TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Sugar Bowl between Alabama football and Clemson is fast approaching as we’re less than three weeks from kickoff.
Alabama football earned the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff. It will be the Crimson Tide’s fourth appearance in the playoff’s four-year history. Alabama will face No. 1 Clemson on Jan. 1 while No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Georgia will meet in the Rose Bowl semifinal.
Alabama and Clemson have met the last two years in the title game, with both contests being decided by fewer than 5 points.
Alabama won a 45-40 thriller in 2015. Last season, Clemson defeated the Crimson Tide 35-31 on a last-second touchdown. While it won’t be for the title, this is the rubber match many college football fans wanted.
Here are three things Alabama must do in order to avoid dropping a second straight game to Clemson.
Play well along the offensive line
If there’s one area you can look at Clemson and say the Tigers are dominant, it’s their defensive front. Clemson’s defensive front features multiple potential first-round draft picks. The Tigers do a good job of stopping the run early, and when they get teams into obvious passing situations, they do a great job of rushing the passer. It’ll be up to Alabama’s offense to avoid those obvious passing situations.
Alabama can have success running the ball against Clemson, and has in the past.
Looking back at the title game last season, Alabama had success running the ball against Clemson. The Crimson Tide rushed for 221 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per carry against the Tigers.
Alabama has had plenty of success running the ball on the edges this season. It’ll be up to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to design a plan to feature the Crimson Tide’s running backs this time around.
Be less predictable on defense
Against Auburn, it felt like Alabama blitzed every third down and Auburn was ready each time. Auburn did a great job of clearing out Alabama’s linebackers and getting a speedy receiver in the open field on crossing patterns.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and staff will need to clean that up prior to the Clemson matchup.
Getting the linebackers back healthy should allow Alabama a chance to get more pressure on the quarterback with four instead of always blitzing.
Fix third-down issues on both sides of ball
Offensively, Alabama hasn’t been great on third down all season, particularly down the stretch.
Third down was rough for Alabama in the Iron Bowl, as well as the last time the Crimson Tide played Clemson.
Alabama was 3 of 11 on third downs on offense against Auburn. Defensively, Alabama allowed Auburn to convert 50 percent of its third-down chances.
Against Clemson last January, Alabama was 2 of 15 on third down while Clemson converted 7 of 18 attempts.
Alabama won’t win if it doesn’t fix its third-down issues. You can’t have your defense out there for as many plays as Alabama did against Clemson last season and expect to win.
It’ll be on Alabama’s offense to sustain drives.