Clemson +5.5 5.5% NFL POD / Clemson +180 1.5% Play
I absolutely think Clemson has the ingredients to upset Alabama. Alabama has shown some vulnerabilities in the last few games against worse teams. Looking at Clemson's body of work and statistical resume, they mostly mirror Georgia on offense, and Miss State on defense. Georgia has a weakness in stopping the run, and Alabama exploited it as they rank 53rd while Clemson ranks #1. Miss State who held Alabama to 24 points in their own building has one weakness and that's the QB play, and we already know that Trevor Lawrence is cool calm, and has an NFL arm. He threw for 327 yards against Notre Dame, a team that ranked 4th vs. the pass. Alabama's secondary is definitely vulnerable as they lost a ton of talent to the NFL last year. They really only played two offenses that could run and pass all year. That came against Georgia and Oklahoma who both put up big offensive numbers on them. Oklahoma got behind 28-0, but out played Alabama in quarters 2, 3, and 4. Clemson also has an advantage as Alabama ranks 72nd in explosive defense. They rank 46th in explosive run defense specifically, so Clemson, a team that has talent at WR with Tee Higgins, a big body guy, Justyn Ross, the speedy guy, Amari Rodgers and Hunter Renfro the third down guys to go along with Travis Etienne at RB and QB Trevor Lawrence runs the RPO as good as anyone I have seen all year.
Alabama's offense is their best that I can ever remember, but they face the best defense they have faced all year in this game. The front 7 is the strength of Clemson, and at some point Tua is going to have to make plays in this game. I do think the weakness for Clemson is in pass defense, but it's hard to even know that for sure as they also did not play in a lot of close games, but Jake Bentley, South Carolina put up 35 points and 510 yards passing including a couple of plays over 67 yards. I think Tua will have a big play or two in this game so if you have a prop option to take him over 45 yards for longest pass I would take it. Clemson does have an explosive defense ranked 11t in allowing explosive plays, but I think their schedule has a lot to do with it. Clemson did not face a balanced offense all year until Notre Dame, but Notre Dame's weakness offensively was running the ball ranking 45th. Clemson has shut down the 3 top 20 rushing offenses they faced, but all 3 did not have any QB play with Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, and Pitt combining for 38 total points. Again value for the over, because we have seen Clemson struggle against a team that can throw the ball.
Common opponents - Texas A&M, and Louisville. You could argue Alabama played better against A&M, and Clemson played better against Louisville. Clemson actually played better in the trenches on the road than Alabama did at home. Clemson +44 yards holding A&M to 71 yards rushing while Alabama -21 yards giving up 130 rushing yards. Clemson also started Kelly Bryant at QB in that game, and it was their first road game against Jimbo Fisher who was very experienced in facing Clemson. Against Louisville, Alabama had an advantage of preparing for them all off season and they out gained them running the ball 222 to 16. Clemson, outgained them on the ground 492 to 81 yards.
The key here is going to be pass rush for both teams. Christina Miller is ? for Alabama with a hamstring and I have a hard time believing if he plays he will be effective, and will probably hurt it again. Clemson's Dexter Lawrence is suspended, but his spot is given up to Sr. Albert Huggins, a better pass rusher which I feel helps them more in this matchup. I think Tua is going to make a mistake in this game. We saw Georgia really pressure Tua and their pass rush ranked 88th. I think DC Venables can take a lot from that matchup and Tua tends to rush some decisions and try to play hero which could lead to a turnover in this game. Down the stretch Alabama was -3 in TO margin over their last 6 games while Clemson was +3 over their last 6 games.
Special Teams edge to Alabama, but their punter is not good, and Nick Saban does not really have a lot of confidence in his kicker. Alabama has the potential to return a kick for a TD, as Clemson has given up 2 this season. I give Clemson the edge in the red zone as they have better #'s for TD % on both offense and defense with a total edge of 20% and their offense has only improved since Lawrence took over. They also have been penalized fewer. Alabama was penalized 9 times in their game against Oklahoma which clearly cost them the cover.
Last but not least is coaching. Obviously Nick Saban is going to get the edge over Dabo Swinney, but when Saban does not have extra time to prepare which he doesn't here his defense has not played well against Clemson. In the first National Championship Saban knew this and had to steal a possession by kicking an onside kick, and the next year Clemson won on the last play of the game 35-31. I think both of these offenses have been better than those two games. Last year Clemson's offense was completely one dimensional and they lost 24-6 with Saban having extra time to prepare. However, the assistants is the key here, and they have a HUGE advantage for Clemson. This is the 4th time in 4 years they are strategizing for this game. Clemson has 2 co-OC's who have been here since 2015 as Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott are having their best season. They will go up against an inexperienced Alabama DC in Tosh Lupoi, 2nd year, and Pete Golding 1st year. Alabama also has a first time offensive coordinator in MIke Locksley who also has already taken the Maryland job. He's done a great job, but he goes up against Brent Venable who has been with Clemson since 2012.
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