Miami. However, that isn’t likely to be a problem for Ryan Day’s team, as Ohio State is coming off their best game of the season and will be filled with confidence ahead of their showdown with Bama.
Outside of that confidence and momentum, here are five reasons why Ohio State will pull off another upset and beat Alabama.
Trey Sermon’s Emergence
For most of the season, Ohio State’s rushing attack looked average at best and didn’t make much of an impact. In fact, it was one of the biggest reasons why some were left unconvinced that the Buckeyes were a serious national championship contender. However, all of that has changed over the last three games thanks to Oklahoma grad transfer Trey Sermon.
Sermon has rushed for 636 yards over his last three games, saving the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game and playing an important but overlooked role in Ohio State’s win over Clemson.
While the Alabama defense will be the toughest test the Ohio State offense has faced this season, the Crimson Tide will have to take Sermon and the OSU rushing attack seriously. They won’t be able to focus solely on Justin Fields, who also plays an important role in Ohio State’s running game. The mere threat of Sermon will help to open up things for the Ohio State offense.
More importantly, Sermon is capable of getting into the open field and creating game-changing plays for the Buckeyes.
Two Top-Flight Wide Receivers
Fields stole the show against Clemson, but he got plenty of help from Ohio State’s receivers, most notably Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. While Wilson made just two catches against the Tigers, he remains the team’s leading receiver with 673 receiving yards on 40 catches. Olave isn’t far behind, hauling in 42 passes for 660 yards, including six catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Clemson. In fact, despite missing the Big Ten Championship Game, Olave had over 100 receiving yards in five of his six games this season.
Olave and Wilson form arguably the best receiving duo that Alabama has faced this season. Both are capable of gaining yards after the catch and getting behind the defense. Even with a potential top-10 pick at cornerback in Patrick Surtain II, the Buckeyes aren’t going to be afraid to challenge the Alabama secondary the way Notre Dame was in the national semifinal.
Ohio State will put faith in Olave and Wilson to win one-on-one battles and create explosive plays. With Fields being able to scramble and buy time, the two Ohio State receivers are even more difficult to cover, leading to big plays down the field that will enable the Buckeyes to strike quickly against the Crimson Tide.
Suffocating Defensive Line
Also on the list of unsung heroes during Ohio State’s win over Clemson was the team’s defensive line. The Buckeyes stifled the Clemson rushing attack, limiting Travis Etienne to just 32 rushing yards on 10 carries. On the season, the Buckeyes limited opponents to 3.2 rushing yards per carry and 89 yards per game. While Alabama’s rushing attack is better than any the Buckeyes have faced this season, the Ohio State defensive line isn’t going to get pushed around in the trenches the way the Crimson Tide has done to every other team.
Specifically, the interior tandem of Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett has a great chance to take advantage of Alabama being forced to play a backup center. With a consistent push up in the middle, the Buckeyes can force Alabama running back Najee Harris outside, which goes against his strengths as a runner.
A push upfront will also force quarterback Mac Jones to use his legs and run away from the pocket, which again, is not one of his strengths. In other words, Ohio State’s defensive line will be able to take away some of the things the Alabama offense does best, preventing the game from turning into a full-scale shootout and giving Fields and the OSU offense a better chance to outscore the Crimson Tide.
A Little Extra Motivation
It’s been an unusual label for the Buckeyes, but they’ve fully embraced the role of underdog. The number of pundits who were skeptical of their 6-0 record and their qualifications for playing in the College Football Playoff clearly provided added motivation for the Buckeyes against Clemson. Ohio State is being considered just as much of an underdog against Alabama, so that little extra motivation isn’t likely to disappear in Monday’s game, giving the Buckeyes a little edge.
While it’s impossible to quantify such a factor, it’s important not to discount a team’s “us against the world” attitude. The Buckeyes are well aware that even playing their best game of the season and dominating Clemson that most experts believe they will come up short against Alabama. The lack of belief outside the program seemed to galvanize the Buckeyes against Clemson, and that will likely carry over into the game against Alabama, not to mention the confidence the Buckeyes gained in themselves after the way they dismantled the Tigers.
Let’s face it, Fields is the biggest reason why the Buckeyes have a chance to beat Alabama and he holds the key to Ohio State winning the national championship. He put together an up-and-down season, not to mention a dreadful performance against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game, behind him in the national semifinal and played the game of his life against Clemson. The most impressive thing is that he did most of his damage with his arm rather than relying on his legs to gain yards.
Granted, there is some concern about his health following the hit he took against Clemson, after which he clearly wasn’t 100%. But whatever pain Fields felt in the second half of that game, it didn’t prevent him from creating big plays in the passing game and continuing Ohio State’s dominance over the Tigers. If Fields can do that, he should be good to go against Alabama 10 days later.
If Fields can come anywhere close to replicating his Sugar Bowl performance Monday night against Alabama, the Buckeyes will have an excellent chance of knocking off the Crimson Tide.
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