1 Force of nature
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence has enjoyed a brilliant freshman season, so good senior Kelly Bryant saw no path back to a starting role and transferred to Missouri. But in his young life has Lawrence ever seen anything like Alabama nose tackle Quinnen Williams? The redshirt sophomore may be the most disruptive player in football, college or pro. Keeping him out of Lawrence’s face mask is Job No. 1 for Clemson’s interior linemen. Lotsa luck.
2 Climbing a wall
Clemson’s defensive front is more talented overall than Bama’s despite Dexter Lawrence being suspended for failing a drug test. The Tigers are led by All-Americans Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins (11.5 and 5.5 sacks, respectively). And then there’s DE Austin Bryant, who has eight sacks and would be the star of virtually any other defense. They will have to pressure and contain Tua Tagovailoa and approach their impressive stat of allowing just 2.4 yards rushing per carry.
3 Play keep away
While Lawrence gives Clemson what any team must have to beat Bama — a dynamic quarterback — the Tigers will not prevail without balancing things out with the run. That means a big load falls on the shoulder pads of Jennings’ Travis Etienne and his backup, Lyn-J Dixon. Clemson leads the FBS averaging 6.7 yards per rush. The Crimson Tide allows an uncharacteristic 120.3 ypg rushing, not a huge number but it is an area Clemson must exploit.
4 And the winner is …
On paper it’s a battle of equals, Nos. 1 and 1-A, but there is really only one. In the 2018 Sugar Bowl/CFP semifinal, Alabama subdued Clemson 24-6 with its trademark suffocating defense. This year, whether it’s Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts running the show, it seems Alabama’s offense will always get the score it needs to prevail. It was true in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma and it will be true Monday night … Alabama 35, Clemson 24.