Each play­off team can make case for beating Alabama

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY RALPH D. RUSSO

Every­body says they want Alabama. Then they get the Crim­son Tide and re­al­ity sets in: Th­ese guys are al­most im­pos­si­ble to beat.

Alabama is in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off for the third straight sea­son, the only school that can make that claim. And as good as Alabama has been through an un­prece­dented run of four na­tional ti­tles in seven sea­sons, this ver­sion of the top-ranked Tide might be the best of all.

The Huskies are a resur­gent bunch, in con­tention for a na­tional ti­tle for the first time in decades, with a coach who has a rep­u­ta­tion for pulling off up­sets. Ohio State fans have ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve the Buck­eyes can take down the Tide – Ur­ban Meyer’s team did just that in the first play­off semi­fi­nals.

Deshaun Watson and the Tigers went toe-to-toe with the Tide in last sea­son’s cham­pi­onship game.

Coach Nick Sa­ban’s crew of for­mer blue-chip re­cruits and fu­ture NFL play­ers is un­beaten, but are they un­beat­able? A case for each of the teams in the play­off:

WASH­ING­TON

WHAT IT NEEDS TO DO: Play the per­fect game. Sounds im­pos­si­ble, right? It seems the only chance Wash­ing­ton has against the Crim­son Tide is to play flaw­lessly and hope Alabama is al­ready look­ing for­ward to hang­ing out on the beaches of Tampa ahead of the cham­pi­onship game.

But per­fec­tion for the Huskies doesn’t mean go­ing out­side of what got them to the na­tional semi­fi­nals, es­pe­cially on the of­fen­sive side.

“You don’t want to get too far away from what got you to this point,” Wash­ing­ton of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jonathan Smith said. “At the same time you’ve got some time to put in some wrin­kles or do things dif­fer­ently.”

Quar­ter­back Jake Browning spent most of the sea­son avoid­ing mis­takes and must do the same against Alabama. But his two worst games came against USC and Colorado, the two most ath­letic and phys­i­cal de­fenses the Huskies faced. Alabama had 45 sacks this sea­son, third most in the na­tion, and Browning is not par­tic­u­larly mo­bile. If Browning can get the ball to speed­ster John Ross and fel­low wide re­ceiver Dante Pet­tis – big if – there could be some fa­vor­able matchups for Wash­ing­ton.

POS­SI­BLE DIF­FER­ENCE-MAKER: Coach Chris Petersen. He has a track record dur­ing his time at Boise State of beating long odds. The ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple hap­pened 10 years ago when his first Boise State team knocked off Ok­la­homa in the Fi­esta Bowl. Petersen loves his tricky plays and has a good feel for when to break out the gad­gets.

“We’ve played in a lot of big games over the years,” Petersen said. “We’ve played in some big games this year. I know usu­ally when we play in games like that, our guys may be a lit­tle more on point and you feel a dif­fer­ent en­ergy and those type of things. So that’s nice to be in­volved with that.”

CHANCES TO BEAT ALABAMA: Poor. No team truly matches up with Alabama, but the Huskies’ rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced of­fen­sive line and sta­tion­ary quar­ter­back is a recipe for dis­as­ter.

OHIO STATE

WHAT IT NEEDS TO DO: Beat Alabama at its own game, turn­ing turnovers into touch­downs.

The Crim­son Tide has 14 non-of­fen­sive touch­downs, in­clud­ing 11 on de­fense. Ohio State has seven de­fen­sive touch­downs.

Ohio State will have a hard time recre­at­ing the of­fen­sive suc­cess it had against Alabama in the 2014 semi­fi­nals if it does face the Tide in the cham­pi­onship game in Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 9.

The Buck­eyes strug­gled this sea­son against good de­fenses, such as Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin and Penn State. The Buck­eyes have proved re­silient, though, com­ing from be­hind to win over­time games against the Badgers and Wolver­ines.

“I think it’s good for us to have a few tough games un­der our belt be­cause we know how to re­spond to ad­ver­sity,” run­ning back Mike We­ber said. “We know how it is to play re­ally good teams. Hav­ing that un­der our belt, I feel like we can re­spond if things don’t go right for us.”

The Buck­eyes best hope is de­fense and spe­cial teams. They have an ath­letic front seven that can pres­sure Tide quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts. The Buck­eyes sec­ondary is one of the best in the na­tion, led by All-Amer­ica safety Ma­lik Hooker, who has re­turned three in­ter­cep­tions for touch­downs. Thanks to Cameron John­ston’s well-placed punts, Ohio State has al­lowed 3.2 yards per re­turn.

POS­SI­BLE DIF­FER­ENCE-MAKER: J.T. Barrett has not been much of a down-field passer for Ohio State, but he is mo­bile (847 yards rush­ing) and one of the best in the coun­try at pro­tect­ing the ball with only five in­ter­cep­tions. Ohio State is a team that could – maybe – force Alabama’s of­fense to do all the scor­ing.

CHANCES TO BEAT ALABAMA: Bet­ter than Wash­ing­ton’s, but still not great with an of­fense that does not stretch the field.

CLEM­SON

WHAT IT NEEDS TO DO: Start with what it did in last year’s cham­pi­onship game.

“You take a car­bon copy of that game plan,” for­mer Clem­son coach Tommy Bow­den said. “Pare back the things that didn’t work and bring it in to face Alabama.”

Alabama’s stun­ning on-side pop kick in a 24-all game turned things in the Tide’s fa­vor against Clem­son in a 45-40 thriller.

“If they had just played some­one 2 yards back to catch that kick,” Bow­den said with a chuckle.

Clem­son showed Alabama’s de­fense could be beat, though it takes a spe­cial ef­fort by a spe­cial player. Watson ac­counted for 478 yards and four TDs.

This is not ex­pos­ing a flaw in Alabama as much as it is stat­ing the ob­vi­ous: To beat a great de­fense – Alabama is No. 1 to­tal de­fense, scor­ing de­fense and run de­fense – you need your great quar­ter­back to play great. And it helps if he is great at mul­ti­ple things, run­ning and pass­ing.

POS­SI­BLE DIF­FER­ENCE-MAKER: Mike Wil­liams, who has 84 catches for 1,171 yards and 10 touch­downs, did not play in last sea­son’s game as he was re­cov­er­ing from a neck in­jury. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Wil­liams is a matchup night­mare.

CHANCES TO BEAT ALABAMA: “Of the three teams, I think Clem­son has the best chance,” Bow­den said.

Bow­den is prob­a­bly a bit bi­ased, but he is also right.

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