Tied Up has a new writer, and if there's anything he knows, it's college football. So new that he isn't even on the website yet, but there's a game tomorrow so here I am to let Aidan Cavanaugh take you inside the National Championship game.
Game Preview: 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship
By Aidan Cavanaugh
#1 Alabama vs. #3 Ohio State
Monday, January 11, 2021
In the most chaotic and uncertain college football season we have ever seen, the biggest game of the year is finally here. The #1 seed Alabama Crimson Tide will be facing off against the #3 seed Ohio State Buckeyes at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. This game will feature two of the most high-powered offenses in the country, with stars littered on both sides of the ball for both teams. I will give an overview for each team, the matchups to keep an eye on throughout the game, and the X-factors for each team. Finally, I will give you my prediction for the game. Let’s get into this.
Team Overview: Alabama (12-0, 11-0 SEC)
Once again, Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide playing for a national title. In past years, we have seen Alabama use a dominant running game and an elite defense to carry them to the trophy. However, this team looks much different than what we usually expect from a “normal” Alabama team. Instead, this team has rode one of the most explosive passing offenses in the country, which includes Heisman-winning Wide Receiver Devonta Smith and Heisman finalist Mac Jones as the signal-caller. The list of stars doesn’t end there, either. Running Back Najee Harris was fifth in Heisman voting, tallying nearly 1,400 yards on the ground with 24 touchdowns. Standout Sophomore Receiver John Metchie III has been a great addition for the Crimson Tide, recording 47 catches for 835 yards and six touchdowns. I haven’t even mentioned Jaylen Waddle, arguably the most explosive player in the country, might be playing Monday night after recovering from a broken ankle suffered in October against Tennessee (He is currently a game-time decision, according to Saban). This offense is also anchored by the best offensive line in America, which won the Joe Moore award. Clearly this offense is at the top of college football, and the stats they have been putting up back that. They have the number two scoring offense, which averages 48.2 points per game. On the defensive side of the ball, the Crimson Tide have a pretty solid group. While it is not as dominant as past years, they still have only been giving up 19 points per game, which ranks 13th nationally. The secondary is elite, with future first rounder Patrick Surtain II acting as the shutdown Corner. The other members of the defensive backfield include Corner Josh Jobe, and Safeties Jordan Battle and true Freshman Malachi Moore. This group is a nightmare to throw against, they make plays and rarely get beat deep. The front seven has some solid players, but is definitely a question mark leading up into this game. Senior linebacker Dylan Moses is the leader of the defense, and Christian Harris joins him to make a sure-tackling duo. The defensive line is anchored by Christian Barmore, who many have going in the first round of the NFL draft in April. While the players are good, they have an inconsistent pass rush. Putting pressure on Quarterbacks is a vital part of a great defense, so it will be interesting to see how well they do against Ohio State’s elite offensive line.
Team Overview: Ohio State (7-0, 6-0 BIG 10)
Welp, looks like the Buckeyes weren’t the #11 team in the country! Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney ranked Ohio State 11th nationally in his coach’s poll, behind teams like Coastal Carolina and three-loss Iowa State, before their matchup in the semi finals. Yeah, he didn’t sound particularly great saying that, especially since Ohio State’s offense absolutely annihilated his defense, hanging 49 points on them, and giving star QB Trevor Lawrence an L in his last game as a Tiger. Now they are in the championship as the #3 seed in the playoff. Even though they only played seven games, Ohio State has shown all of us that they can beat anybody they face, especially with the offense that Head Coach and play caller Ryan Day has put together. 2019 Heisman finalist Justin Fields has looked shaky at points this season, especially against Indiana and Northwestern, but has also looked like the projected top 5 pick that we are used to watching. Against Clemson, he shredded the Tigers for 385 yards and SIX touchdowns in a winning effort. Not to mention that he was doing this with an injury after a massive hit he took in the second quarter of that game (He is expected to play, according to Day). This passing attack includes the likes of receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, two of the best in America. Tight End Jeremy Ruckert caught two touchdown passes in the game against Clemson, and could again be a factor in the upcoming contest. Running Back Trey Sermon is clicking at the right time, with 524 rushing yards and three touchdowns the last two games for the Buckeyes. The offensive line is just as good as Alabama’s, headlined by projected first round pick and All-American Wyatt Davis. The defense has a bunch of good players on it, who like to stop the run. Defensive Tackles Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett take on blocks and disrupt opposing blockers, allowing veteran linebackers Pete Warner and Tuff Borland to make plays. The secondary is a big question mark for this defense. They have All- American Cornerback Shaun Wade leading that unit, but he’s been iffy, to say the least. He was getting exposed by the Clemson receivers all night, which caught the attention of many people. He needs to have a great game on Monday if they want to have a chance to stop this Alabama offense. The other Cornerback for the Buckeyes is Seven Banks, who has looked solid for them all season. He even recorded an interception in their last game.
Matchups to Watch
Shaun Wade vs. Devonta Smith
This week, Wade has publicly said that he wants to guard the Heisman winner. Yeah, that is a tough task, to say the least. Against Notre Dame, Smith recorded seven catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Another day at the office for the best player in the country. Wade, however, didn’t have himself the greatest season, certainly not the campaign that reflects his first team All-America honor. Wade has conceded 6 passing touchdowns, which is third-most in the country. When he’s playing well, he’s a lockdown corner, but that run of play has been hard to find this season. Smith will get his stats, he’s the best Receiver in the country, but it’s up to Wade to prevent him from taking over the game himself.
Trey Sermon vs. Alabama’s front Seven
Sermon might be the hottest player in the country right now. His past two games have been incredible, which has helped Ohio State find a running game that they were lacking for a lot of the season. Alabama’s front seven has the personnel to stop him, but with the way the Buckeye’s offensive line has been playing, it will be a challenge to neutralize Sermon and make Ohio State one-dimensional offensively. Fields hasn’t looked great this year when he’s been forced to pass, which is why Sermon’s performance is vital for the success of the Buckeyes if they want to win this game.
Alabama: Defensive Line
Ohio State dominated Clemson because of the fact that their offensive line was creating gaping holes for Sermon the run through, while also allowing Fields enough time to hit those 50 yard bombs he was throwing down the field to Olave and Wilson. If Alabama can produce a consistent pass rush, it will take away a decent amount of the down field plays that Fields loves because he won’t have the time to sit back and sling it. Also, the defensive front needs to avoid getting blown back in run plays. If they can suppress Sermon’s explosiveness as a runner, they should be in good shape.
Ohio State: Justin Fields
I was debating this X factor for a decent amount of time, but I finally settled in on the best player on the team, Justin Fields. Mac Jones has been the epitome of consistency for Alabama all year, so we can safely assume that he will play very well on Monday night. For Fields, it’s a different story. While he’s shown flashes of excellence, in particular the Clemson and Michigan State games this year, but he has also produced some poor performances. In those games, he looked uncomfortable in the pocket, and his decision making was suspect. If Alabama can put Fields under some pressure, can he stay strong in the pocket and make the right reads and throws? This is definitely a question mark that has popped up from time to time with Fields. If he struggles in this game, it will be over before halftime. You can’t get away with turning the ball over against Alabama, they will almost certainly capitalize on those mistakes and turn them into points. If he plays to the elite level that we have seen from Fields before, Ohio State should be right in this game until the very end.
After watching both of these teams and how they fared throughout the season, I think this is a very even matchup. Alabama and Ohio State do a lot of the same things well; great interior lineman on both sides, especially on offense, prolific passing attacks, and solid defenses. Now, I think what will give Alabama the edge in this one consists of two things. The first is Najee Harris. Arguably the best Running Back in the nation, he can do it all out of the backfield. He can catch the football, make a man miss, and runs very hard. Harris complements the passing game perfectly, and Alabama needs a great performance from him if they want to win. The second is the Wide Receiver advantage over Ohio State’s secondary. Every receiver Alabama has, from Devonta Smith to Slade Bolden, is very, very good. At times, the Buckeyes have had a shaky pass defense. Against Indiana, they let Michael Penix throw for almost 500 yards. That can’t happen if they want to win Monday night. Ohio state needs to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball like they did against Clemson, and can’t let Najee Harris run wild on their defense. Fields needs to play smart, and can’t turn the ball over. Elite offenses in college football these days put up points no matter what. Justin Fields against Northwestern threw for 107 yards but they still put up 22 points. Both of these teams have what it takes offensively to put up 50 on anybody. It comes down to which team can force more turnovers, and make the other team more uncomfortable. As a fan, this will be a back and forth game. Even though it will be high scoring, it will be very stressful to watch. I think Alabama has been the most dominant team in the country all year, and they will finish it off their perfect season with a championship.
Alabama 48, Ohio State 38
(All stats are from ESPN.com and Pro Football Focus)