Can Ohio State beat Alabama?

Former Ohio State coach City Meyer remembers the most effective pregame speech he ever gave. He by no means stated a phrase.

Within the wake of Ohio State’s 59-Zero blowout of Wisconsin within the 2014 Massive Ten title recreation, the Buckeyes entered the Faculty Soccer Playoff as heavy underdogs towards Alabama. They have been additionally going up towards the aura of the SEC, so Meyer confirmed Wisconsin’s 34-31 bowl win over Auburn that yr as a technique to mock the supposed invincibility of the SEC. “They’d been informed for 10 years that the SEC is unbeatable,” Meyer stated in a cellphone interview final week. “You begin to imagine it.”

For No. Three Ohio State to upset No. 1 Alabama on Monday evening, it wants to hold over the swagger from the 49-28 throttling of Clemson within the Faculty 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 chances are high rooted in that mojo carrying over.

“What’s the ability of confidence?” Meyer stated. “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 evaluate 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 through the second half towards Nebraska on Oct. 24, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Nebraska 52-17. (AP Picture/Jay LaPrete)

1) Conceal your weak point

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

Wade has stated he’s wanting ahead to guarding Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith on Monday evening. It’s the caliber of matchup that might both revive Wade’s sagging draft inventory or provide 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 may very well be uncovered,” stated 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 ability.”

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

Freshman nook Lathan Ransom has emerged as OSU’s nickel nook, taking part in nicely towards Clemson in his most in depth motion of the season. Count on Alabama’s Steve Sarkisian to aim to govern matchups to show Proctor, Williamson and Ransom.

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

2) Rattle Mac Jones

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

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

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

“I believe the most important factor individuals miss with Alabama is the offensive line,” Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz stated on the Yahoo Sports activities Faculty Podcast. “Mac Jones performs with a clear jersey all recreation lengthy. He’s actually good at sliding away from strain and figuring out when to do away with the soccer.

“In case you return and examine him … the one time he’s ever struggled is when he will get hit or needs to be moved off his spot. That basically is the crucial part of that recreation.” (For extra from Drinkwitz breaking down the detailed X’s and O’s, take heed to the podcast right here.)

3) What if Jaylen Waddle performs?

Nicely, good luck. It’s exhausting to overstate the posh of expertise if each Jaylen Waddle, who was thought to be Alabama’s finest receiver, and DeVonta Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner, are each on the sector.

It’s unlikely that Waddle would have the ability to 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 choice, however his presence creates the final word conundrum — do you cowl the Heiman winner or the extra explosive participant?

“In case you’ve bought 17 and 6 on the market, it’s a complete completely different beast,” Drinkwitz stated.

Drinkwitz stated 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 could play man, you may’t tilt a security by some means,” Drinkwitz stated. “I don’t know which you could play zone. They will 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 decide your poison. I don’t know.”

4) How do you gradual Alabama down?

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

Lea’s Notre Dame workforce gave up touchdowns on the primary three drives after which have 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 likewise carry out in protection. Within the secondary, the sport plan revolved round “leverage the overs and maintain 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 pressure them into longer drives and infrequently throw them behind the chains with a strain. “We wished to pressure them to drive and see if we will get the sector objective kicker on the market,” Lea stated.

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 obvious benefit

Wommack introduced up an fascinating level that may very well be a part of a blueprint for Ohio State to win the sport. He talked about the power of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to run the ball. Fields appeared fantastic after his crushing hit within the Clemson recreation, and the speak about Fields’ damage 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 capability to create explosive performs together 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 somewhere else, however not this obvious.

“The outlier within the recreation is Justin Fields’ capability to maneuver the soccer together with his toes,” Wommack stated. “If he can discover methods to increase performs and create issues together with his toes and clearly having the ability to create sufficient to increase performs together with his toes and throw the ball down the sector. Nearly 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 stated that Indiana zeroed in on towards the Buckeyes was blitzing their inside line. He stated one of many methods they bought to Fields to rattle him and pressure 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 pressure some interceptions and takeaways on our finish.”

Can Alabama’s linebackers exploit comparable matchups? That might be one of many basic tensions of the sport. Ohio State blew Clemson’s defensive entrance off the ball within the CFP semis, because the Buckeyes averaged 5.Eight 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 offer Fields the posh of time.

7) Preserve the mojo rolling

It was fascinating 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 virtually 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 steadiness?

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 stated 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, this can be a bit clunky as a result of Alabama has performed 12 video games and OSU simply seven. And, sure, Day’s choice to go on fourth down towards Indiana as an alternative of creating 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 danger on Monday evening?

“To me, it’s going to be very fascinating to see if both of those groups change their fourth-down method figuring out the caliber of offenses they’re going towards,” he stated. “Do they handle the sport completely different?”

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