First, I should start by saying that your concerns about Bama’s defense are legitimate. They do have a very good defense and their front seven may be the best in the game. Any team has to account for that or they will lose. However, while Bama is the cream of the SEC, they aren’t without significant issues that could be exploited by the right team and the Orange Bowl fields two teams who could do just that.
Bama has only played one team this year with a Top 25 offense, Ole Miss (#11), and that also provided their only loss of the season so far as the Rebels racked up 6.6 yards per play. Clemson’s offense is currently ranked 12th while Oklahoma’s is 7th, both of whom average more than 6 yards per play, with Oklahoma nearly reaching 7 yards per play. Additionally, while Bama has the nation’s second ranked defense, averaging 4.13 yards per game, the bulk of that damage is done stifling the run, holding opponents to 2.38 yards per run behind that massive defensive line, including holding Ole Miss to 2.9 yards per rush. However, they give up 5.83 yards per passing attempt, in a woeful conference for passing, but a staggering 11.91 yards per completion. While their line may be good, their secondary is porous.
Alabama’s rushing offense gets a lot of love, but they are ranked 28th in the nation averaging 4.83 yards per rush. Clemson rivals that with 4.95 yards per rush, but Oklahoma, behind the triple threat of Mayfield, Perine, and Nixon, average 5.21 yards per rush. All three teams should have to work hard to not only stop each other on the ground, but also get yards on very tight defenses as the Sooners only give up 3.62 yards per rush and Clemson holds opponents to 3.7 yards per rush.
The key for the Tide, if they beat Sparty, will be how they will handle the passing attacks of the Orange victor. Even though Bama held Ole miss to less than 100 yards on the ground, they couldn’t stop them through the air and were unable to score fast enough to keep pace. Chad Kelly averaged 10.3 yards per attempt vs Bama and 18.9 yards per completion. In comparison, Memphis held Kelly to 7.9 yards per attempt and 11.2 yards per completion. Throughout the year, Ole Miss averaged 8.82 yards per attempt and 13.53 yards per completion. So, long story short, Alabama is horrible at defending the pass.
Clemson has a slightly better passing attack than Ole Miss, averaging 8.35 yards per attempt and 12.14 yards per completion during the season. Oklahoma bests them both with 9.33 yards per attempt and 13.45 yards per completion. Do you know what happens when you pass at will on a defense? You average more plays and wear down faster. This year Alabama has allowed 13.5 first downs per game. However here is how many each of these teams have averaged throughout the season:
Ole Miss = 26.08
Clemson = 25.53
Oklahoma = 27.33
That’s over twice as much as Bama is used to seeing, especially since they held Ole Miss to 16 first downs in a loss. My guess is you’ll see a lot of openings for big plays that, if completed, will crush the Alabama Defense, but it will have a secondary effect as well.
Most of Henry’s yards come in the fourth when Alabama has the lead and is driving the game into the dirt. He ran 46 times against Auburn, 44 times against Florida and 38 times against LSU. Three teams who could not pass the ball into the Gulf if they were standing on the beach. He only ran 23 times for 127 yards against Ole Miss, which is the only team on Bama’s schedule that compares to a possible Orange Bowl victor.
This game will end up in Coker’s (QB ranking 48th in yardage, 45th in efficiency) hands. No matter what he’ll be the worst quarterback on the field, so the real question is will he be able to produce at a high enough level to match skills against Mayfield or Watson who, along with Chad Kelly, are all in the Top 20 for yards completed. Additionally, Mayfield ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency, which doesn’t help a bad passing defense, and Watson is 11th.
So, in conclusion, Bama’s running defense is great, but their passing defense is horrendous. It hasn’t been tested much since the SEC is full of terrible passing teams – the second best is Arkansas, who only averages 264 yards in the air for the year. That won’t be the case in the playoffs. Alabama will be really tough, but the key to beating them is to secure the big plays and shut down their passing game. Whether Michigan State, Clemson, or Oklahoma can achieve that, however, is something we can discuss for a few weeks.
©2015 Number Monkey Media