Ohio State stacks up extremely well against the Alabama defense, but the key to winning a national championship Monday night is the Buckeye defense holding up against the explosive Crimson Tide offense.
Ohio State has been up-and-down on defense this season, but it made crucial stops in its win over Clemson. Now the Buckeyes face an animal unlike anything it has seen this season. Alabama is the nation’s top offense, and the Buckeyes will have to find a way to make enough stops in this game to allow its offense to win the game.
Let’s take a look at how Ohio State’s defense stacks up on paper against the Alabama offense. For a preview on the other side of the ball, click here.
OHIO STATE SCORING DEFENSE vs. ALABAMA SCORING OFFENSE
Ohio State gave up 444 yards to Clemson, but holding the Tigers to a season-low 28 points played a huge role in that victory. When you get on this stage it’s not about shutting opponents down, it’s about making enough stops against an elite offense to give your own offense a chance to win.
Notre Dame’s defense was considered much better than Ohio State’s all season, but the Buckeyes held Clemson to fewer points and yards than did Notre Dame in both of its matchups against the Tigers.
Ohio State will need to be much better on defense against Alabama than it was during the regular season. Indiana was the only top 50 caliber offense the Buckeyes faced off against during Big Ten play, and the Hoosiers racked up 35 points and 490 yards against Ohio State, and were a couple of Indiana mistakes away from giving up even more.
The Buckeyes have been prone to giving up big plays this season, and it faces an Alabama offense that tops the national leaderboard in yards per play (7.8).
Alabama has been consistently dominant all season, scoring at least 38 points in every regular season game and going for 52 in the SEC title game. The Tide had a season-low 31 points against Notre Dame, but breaking that game down it was obvious Alabama took its foot off the gas in the fourth quarter, knowing the Irish offense had no chance at scoring enough to get back in the game.
Alabama ranks in the top 10 in scoring offense, total offense, yards per play, red zone offense, red zone touchdown rate and it leads the nation in third-down offense. Alabama is not only talented, it’s well-coached, has great schemes and they execute at an extremely high rate. Ohio State will have to be at its best to slow Alabama down, and being great on third-down will be a key aspect to making that happen.
Ohio State has forced 2.5 turnovers per game. If the Buckeyes can force a turnover or two against Alabama it would go a very, very long way toward winning the game.
OHIO STATE RUSH DEFENSE vs. ALABAMA RUSH OFFENSE
Ohio State has tremendous run defense numbers, ranking second in the nation in yards allowed per game and 10th in yards allowed per rush. Despite being out key personnel against Clemson, the Buckeyes held the Tigers to 44 yards on 22 carries.
What we’ll find out against Alabama is if Ohio State’s run defense is as good as its numbers, or if the Buckeyes benefitted from a schedule that had just one top 50 rushing offense on it. That one team, Nebraska, rushed for 210 yards and 5.8 yards per carry against Ohio State. Was that success due to it being the first game of the season, and Ohio State has improved, or did it show a weakness that other opponents could not exploit.
Alabama won’t blow you away with great rushing numbers on offense, but the Tide have been much better running the ball the second half of the season. It all started when star wideout Jaylen Waddle went out for the season with an injury. Since that game, Alabama averaged 197.9 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry.
The run game is fueled by Najee Harris, who rushed for 1,387 yards, 6.1 yards per carry and 24 touchdowns. Harris won the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top running back. He runs behind an offensive line that was named the Joe Moore Award winner, which goes to the nation’s best line.
Ohio State gave up just 69.0 yards per game on the ground and 2.6 yards per carry since its season-opening victory over Nebraska. That version of the Buckeye defense will need to be on display against Alabama. Making this matchup a bit more concerning is question marks over who will or won’t play up front.
If Ohio State is short handed up front, defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs will need to figure out ways to use his linebackers and safeties to protect against the run game without being exposed to big plays in the pass game. If Ohio State is back to full strength up front, or at least close to it, the front should be able to more than hold its own against Alabama’s blockers.
OHIO STATE PASS DEFENSE vs. ALABAMA PASS OFFENSE
When Ohio State has been vulnerable this season it has been in the pass game. The Buckeye defense ranks 116th nationally in passing yards allowed per game, and it ranks 56th in yards allowed per attempt and 57th in pass efficiency defense.
Alabama, on the other hand, ranks fifth in passing yards per game and leads the nation in passing yards per attempt and pass efficiency. The pass game features Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith at wide receiver and Davey O’Brien Award winner Mac Jones at quarterback.
Smith finished the season with 105 catches for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has been at his best in the biggest moments. Smith caught seven passes for 130 yards and three scores against Notre Dame, 15 passes for 184 yards and two scores against Florida in the SEC title game and 11 passes for 167 yards and two scores in a 41-24 win over Georgia.
The loss of Waddle means Alabama doesn’t have an elite number two, but sophomore John Metchie has shown the ability to rip off big gains after the catch, and Harris hauled in 36 passes for 346 yards out of the backfield.
Smith will spend the game moving all over the field. Smith will play outside, in the slot and he’ll motion around pre-snap, which makes it challenging to get a read on where he will line up. That makes him even harder to game plan for, so Coombs will certainly have his hands full.
Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade has been up and down this season, but the matchup against Smith and the Alabama pass game gives him a chance to end his career on a very high note, which would certainly help his draft stock.
The key for Ohio State on defense is being able to pressure Jones, who rushed for a grand total of three yards this season. When Jones has been pressured he hasn’t been nearly as effective, but getting pressure on him can be a challenge.
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has been brilliant all season at mixing up protections, moving the pocket when he needs to and using the screen game to slow down the opposition pass rush. Alabama negated the potent Notre Dame pass rush by throwing quick game and screens all game, allowing Jones to take just one deep shot the whole game. Notre Dame eventually settled in and started making stops, and if Ohio State can do a better job offensively at keeping up, Coombs and the defensive staff should be able to eventually find some answers to get to Jones.
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