Battle in the Trenches key to National Championship Game

Battle in the Trenches key to National Championship Game
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In the early hours of Tuesday morning here in the UK, one of the powerhouses of College Football will hoist the trophy as National Champions.

After all the debate over who should and shouldn’t make the College Football Playoffs, it is the consensus first and second ranked teams making up the final matchup.

High Scoring History…

The rematch of the 2015 and 2016 title game promises to be a high scoring affair between the Clemson Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide. Between those two title games the teams combined for over 150 points.

This season has been no different. On the back of Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama have been an offensive juggernaut. Since Trevor Lawrence took over starting duties from Kelly Bryant, the Tigers have run up huge scores on a number of teams.

There is absolutely no doubt that Tua and Trevor, alongside Travis Etienne, Damien Harris, Hunter Renfrew and Jerry Jeudy will be the names on everyone’s lips at the end of the game.

However, the most fascinating element to watch on Monday night will be the battle of the big boys up front.

The “Battle in the Trenches” between the Clemson defensive line and the Alabama offensive line will dictate the outcome of the game.

The Death Valley Defence…

This Clemson defence is elite. There is no other way to put it. They are top 10 in total defence and lead the nation in sacks with 52.

Star defensive end Clelin Ferrell heads up the team with 12 sacks of his own which sees him in the top 10 of the country.

No one man is bigger than the team though as was demonstrated by the loss of Dexter Lawrence to suspension for the semi final game against Notre Dame. Much was made of the impact of his loss but replacement Albert Huggins stepped up as the Fighting Irish were held to three points.

In the Notre Dame game, Austin Bryant was a thorn in the side of Ian Book and his offensive line. He consistently came off the edge and beat his blocker stuffing Book for big losses.

The names of Ferrell, Bryant and Christian Wilkins are now household names and figure prominently in the minds of NFL executives as we head towards the draft in April.

The Tackles of Tuscaloosa…

What of the guys going to war with them on the other side of the trench? Without his offensive line, Tua Tagovailoa couldn’t go to work as he has this year. Alabama rank third in passing offence, third in first downs and fourth in overall offence.

Most importantly Tua has only been sacked twelve times all season. When you consider the quality of defences they have faced in the SEC it’s an incredible feat.

The play of his offensive line has allowed Tagovailoa to play to 100% quality whilst not being 100% fit.

The line is lead by left tackle Jonah Williams. The man is a monster, there is no other way of putting it. This game could be the defining moment for his future. Currently projected as a top ten draft pick, if he dominates against this Clemson defence his draft stock will soar.

With Williams sealing the left side of the line, I expect Clemson to try and pressure the right side and right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. The sophmore is a big, powerful tackle but isn’t the same calibre as Williams.

Wills Jr will be supported on the right side by guard Alex Leatherwood. He has earned second team All-SEC honours in his sophmore year but will have his hands full Monday night.

Where Dexter Lawrence is suspended on the defence for Clemson, Alabama have their own suspension issue on the offensive line.

Left guard Deonte Brown, a redshirt sophmore, had taken over from Lester Cotton mid season. However, he found himself suspended for the Orange Bowl for a violation of team rules. He won’t return for the title game.

Cotton has nine starts on the season and is a senior so the line doesn’t lose any experience or consistency.

Ross for the record…

The model of consistency is center Ross Pierscbacher. With his start on Monday night he’ll tie the FBS record of 57 career starts. Remarkably this is his first season as a center having transitioned from guard for this season. He will head off to the draft as one of the top available centers. Having the experience of playing left guard is an advantage in a league which coverts flexibility.

So who wins in the “Battle of the Big men”?

As much as I love what Tagovailoa has bought to Alabama, and we all know about his heroics in last years Championship Game, I can’t see past the Clemson defence returning the trophy to Death Valley.

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