ATLANTA — We’re still a few weeks away from Alabama football vs. Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, but ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit offered some early thoughts on the matchup.
Herbstreit met with a big group of reporters on Wednesday afternoon at the College Football Hall of Fame ahead of the College Football Awards Show on Thursday.
Alabama football earned the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff, and will face No. 1 Clemson on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia will meet in the Rose Bowl semifinal.
In terms of how Alabama’s offense should attack Clemson’s vaunted defense, Herbstreit sees tempo being one of the keys.
“Tempo will be a big part of it. One of the things with college football, you can go tempo and it try to wear down a defensive front,” Herbstreit said. “A lot of those guys are 290 pounds or 300 pounds so a lot of times you’ll see that approach. I think Jalen Hurts is going to have to be involved in not just running the football, but I think he’s going to have to make some big plays throwing.”
Herbstreit made a point to mention that Clemson’s defense is much more than its defensive line, and added how Alabama should defend the Tigers.
“Clemson sometimes — I’ve been around their team a lot — people talk about their defensive line as if, I don’t know, their secondary and their linebackers are really good too,” Herbstreit said. “I think it’s an overall defense that’s very challenging. The cool thing is Hurts has experience playing against them, although it’s a new scheme.
“A receiver besides Calvin Ridley is going to have to step up. If you know (Clemson defensive coordinator) Brent Venables at all, he’s going to come up with a plan to try to take away Ridley, and I want to see who that other guy can be for Alabama.”
Alabama and Clemson have met the last two years in the title game, with both contests being decided by fewer than 5 points.
Alabama football won a 45-40 thriller in 2015. Last season, Clemson defeated the Crimson Tide 35-31 on a last-second touchdown.
Clemson won’t have star quarterback Deshaun Watson this time around. Herbstreit praised the Tigers for their ability to play through the 2017 season as the defending champs while getting everyone’s best shot.
He’s noticed a few differences in the Tigers offensive attack with quarterback Kelly Bryant running the show.
“Their offense has changed not just because of Deshaun, but because of the skill set and the strengths of Kelly Bryant,” Herbstreit said. “They become a team that can now run the ball with the quarterback, where it’s not just part of the offense, it’s a big part of it.
“I think if they’re going to be able to continue to win these next two, I think Kelly Bryant being able to throw the ball down the field to Deon Cain and some of those other receivers is going to be a big ingredient. If I’m Nick Saban, I’m putting guys at the line of scrimmage. I’m determined to stop that running game, and I’m willing to take my chances with Kelly Bryant throwing the ball. Receivers are going to have to win one-on-ones, and Kelly Bryant is going to have to throw the ball accurately.”