Monday, Jan. 7, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Free NCAAF Pick: Over
Best Line Offered: Pinnacle
When you peruse Clemson’s schedule and see that the Tigers held nine of their opponents to 10 points or fewer, an “over” doesn’t look immediately promising. What sticks out is their game against South Carolina, in which they allowed a season-high 35 points to the Gamecocks. Jake Bentley threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns. Top receiver Deebo Samuel accrued 210 receiving yards and Shi Smith 109. Clemson’s defense didn’t simply have a bad day. When the Tigers shut down a Notre Dame that scores more points per game than South Carolina, they didn’t show improvement after the South Carolina game. South Carolina showed what an offense can do to Clemson given certain match-up advantages.
At 6″1 and 6″2, respectively, and 190 pounds, Clemson corners A.J. Terrell and Trayvon Mullen are relatively well-sized. They could handle the physicality of Notre Dame’s top receivers, Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin, both of whom are strong 220-pounders. South Carolina’s wide receivers possess a completely different skill set. Smith and Samuels are both extremely fast. Their speed gave them a decisive edge against Clemson’s more physical corners. With a quarterback who excels at throwing the deep ball, they frustrated Clemson’s secondary in the vertical passing game. Even without much of a running game, the Gamecocks could score so much because it all came from their passing attack.
The question for Alabama is whether its passing attack is more like South Carolina’s or Notre Dame’s. Bama’s second-leading receiver Jaylen Waddle has achieved a 94-yard touchdown. His speed is truly indescribable, see for yourself.
Henry Ruggs, Bama’s third-best receiver, was a state champion sprinter in high school. Jerry Jeudy, the Biletnikoff Award winner for best receiver, also has a nice burst of speed after the catch. He is more versatile in that he also runs crisp routes, makes adjustments for balls in the air, and otherwise has an impressive catch radius.
Tua led SEC quarterbacks with 11.4 YPA, two more than the next-best in the category. He can throw deep and his receivers have a skill set that will challenge Clemson corners in even more ways than South Carolina’s receivers did. Plus, Alabama’s offense will force Clemson also to account for its rush attack, three running backs who average over 5 YPC with a mix of power and elusiveness.
Alabama’s offense is stacked and will do the most to bring the total “over.” Clemson’s offense will do its modest part. The Tigers haven’t been held below 27 points yet. It boasts four different receivers with at least 30 receptions and 450 yards. Against Notre Dame’s sixth-ranked pass defense in terms of opposing passer rating, Trevor Lawrence threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. With Lawrence’s precision and Clemson’s depth at receiver, it was feasible to create and exploit some mismatches in the passing game even though the Irish starting cornerbacks are highly regarded. Alabama’s defense could even help Clemson some by relenting even a little like it did after racing to a 28-0 lead against Oklahoma.